Thursday, July 24, 2008

MUGWUMP: The WORD, the RECIPE and A POLITICAL COMMENT


by Terry Thornton

email: hillcountrymonroecounty@gmail.com


For the past three days I've had loads of fun preparing and writing three articles about cooking eels, turtles, and frog legs. A dieting writer will write about food of any sort. And as I wasted time Walter Mitty-ing about eating those critters cooked the Hill Country way, I encountered a most interesting recipe and a new, to me, use of the old word "mugwump."

I have long heard the word "mugwump" used to describe a politician who jumps party lines or who promises one thing but then does another --- but I'd never heard "mudwump" used to describe that "in-between" stage of life mid-way between tadpole and frog. All of you have caught those tiny "mugwumps" --- a tadpole-looking frog but neither a tadpole nor a frog --- a mugwump!

But what caught my eye as I was reading for recipes using eel, turtle,or frog legs were the pictures and the name of a recipe, "Mugwump in a Hole." What fun!

The author of the cook book, Mrs. E. Stephens Tilton, defines "mugwump" as "neither one thing nor the other" and uses the old Southern definition of mugwump to define that strange critter midway between a tadpole and a frog --- neither one nor the other.

Actually the "mugwump" in Mrs. Tilton's recipe is a poor cut of meat, not a mugwump, but just called a mugwump because the cut of meat is neither too bad to discard nor good enough to serve alone --- and the dish is a take-off on the older English country-fare called "Toad in a Hole" which is prepared the same way.

Here is an image of the recipe and its illustration. Click to enlarge and to read the comments about "mugwump" and to read the directions for making "Mugwump in a Hole." There is neither frog nor tadpole in this dish!


I leave to others to name the mugwumps amongst us who call themselves politicians. Seems to me there are several out there who would qualify for the phrase "mugwump" --- and those we should remember come election day.


Source:

Tilton, Mrs. E. Stevens. Home Dissertations: An Offering to the Household For Economical and Practical Skill in Cookery, Orderly Domestic management, and Nicety in the Appointments of Home. New York: Hunter and Beach. 1886, Page 111. Available on Google Fullview Books; accessed July 21, 2008.


Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Cooking Frog legs -- Grenouille a la Hill Country


by Terry Thornton
email: hillcountrymonroecounty@gmail.com

M
ost everyone says that frog legs taste just like chicken when cooked --- and lots of folks says that while being cooked frog legs will all but jump out of the frying pan.

I think they do taste like chicken --- but I've never seen any jiggling in the pan.

But golly lots of folks say they have!

First, however, before one can see if cooking frog legs jump or if cooked frog legs taste just like chicken, one must "catch' a frog in order to have frog legs. There were two major methods used in Parham when I was a child to obtain frog legs.

The most favored method was to take a gig and a strong spotlight to the edge of the pond or creek and to carefully and quietly spot the frog; cautiously sneak up on him and gig him securely. The gig was usually a homemade affair consisting of a long light-weight pole to which a sharp pointed gig had been attached. Gigging was a favorite past time for many of the young men --- and wild were the tales they told about snakes and turtles, and even worse, about critters such as panthers and alligators stalking them as they stalked the hapless frogs.

The second method also involved a strong spotlight but instead of gigging the frogs, this technique called for a shot through the brain of the frog with a .22 calibre rifle. The conventional wisdom held that a perfect shot through the brain meant the frog stayed put; all you had to do was to then pick up the lifeless body. A less-than-perfect shot, however, resulted in the injured frog jumping into the water and being lost forever. Most didn't favor this method because (1) the first shot that rang out usually meant that every croking bullfrog in the region immediately stopped his love singing and jumped into the water and (2) using bullets required an outlay of cash and no one wished to spend any money on catching frogs.

A method much discussed but, as far as I know, not used by anyone at Parham, was the notion that frogs could be taken by arrows. Again the conventional wisdom was that a good archer with good aim could take an arrow equipped with a string and retreive one frog after another. That sounds so simple I can't believe we all didn't go frogging with our bows and arrows. [But as I've said here at Hill County, I grew up in a country store in the 1940s and early 1950s --- then one could hear most anything discussed, planned, and hashed over. Then, as now, there often was more planning and more talking than doing among the younger set.]

In any event, frog legs were obtained for the table --- the frogs gigged or shot lost their hind legs which were skinned and dressed and used primarily like small chicken legs. But what of the cooking process? Do frog legs really jump when heated?

My brother Sherman Thornton of Amory has cooked a variety of critters and he says frog legs "jump" while in the pan. Anon of Splunge says her mother insists that during the frying, frog legs will jump about.

Bob Franks says his family in Itawamba County spoke about the legs jumping "out of the frying pan." Ann Rogers of Chattanooga describes the movement more of a "jerk" than a "jump."

Mary Anna Riggan of Monroe County, however, has no memory of the frying legs jumping or jerking when being prepared at her Hill Country childhood home.

James Alverson of Biloxi says has watched several times as his meal of frog legs was cooking on the grill in front of him and he has never seen any of the legs jump.

Ann Gordon, however, says she watched her Dad fry frog legs and watched them move in the skillet at their home in Nettleton. Her brother Owen says if one cuts off the foot and detaches the leg, the tendon can be pulled out to "prevent jumping out of the skillet."

So, if you have a problem with your frog legs jumping, remove the tendon in the leg and they will lay there and fry. And once fried, how do frog legs taste?

Almost all who have written me on this subject who have eaten frog legs say they enjoy them. Most say they compare the taste of frog legs to chicken but Ann Rogers thinks they taste of shrimp. Almost all declare them "OK, good, or tasty."

Randall Sherman of Missouri says his only experience eating frog legs was in France --- and the legs "were tasty."

Terry Wooten, Duke of Algoma, writes from his home in Connecticut about a frog eating trip when he lived in London. Some of his family from Mississippi visited him there and the entire group went to Paris to Terry's favorite frog legs restaurant --- a place called Roger le Grenouille [which translates to "Roger the Frog."] Terry tells how the prim and proper French waitresses and restaurant owners were shocked at the fluent French one of his young cousins used to order "Flogs" only spoken with a perfect Southern and Mississippi accent.

William Ray Miller of Texas remembers being forced to try some of his mother's fried frog legs when he lived in Amory. Only the threat of a whipping if he didn't eat some of them caused him to try --- and one he tried frog legs, he "absolutely loved them."

Jerry Harlow of Monroe County wrote of frog legs being cooked by some of her family members --- she said one had to be "juiced up to eat some of this stuff." As far as the taste all Jerry said about the taste was "OK as well as I can remember." [Emphasis added. Jerry, how much juicing up did you do?]

Judy Sullivan of Monroe County says she has never eaten nor been offered frog legs --- someone should remedy that lack and soon. Lori Thornton has no plans on eating frog legs so she says --- but offer her some too.

Bettye Stone Woodhull of Texas says her first experience with frog legs was when she was about six years old. Her neighbor, a Mrs. Green of Hamilton, Alabama, served up some beautifully golden-browned frog legs to her unsuspecting mother who, upon learning what she had eaten was ill.

As far as preparing frog legs, Ann Ramage Rogers says in her childhood home at Smithville, dressed frog legs were "dipped in egg and milk, rolled in flour, cornmeal, seasoning, salt and pepper, and fried to golden brown." Yum .. . Yum, Grenouille a la Hill Country!

The only professional recipe I consulted was the 1911 work of Fannie Farmer. Here is all Miss Farmer says on the topic of frog legs:

"Only the hind legs of frogs are eaten, and they have much the same flavor as chicken" (page 159).

"To prepare 'Frog's Hind Legs' trim and clean. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, dip in crumbs, eggs, and crumbs again. Then fry three minutes in deep fat and drain" (page 175).

One gets the idea that Miss Fannie Farmer has never eaten nor cooked the hind legs of frogs.

Rita Thompson of Hatley writes that some of the creatures her family caught didn't end up in the pot because she adopted the critters as pets! Instead Rita, knowing my interest and fondness for Tories in the Hills, sent me a recipe for "Chicken-Catch-a-Tory" and a long funny joke.

I shall end this treatise on frog legs with a short recollection from Terry Wooten who writes:

This story comes from my high school days. A.M. Norwood Jr., who Betty remembers and you may as well, was one of my closest friends. One Sunday night another of our friends, Ken Owen, later a Navy jet pilot , and I were staying overnight at the Norwood house (his father was the Algoma High School basketball coach). It was a warm, rainy April night and A.M., Ken and I decided to go to this pond about a mile from the village to set out some hooks for catfish. When we got there, we heard all these huge bullfrogs croaking. We set out our hooks, went back to the house and got a .22 rifle, and during our several trips to check the fish lines bagged three or four big frogs.

We got back in about 11 p.m. the last time (we had to go to school the next day) and Mrs. Norwood took the frogs from us. We awoke the next morning to the smell of frying frog legs and french fries--about the closest thing to manna from heaven for three tired teenagers who had trudged through the rain half the night. I don't remember if we caught any fish; it didn't matter. I've eaten frog legs several places since then--Paris, New York, even cooked some of my own. But none of them ever matched those that April morning in a small house in Algoma, Mississippi.. It was the magic of youth and freedom, Kit Carson, Daniel Boone and Huck Finn rolled into one, off on a great adventure that transformed a grassy pasture and matched the Big Muddy and the Plains and the Midwest forest. It was one of those magic moments of youth, which come rarely, but last forever.
Sources:
Alverson, James. Cooking frog legs, turtles, and eels." Email to Terry Thornton. July 18, 2008. Digital copy on file.

Anon of Splunge. "Cooking frog legs, turtles, and eels." Email to Terry Thornton. July 21, 2008. Digital copy on file.

Farmer, Fannie Merritt. The Boston Cooking-School Cook Book. Boston: Little, Brown, and Company. 1911. Pages 159, 175. Available on Google Fullview Books; accessed July 22, 2008.

Franks, Bob. Cooking frog legs, turtles, and eels." Email to Terry Thornton. July 18, 2008. Digital copy on file.

Gordon, Ann. "Critters on the Menu." Email to Terry Thornton. July 18, 2008. Digital copy on file.

Harlow, Jerry. "Cooking frog legs, turtles, and eels." Email to Terry Thornton. July 18, 2008. Digital copy on file.

Miller, William Ray. Cooking frog legs, turtles, and eels." Email to Terry Thornton. July 19, 2008. Digital copy on file.

Riggan, Mary Anna. Cooking frog legs, turtles, and eels." Email to Terry Thornton. July 18, 2008. Digital copy on file.

Rogers, Ann Ramage. "Frogs and Tales." Email to Terry Thornton. July 18, 2008. Digital copy on file.

Sherman, Randall. Cooking frog legs, turtles, and eels." Email to Terry Thornton. July 18, 2008. Digital copy on file.

Sullivan, Judy Westbrook. Cooking frog legs, turtles, and eels." Email to Terry Thornton. July 18, 2008. Digital copy on file.

Thompson, Rita Cauthern. "Chickens in Trees." Email to Terry Thornton. July 8, 2008. Digital copy on file.

Thompson, Rita Cauthern. "Eels and frog legs and turtles --- cooking class." Email to Terry Thornton. July 18, 2008. Digital copy on file.

Thornton, Lori. Cooking frog legs, turtles, and eels." Email to Terry Thornton. July 18, 2008. Digital copy on file.

Thornton, Sherman. "Cooking frog legs, turtles, and eels." Email to Terry Thornton. July 19, 2008. Digital copy on file.

Woodhull Bettye Stone. Cooking frog legs, turtles, and eels." Email to Terry Thornton. July 18, 2008. Digital copy on file.

Wooten, Terry. "Frog legs and eels." Email to Terry Thornton. July 21, 2008. Digital copy on file.





Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Turtle, Terrapin, or Tortoise: On the Cooking and Eating of Terrapins

by Terry Thornton
email:
hillcountrymonroecounty@gmail.com






We may live without poetry, music and art;
We may live without conscience and live without heart;
We may live without friends, we may live without books,
But civilized man cannot live without cooks.

We may live without books --- what is knowledge but grieving?
We may live without hope --- what is hope but deceiving?
We may live without love --- what is passion but pining?
But where is the man that can living without dining?

by Owen Meredith, Lord Lytton
as cited and illustrated by Stevens in Home Dissertations, page 68.


Indeed, where is the man that can live without dining? And if dining upon turtle is what one desires, I think a basic definition is in order. From a scientific and biological standpoint, turtles are salt-water creatures; terrapins are fresh-water creatures; and tortoises are mostly land-living creatures. What we in the Deep South call "eatin' turtle" is really "eatin' terrapins."

But a rose by any other name would still be a rose.

If you are craving terrapin, the first task is, of course, the hard part --- the catching of the critter. Some in the South make easy and fun work of terrapin catching as you know if you have ever seen the Turtle Hunter of Kentucky on video. He could catch up a mess of terrapin in short order and have fun in the process. Click here to watch the TurtleMan of Kentucky in action --- but be warned, you will be forever wantin' to join him on a hunt and have some of that fun too.

Some chefs and writers say that terrapin cooked the Baltimore way is perhaps one of the best of all American dishes; others say terrapin cooked the Virginia way is the best American dish. I don't know --- I've only eaten terrapin once and that was the Parham way. When I was a child, my father caught a large terrapin, brought it home, and proceeded to butcher it. I got to watch. Perhaps my fondness for dissection work and biology started with that good show --- but I was watching for the turtle's heart to see if it continued to beat hours after it was removed from its body.

I remember the turtle was cooked --- but I don't know how. But knowing my folks it was probably battered and deep fat fried. My recollection is that it was good --- but somehow I remember my father saying there wasn't enough meat to justify all the hard work in opening the turtle to get at its meat.

And speaking of meat, Ann Ramage Rogers of Chattanooga says turtle has seven kinds of meat --- and my brother Sherman Thornton agrees. But he adds that he only likes to eat the "chicken" part of the terrapin. Ann, on the other hand, has never eaten any of the seven meats from a turtle.

But neither Ann nor Sherman named the seven kinds of meat in a turtle/terrapin. I'll have to ask.

Ann reminded me that the hardest part of having terrapin was to kill it and to dress it. At her house at Smithville when the menfolk caught a large soft-shelled turtle on their trot lines, they'd toss it in the back of the truck and bring it home alive. The children were warned to stay away from the turtle because, as everyone knows, if a turtle bites, it won't let go until it thunders --- or until you chop its head off.

Maybe we folks in the Hill Country don't know how to approach gettin' to the seven meats in a turtle. Maybe we've gone about this the wrong way for several generations now. Let's take a look at how others get to the seven meats of a terrapin and how the terrapin meat is then prepared and cooked.

Parloa states there is a regional difference in how terrapins are killed --- in the North, most chefs plunge the live turtle into a pot of rapidly boiling water. In the South, most terrapins are killed by cutting off their heads.

The Picayune's Creole Cook Book in 1922 states that one way to prepare a turtle is to hang it up head down. Then cut off the head and allow it to bleed out. [Ann says getting the head out to cut it off is the hard part.] Remove the shells by first separating the top from the bottom shell. Care must be taken not to rupture the large gall bladder which would ruin the meat completely. Clean and dress the turtle by cutting open the entrails and washing completely. Cut the meat into one inch pieces --- and then follow whatever recipe you wish to make of a la terrapin.

But even this tried and true method from the Deep South seems labor intensive compared to some other terrapin eaters' approach to this task. Early American Indians simply boiled or roasted the terrapins in the shell --- pot and feast all combined together --- according to the early work of Kokl.

On the business of terrapins having seven meats there seems to be some short-changing going on between marine and fresh-water turtles. Marine turtles are said to have sixteen kinds of meat --- but I can't find a complete list. The most number I could find listed only six: chicken, pork, veal, beef, mutton, duck. Even Stevens who is the one who claims sixteen kinds of meat in a marine turtle didn't list but these six.

Lincoln states that in early Baltimore, Philadelphia and Boston terrapins were often over-wintered in barrels inside and kept alive to have as fresh meat during the harsh winter months. She says before cooking, to soak the terrapin in strong salt water. Then put them alive in boiling water and for about fifteen minutes. Remove from the boiling water and when cool enough to handle, remove the black skin from the shells and pull the nails from the feet. Wash in cool water and put them to boil again in fresh water with a little salt. Boil for about 45 minutes or until the under-shell cracks open. Remove from the boiling water to a large bowl "to save the gravy" --- remove the under-shell, the sand bags, the head, and the gall bladder from the liver. Put the upper shell on to boil again in the same water and boil until tender ---pick the liver and meat from the upper shell and cut into small pieces. Use the meat in the dish of choice.

Whitehead, however, cited the most interesting method of preparing turtle --- one I call "tipsy" but one I think would produce a fine tasting terrapin when finished. According to Whitehead, take a live turtle and deprive it of water until it gets very thirsty (Whitehead doesn't address how long this deprivation takes or how one judges the thirst level of a terrapin). Then place the very thirsty turtle in a cooking pot of very cool water in such a way that the turtle can't drink (again Whitehead doesn't say how to accomplish this feat). Place at the turtle's head where it can drink a container of "cool and spicy wine." This done, turn the heat on the pot of cool water and slowly bring up the heat. The thirsty turtle will begin drinking wine --- the warmer he gets, the more wine he will drink --- and eventually he will be boiled and killed "full of wine, and fragrant through the uttermost fibers of his unctuous flesh with the rich condiment he has so plentifully imbibed. Luxury and art have reached their acme!" So, so says Whitehead.

Tilton has a good set of directions for preparing and serving terrapin (she cautions that what we call tortoises are not edible but that fresh-water terrapins are good eating). According to her, a terrapin should be placed into rapidly boiling water and left for five minutes. Remove and then pull off the skin from the underparts and the horny parts of the feet. Place in a large container of cold water and let rest for ten minutes. Then in a fresh pot of salted water boil the turtle until the shell begin to separate. Open the shells using the top shell to hold the insides. Take off the legs and meat from the tail; if there are eggs inside the turtle, save them. Avoid breaking the gall bladder; remove the liver and meat and organs except for the large intestine. [Other chefs advise removing the sand sacs too.] Cut the meat into one inch squares. To cook, place the meat, liver, and eggs from the terrapin into a pan of water (she recommends one quart of water per one quart of terrapin meat). Add 6 whole cloves, one grated nutmeg, and half a pound of butter. Stew gently for 30 minutes. Meanwhile brown one tablespoon of flour in the oven and then add the browned flour and one tablespoon of sugar to the terrapin. Season with the juice of a large lemon, cayenne pepper and salt and cook another 30 minutes. Then add 1/2 pint each of port wine and sherry; heat and serve garnished with slices of thin lemon.

Yum --- yum! Yes, I think us Hill Country folk have been missing a bet with trying to fry terrapin.

Sherwood gives a version of the Virginia way of cooking terrapin and declares it to be "the most excellent of all American dishes." Here is how Sherwood says Virginia cooked terrapin should be done. Plunge three live terrapins into boiling water for three minutes. Remove; take off the skin and wipe them clean. Cook them in slightly salted water (she doesn't say how long), drain, and cool. Then remove the shells taking care to not break the gall bladder. Discard the head, tail, nails, gall bladder, Cut the meat into "even-sized" pieces and put them in a sauce-pan along with any terrapin eggs. Add four ounces of butter and moisten with half a pint of Madeira wine. Cook the mixture until the liquid reduces by half. Then add two spoonfuls of cream sauce. After five minutes add four egg yolks diluted in a half-cup of cream. Season with salt and red pepper. Do not let the mixture boil after the egg yoke is added. Add two more ounces of butter; mix to allow the heat in the pot to melt the butter and to cook the egg yolks. Serve with lemon wedges.

The famous Fannie Farmer follows many of the above techniques for preparing, cooking, and serving terrapin but suggests to use a skewer to draw out the head, legs and tail after the terrapin has been boiled in that initial plunge into boiling water. After rubbing off the skin from these parts and the lower shell, Farmer says to boil the terrapin in salted water with two slices each of carrot and onion and a stalk of celery. Generally it takes about 35 to 40 minutes to cook the terrapin done --- and Farmer suggests testing for doneness by squeezing the feet-meat between finger and thumb. If tender, remove from pan, drain, and cool. Pull out the nails, cut off the head, and open the shells. Carefully remove and discard the gall bladder and sand bags and the thick part of the intestine. All the rest of the meat is used including any eggs that may be in the terrapin. And then Farmer gives complete cooking directions to three wonderfully sounding traditional recipes: Terrapin a la Baltimore, Terrapin a la Maryland and Washington Terrapin. Any of the three would make a mouth-watering meal.

But what do Hill Country readers say of turtle. Most corresponding on this topic say they've never eaten turtle. But those who have, like me, agree that it is very good, surprising good.

Terry Wooten, Duke of Algoma, writes from Connecticut of a Pontotoc County, Mississippi, experience in consuming turtle/terrapin. Says the Duke, "My uncle and some friends of his caught this huge turtle out of a pond between Pontotoc and Tupelo (Longview Community.) They did a turtle stew, but I don't remember how they did it or what they put in it. I remember the meat being white and tasty. I'm surprised that I ate it."

Ann Gordon of Texas says that she has never knowingly eaten turtle --- she has strong memories of a pet turtle named "Smokey" and refuses to eat turtle because of the pet association. But she was unknowingly served a clear "turtle soup" once and was surprised how good it was.

Jerry Anderson Harlow of Monroe County remembers eating turtle and other critters --- but it is Jerry who says one has to be "juiced up" to enjoy eating wild creatures.

"Anon of Splunge" remembers her family catching eels and turtles on the river (the Sipsey, the Splunge and the Buttahatchie Rivers join in the Splunge Community where once was some mighty fine fishing). Her mother fried a turtle and "Anon" remembers being told that it tasted just like chicken --- and adds, "I don't remember what it tasted like, but I think I liked it."

I think we should all go out and get us some terrapins and have a party. I wish to be close to Jerry --- together we will get "juiced up" enough to enjoy eating Terrapin a la Hill Country. And maybe we can figure out to cook one the Virginia way --- and then do another batch the Terrapin a la Baltimore way.

But first we gotta catch us some terrapins.

And in all this doing, maybe we can figure out what the Song of Solomon is all about (2: 11-12) as we eat terrapin and ponder on these words:

"For lo the winter is past,
The rain is over and gone;
The flowers appear on the earth;
The time of the singing of birds is come
And the voice of the turtle is heard in our land."


SOURCES:

Anon of Splunge. "Cooking frog legs, turtles, and eels." Email to Terry Thornton. July 21, 2008. Digital copy on file.

Carpenter, Frank George. How the World is Fed. New York: American Book Company. 1907. Pages 193-94. Available on Google Fullview Books; accessed July 21, 2008.

Farmer, Fannie Merritt. The Boston Cooking-School Cook Book. Boston: Little, Brown, and Company. 1911. Pages 175 - 76. Available on Google Fullview Books; accessed July 21, 2008.

Gordon, Ann. "Critters on the Menu." Email to Terry Thornton. July 18, 2008. Digital copy on file.

Harlow, Jerry. "Cooking frog legs, turtles, and eels." Email to Terry Thornton. July 18, 2008. Digital copy on file.

Hill, Janet McKenzie. Practical Cooking and Serving: A Complete Manual of How To Select, Prepare, and Serve Food. New York: Doubleday, Page, and Company. 1902. Page 120. Available on Google Fullview Books; accessed July 21, 2008.

Kokl, J.G. as translated by Lascelles Wraxall. Kitchi-Gami -- Wandering Round Lake Superior. London: Chapman and Hall. 1860. Page 300. Available on Google Fullview Books; accessed July 21, 2008.

Lincoln, Mrs. D. A. Mrs. Lincoln's Boston Cook Book : What To Do and What Not To Do. Boston: Roberts Brothers. 1896. Pages 185 - 86. Available on Google Fullview Books; accessed July 21, 2008.

Meredith, Owen Lord Lytton, "Where Is The Man That Can Live Without Dining?" As cited by Mrs. E. Stevens Tilton. Home Dissertations: An Offering to the Household For Economical and Practical Skill in Cookery, Orderly Domestic management, and Nicety in the Appointments of Home. New York: Hunter and Beach. 1886, Page 68. Available on Google Fullview Books; accessed July 21, 2008.

Parloa, Maria. Miss Parloa's Kitchen Companion: A Guide for All Who Would be Good Housekeepers. Boston: The Clover Publishing Company. 1887. Pages 228 - 29. Available on Google Fullview Books; accessed July 21, 2008.

Rogers, Ann Ramage. "Frogs and Tales." Email to Terry Thornton. July 18, 2008. Digital copy on file.

Sherwood, Mary Elizabeth Wilson. The Art of Entertaining. New York: Dodd, Mead and Company. 1892. Pages 176-77. Available on Google Fullview Books; accessed July 21, 2008.

"Song of Solomon," 2:11-12. King James Version of the Holy Bible.

Stevens, Walter B. Through Texas: A Series of Interesting Letters. The St. Louis Globe-Democrat. 1892. Available on Google Fullview Books; accessed July 21, 2008.

The Picayune's Creole Cook Book. The Times-Picayune. 1922. page 12. Available on Google Fullview Books; accessed July 21, 2008.

Thornton, Sherman. "Cooking frog legs, turtles, and eels." Email to Terry Thornton. July 18, 2008. Digital copy on file.

Tilton, Mrs. E. Stevens. Home Dissertations: An Offering to the Household For Economical and Practical Skill in Cookery, Orderly Domestic management, and Nicety in the Appointments of Home. New York: Hunter and Beach. 1886, Pages 63, 68, 91-91. Available on Google Fullview Books; accessed July 21, 2008.

Whitehead, Jessup. "Turtle a la Chinoise" attributed to Harper's Bazaar. The Chicago Herald Cooking School: A Professional Cook's Book for Household Use. Chicago: Jessup Whitehead. 1883. No page numbers. Available on Google Fullview Books; accessed July 21, 2008.

Wooten, Terry. "Frog legs and eels." Email to Terry Thornton. July 21, 2008. Digital copy on file.

And thanks to Rita Thompson, James Alverson, Mary Anna Riggan, Judy Sullivan, Lori Thornton, Bob Franks, William Lee Miller and others for help and encouragement to write about cooking critters.



Monday, July 21, 2008

My Attempt to Become Unfat: Week 29

by Terry Thornton

email: hillcountrymonroecounty@gmail.com




Comment:
One of my minor goals was to lose one pound per week on average; I'm nearly back to that goal. And my first major goal was to drop my weight to 200 pounds. I'm nearly there!

And my ultimate goal is to lose to 185 pounds. The realization of that goal remains to be seen.

When I started this attempt to get my weight under control on the last day of 2007, I wrote:
"On a genealogical note I can't help but observe that among hogs are found razor-backs and lard-hogs. Those with one set of genes are razor-backs --- thin baconey animals. Those with another set of genes are lard-hogs --- just looking at slop makes them pluff up more. And after reviewing pictures of recent individuals from both my maternal and paternal lines, one could build a good case that I inherited the genes to be a lard-hog. We shall see."
Yes. We shall see.

Do eels wiggle when being cooked to "elude" the heat?



AN EARLY URBAN MYTH ABOUT EELS:

OR, MORE ABOUT EELS THAN YOU EVER NEEDED TO KNOW ---

From Spitchcockt eels to Eels Like a Fricasse of Chicken and other important eel facts

by Terry Thornton
email: hillcountrymonroecounty@gmail.com


The eel question


One of my favorite writers and story-tellers, Susanna Holstein (known professionally as "Granny Sue"), recently commented on an article I wrote about Yellow Eels in Weaver's Creek.


Asks Granny Sue:

"My Dad grew up in New Orleans, Terry, and he talked about catching eels -- I thought it was in the Gulf but it may have been in a river. He said that when they were being cooked in the skillet, the eels would move around like they were still living! I have always wondered if that was true or if Dad was pulling our legs -- again. Do you know?"

The short answer to the eel question

I'd always heard that eels, like frog legs, would move around in the skillet when being cooked but I don't have any proof of that old piece of useless folk information. Granny Sue, I think we both have been taken in by a folk myth and by the teasing of our elders --- and we may have been exposed to an early urban myth.

The long answer to the eel question

A little background is in order. Let's look at preparing eels, cooking eels, some eel recipes, and then get down to an early urban myth and the role M. Ude may have played in creating this myth.

A. Preparing eels to cook

The traditional way to dress an eel is to take a sharp knife and slit around the head cutting just beneath the skin. Then take a pair of pliers and grasp the skin firmly and pull down removing the skin much like removing a stocking from a leg. James Alverson who grew up in the Hill Country but now of Biloxi confirms this method --- and adds that it is much like what some folks do in skinning a catfish with pliers.

Of course an eel is very slippery (remember the old adage "slippery as an eel" so holding onto the head for this skinning process is tedious. Some folks recommended impaling the eels to a tree or to the side of the barn with a large nail through the head before trying to skin it.

In any event once the skin is removed, the head is cut off, the belly is opened and cleaned, and the backbone removed, the dressed eel is ready to be prepared for cooking. Many chefs recommend that the eel be boiled a few minutes in water; then drained and cooled, and then cooked following whatever method you wish.

B. Cooking eels: Some Recipes

Eels have been used as a staple in man's diet for centuries. Roasted, boiled, fried, stewed, souped, and combined in a variety of dishes, eel has graced tables across the continents and across socioeconomic levels. According to Biglow and Holley in 1818, the traditional method of preparing eel is to dehead, skin, clean, cut into pieces, and "frying them in hogs-lard or butter."

Here is a sampling of a dozen traditional dishes prepared from eel. [Most of these recipes are from Whitehead in 1903 and are fairly good summaries of the earlier recipes by Ude.]

Anguilles a la Broche: Roasted eels. American Indians roasted eels in a simple arrangement in front an open fire. Eels, cleaned and prepared, were impaled upon long split green willow sticks and placed by the open fire. Turned a time or two, the eels would be thoroughly cooked following this simple method. Anguilles a la Broche calls for an eel to be skinned, head left on, cleaned, the back larded with small strips of pork, steeped in seasoned marinade three hours, skewered into an oval/ring shape, roasted or baked in the oven, served with a shallot sauce.

Anguilleo au Soleil: Breaded and fried eel. Skin and clean an eel; cut into large pieces, boil in wine, water and vegetables, drain and cool; then bread pieces of eel and fry in oil. This sounds very close to the method many in the South used to cook eel --- most, however, probably just boiled in water rather than in wine. I think this would be a tasty traditional dish.

Anguilles en Ragout: Stewed eel served in the sauce with wine. I don't think I would enjoy eating stewed eel.

Anguilles a la Minute: Pieces of eel boiled in salted water, with with maitre d'hotel sauceand potatoes. Again, I don't believe boiled eel is my choice for a meal.

Anguilles a la Poulette: If I must eat stewed eel, then this is my dish of choice. This is "Eels like a Fricassee of Chicken" according to Ude whose recipe Troucons of Eels a la Poulette is the inspiration for this dish.

Anguilles en Matelote: Eel stewed with oysters, onions, parsley, and other ingredients.

Anguilles a la Orly: Eel split, boned, cut in long pieces, dipped in batter, fried; served with rings of dry-fried onions. Wonderful --- fried eel with onion rings. This sounds like good eating.

Anguilles a l' Ecossaise: Eels cut into pieces and heavily salted; set for one hour. Wash eel pieces to remove excess salt and stew in a broth with vegetables and herbs; strain liquor and thickened it with flour; combine; serve over buttered toast.

Anguilles a la Tartare: Clean and dress eels leaving them full length. Arrange eel into a ring shape and skewer. Parboil skewered eel in seasoned broth, take out, drain; double bread them and deep fat fry the still skewered eel in a wire basket. Serve with tartare sauce in center of the ring; garnished with herbs.

Anguilles a la Cendre: Eels cooked in the coals or cinders of a fire. This hearth-cooking technique has probably been around for centuries in some form or another. Skinned and cleaned eels [full length] are coiled up on a wrapper of buttered paper; seasoned; wrapped with the buttered paper; and covered with embers and ashes in the fire place; when done, paper is removed and the cooked eels are served with butter and bread. This simple technique was probably used throughout the South in a variety of versions --- I'm sure you could wrap the eel in leaves [would cabbage leaves not make a good wrapper?] and season them with salt and pepper and butter and achieve a very tasty result.

Turran de Filets d' Anguilles, Sauce Peringeux: This upscale dish may be too expensive to prepare --- but I'm sure it would be most delicious. Skinned, cleaned, boned, and split eels cut into four inch lenghts; flattened into fillets; line a deep cake pan with fish forcemeat and truffles and mushrooms; add fillets of eels; fill center with more forcemeat; steam one hour; turn out; serve with sauce of fried truffles in Bechamel, truffles granish and prawns.

Anguilles a l' Anglaise: Make a thin buttered sauce of herbs, lemon peel, salt; steam pieces of eels in the butter sauce; add parsley and lemon to garnish.

C. But do the eels wiggle when being fried?

None of these twelve traditional methods of preparing eel give directions for how to keep the cooking eels from jumping out of the pan! Although my brother Sherman Thornton says that turtle meat, like frog legs, will move around in the frying pan, he doesn't know about eels.

But this notion of eels wiggling in the pan while cooking seems firmly entrenched in our folklore. From all across the South this folk saying seems fairly uniform from state to state.

An early urban myth from M. Ude

I believe that the myth of eels wiggling when being cooked is just that, a myth. But I also believe the origin of this myth can be dated to 1822 with the publication of a book in England by the French chef, Louis Eustache Ude. Ude directed that the only "proper" way to remove the oils from an eel, the oils that makes it taste strong, was to prepare eels in this manner.

"Take one or two live eels; throw them into the fire. As they are twisting about on all sides, lay hold of them with a towel in your hand, and skin them from head to tail. This method is the best, as it is the only means of drawing out all the oil, which is unpalatable and indigestible."

So to cook the Ude way is to throw live eels into the fire and to watch them wiggle.

Louis Eustache Ude was an apprentice cook to King Louis 16th; he then moved to England where he was cook for the HRH Prince Frederick Augustus Duke of York and at a variety of establishments. He published a successful cookbook although his preface to one edition caused considerable merriment when Ude equated making a good dish with that of composing an opera. It was in the 1820s when Ude published his "how to" on preparing eels which caused such an uproar. Most who read his method of preparing eels agree that it is a cruel and inhumane way to prepare a live animal as food.

Ude's inhumane way of preparing live animals for cooking created a firestorm of cricitism. Back in the days of no radio and no television and no internet, the newspapers and magazines were the primary means for the criticism of M. Ude to be vented. And vent a large number of individuals did --- from Charles Dickens to Thomas Moore, Edward Isidore Sears, Thomas Babington Macauly to James Boardman to name but a few. Probably even some sermons were preached about the sadistic M. Ude --- and he was called the "eel-torturing Ude" by Boardman. Humorists tried to get in on the act and one asked if "you are going be be the 'Ude of the party'" regarding outdoor summer cooking with friends.

As late as 1895, some 73 years after Ude's original method of preparing eels was written, the New York Times was still offering up articles of criticism.

Because Ude's methods plainly states that live eels will "twist about on all sides" when thrown into the fire, I believe this twisting and thrashing and turning about entered into society's consciousness as "eels wiggle about when being cooked."

Ude's method of preparing eels certainly would cause then to wiggle --- and I think it was his book and the uproar he created [a discussion which continued for seven or more decades] which implanted the impression that, indeed, eels wiggle in the pan. The problem with this is that Ude's method involved live eels being placed directly into the fire; of course they would wiggle!

Eels traditionally "dressed" by skinning, de-entrailing, and de-boning, and then cut into small pieces, boiled and then dredged and fried in oil would no more "wiggle" in the pan than any piece of frying meal. I believe M. Ude's directions from his 1822 book and the uproar it caused planted the notion that eels will all but jump out of the pan when being cooked. And folks to this day still think that eels are going to wiggle when cooked!

The taste of eels

Now about the taste of eels. Most agree with me that battered and fried eel tastes a lot like chicken. It is a very sweet white meat according to some references --- and the "experts" are divided as to whether eels should be, after skinning and cleaning, boiled for a few minutes to remove any strong taste.

Shakes of Alden in 1848 writes that after eels are skinned, dressed, deboned, and cut into pieces they should be placed in scalding hot water for 5 minutes, drained and allowed to cool 30 minutes before further preparation.

Henderson writing in 1898 says that parboiling is not necessary but I'm of the opinion that the taste would probably be improved to take this additional step --- clean, debone, and cut the eel into pieces and drop into boiling water for three or four minues; remove; drain and discard the water; cool --- and then cook them according to whatever method you prepare. Traditionally the two major ways of preparing eel are fried and fricassed.

What a few Hill Country folk said about cooking and eating eels

According to Betty Stone Woodhull of Texas but formerly of the Alabama Hill Country just across the line, she remembers a large eel her father caught in the early 1940s. Her grandmother fried and served the eel at a 4th of July celebration at their home in Hamilton. But Bettye does not address the notion of eels moving in the frying pan.

Bob Franks of Itawamba County has heard that frog legs will jump out of the pan when frying but he doesn't know of eels being eaten in his family. Perhaps the reason his family never ate eel is because in 1904, his Great Uncle Charlie Sheffield was swimiming in a slough and was bitten by a "lampher eel" and died. This family lore is enough to turn that group forever against eels. Says Bob, "I suspect it may have been a moccasin, but the old family story always states it was a 'lampher eel.'"

Jerry Harlow of Monroe County writes that her family included a group of men who cooked up a variety of "esoteric" dishes in the back yard. Says Jerry, "You had to be juiced up to eat some of this stuff!" Jerry mentions snake to beaver to coon but not a mention of cooking eel. But then Jerry wanted to know what the "surfeit of eels" was that killed a king --- as in Henry I, King of England in 1135. She and I are still debating that one.

Mary Anna Riggan of Monroe County says her father and brothers brought home eel and fish --- and if they dressed and cleaned them, her mother cooked it. The "eels were fried just like chicken or fish . . . and they were tasty." Mary Anna says further, "If . . you don't have a big choice of food to eat --- use enough seasoning and cook it in hog lard, most anything is good."

William Ray Miller formerly of Monroe County but now in Texas says although he never ate eel, he loved eating his mother's fried frog legs.

Ann Gordon formerly of Nettleton but now in Texas remembers squirrel, dove, quail, and rabbit all being prepared and served at her house along with frog legs too. And she states that she has seen frog legs moving in the skillet. She quotes her brother Owen who states that eels are delicious --- but Ann says she has never eaten any of these critters. She did, however, admit to eating chitlin' cornbread and that scrambled eggs and brains were often served at her house.

Rita Cauthen Thompson of Monroe County remembers eating "all this good stuff." Her family would go camping on the Tombigbee River out by Sweep Shumpert's old camp (near today's lock and dam at Smithville on the Tenn-Tom Waterway). Rita says whatever they caught they ate and that they cooked most of it in a tin can over the camp fire. She also says that if they didn't catch anything, they would cook the crawdads they were using as bait. Now these folk know how to eat!

Spitchcockt eels

The phrase spitchcockt eels is a nod to the old Shakespearean phrase "spitch cock" or "spatch cock" according to Macmillian. This phrase seems to be derived from the words for "spit" and for "cook" --- old English writers used cok which was pronounced cock or cockt rather than the modern cook. Eels were cut into pieces and then spitted together for cooking --- the process in Shakespearean times was known as "spitchcockt eels."

Elude and exit

And finally Our Mother Tongue by Mead says the correct way to pronounce "elude" is "eel ude" which is altogether fitting when you consider the infamous M. Ude and his torturous method of preparing eel.

Coming Soon to Hill Country: The Seven Meats in a Turtle and Skillet Frying Jumping Frog Legs.

SOURCES:

Alverson, James. "Cooking Frog legs, Turtles, and Eels." Email to Terry Thornton. July 18, 2008. Digital copy on file.

Alverson, James. "Eels, Frog legs, and Turtles: Cooking Class." Email to Terry Thornton. July 18, 2008. Digital copy on file.

Biglow, H. and Orville Luther Holley. The American Monthly Magazine and Critical Review, January 1818, pages 293-94. Published for H. Biglow by Kirk and Mercein. Available on Google Fullview Books; accessed July 18, 2008.

Bone, Martha. "Martha Bone Sat. 12:10." Email to Terry Thornton. July 19, 2008. Digital copy on file.

Franks, Bob. "Cooking Frog legs, Turtles, and Eels." Email to Terry Thornton. July 18, 2008. Digital copy on file.

Gordon, Ann. "Cooking Frog legs, Turtles, and Eels." Email to Terr Thornton. July 19, 2008. Digital copy on file.

Gordon, Ann. "Critters on the Menu." Email to Terry Thornton. July 18, 2008. Digital copy on file.

Harlow, Jerry Anderson. "Eels!". Email to Terry Thornton. July 19, 2008. Digital copy on file.

Harlow, Jerry Anderson. "Cooking Frog Legs, Turtles, and Eels." Email to Terry Thornton. July 18, 2008. Digital copy on file.

Henderson, Mary Foote. Practical Cooking and Dinner Giving: A Treatise. New York: Harper and Brothers, 1889, page 112-13. Available on Google Fullview Books; accessed July 18, 2008.

Macmillan, Michael. The Globe Trotter in India Two Hundred Years Ago: And Other Indian Studies. London: Swan Sonnenschein and Company. 1895. Pages 109 - 10. Available on Google Fullview Books; accessed July 18, 2008.

Mead, Theodore H. Our Mother Tongue. New York: Dodd, Mead, and Company. 1890. Page 162 . Available on Google Fullview Books; accessed July 18, 2008.

Miller, William Ray. "Cooking Frog legs, Turtles, and Eels." Email to Terry Thornton. July 18, 2008. Digital copy on file.

"Review of L.E. Ude's book, The French Cook." The Monthly Review, London: Ainsworth, May 1827, page 44-45. Available on Google Fullview Books; accessed July 18, 2008.

Riggan, Mary Anna. "Cooking Frog legs, Turtles, and Eels." Email to Terry Thornton. July 18, 2008. Digital copy on file.

Rogers, Ann Ramage. "Frogs and Tales." Email to Terry Thornton. July 18, 2008. Digital copy on file.

Shade of Alden. Notes on the Sea-Shore or Random Sketches. Boston: Redding and Company. 1848. Page 31. Available on Google Fullview Books; accessed July 18, 2008.

Sullivan, Judy Westbrook. "Cooking Frog legs, Turtles, and Eels." Email to Terry Thornton. July 18, 2008. Digital copy on file.

"The Accomplished M. Ude" from The National Review. New York Times, September 19 1895. Copyright New York Times. Available Online at http://query.nytimes.com/mem/archive-free/pdf?_r=1&res=9504E2DD113AE533A2575AC1A96F9C94649ED7CF&oref=slogin


Thompson, Rita Cauthen. "Cooking Frog legs, Turtles, and Eels." Email to Terry Thornton. July 18, 2008. Digital copy on file.

Thompson, Rita Cauthen. "Eels, Frog legs, and Turtles: Cooking Class." Email to Terry Thornton. July 18, 2008. Digital copy on file.

Thornton, Lori. "Cooking Frog legs, Turtles, and Eels." Email to Terry Thornton. July 18, 2008. Digital copy on file.

Thornton, Thomas Sherman. "Cooking Frog legs, Turtles, and Eels." Email to Terry Thornton. July 18, 2008. Digital copy on file.

Ude, Louis Eustrache. The French Cook: A System of Fashionable and Economical Cookery. London: John Ebers and Company. 1829, page242 - 43. Available on Google Fullview Books; accessed July 18, 2008.

Whitehead, Jessup. The Steward's Handbook and Guide to Party Catering. Chicago: J. Whitehead and Company. 1903, pages 308-09. Available on Google Fullview Books; accessed July 18, 2008.

Woodhull, Bettye Stone. "Cooking Frog legs, Turtles, and Eels." Email to Terry Thornton. July 18, 2008. Digital copy on file.


Sunday, July 20, 2008

New Orleans: The "Livestock"

by Terry Thornton
email: hillcountrymonroecounty@gmail.com

From June 27 to July 11, Sweetie and I enjoyed some much needed R & R in New Orleans and, at the same time, house-sat and animal-sat for our son and daughter-in-law who were in Europe.

They left three cats and one dog --- and we brought Hattie The Cat from Fulton. And here are some pictures of the livestock we looked after.

One of the few times all five of the critters were close together and being perfect.


Here I've circled the five creatures.


Above is Louis, the flame Persian. He is the oldest of the lot and he is a half-brother to Hattie The Cat who lives with us in Fulton.


Peach Pie in a restive moment. Pie is a short or "cob" Persian and is the smartest of the bunch. She is also one of the younger ones.


Posie The Dog who thinks like a cat but is really a Yorkie. Posie and I enjoyed walking to Lafayette Square most days. There Posie marked almost every square inch of territory as her exclusive "turf" and re-hydrated drinking at the doggie fountain. Posie loves "NOLA road kill" --- tourists and locals alike enjoy walking around eating fried chicken. And they discard the bones just any place. Posie's greatest joy is to find a "fresh chicken bone" which of course she is not allowed to eat.


Hattie the Cat, is a tortoise-shell Persian. Hattie is the second oldest of the group. She had the upper hand as she is the only one with front claws. But she didn't need them --- she slept most of the time in a cute little basket she found. Hattie enjoyed seeing her half-brother Louis and her cousins Pie and Magnolia. She and Posie have an agreement not to mess with each other.


Magnolia, oh the large heavy Magnolia, is a cat to admire. She claims my son as her person --- but when he is away, she's anybody's cat. Cats are just fickle that way. She was my favorite next to Hattie The Cat, of course.

Photographs by Terry Thornton, July 2008.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Harvest from the Blog Garden: July 19

by Terry Thornton

email:
hillcountrymonroecounty@gmail.com



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Here are a few articles from around the blogosphere I enjoyed --- and I recommend them to you.

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Man's Inhumanity by Susanna Holstein AKA Granny Sue at Granny Sue's News and Reviews
A photo essay of a prison that is most interesting and educational --- and not any old prison but West Virginia's Moundsville Prison.
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One of the best titles of the week, in my opinion --- a title which brought back a flood of memories of lying on quilts, on the grass, in a summer evening . . .

Read and listen to the music from Knoxville: Summer of 1915 (words adapted from James Agee's A Death in the Family) . . . "those receive me, who quietly treat me, as one familiar and well-beloved in that home: but will not, oh, will not, not now, not ever; but will not ever tell me who I am."

"Lying on quilts, on the grass, in a summer evening" is one of those articles you will remember and thing about --- and be thankful to Dave for writing it.
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A look at several of Tipper's quilts and some of their history. Not only a feast for the eyes, this is most educational also. While you are at Blind Pig, look for the link to Tipper's brother Paul Wilson's recording of his original composition, Down the Escalante. It is excellent.
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Bob always manages to photograph beautifully some of my favorite things --- and yellow-meated watermelon in the hot of summer is one of my favorites.
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Lori has written about an interesting individual in her family tree --- and a group of us have enjoyed an off-line discussion of what constitutes a "dirty old man."
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Maven continues to "make connections" between orphaned family documents and family members. Another interesting and touching connection brought about by the incomparable Maven.
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Four articles but I recommend you go to Mississippi Gardens and look about for some wonderful flowers growing in the garden of Jon.
Welcome back from medical leave, Jon. Good to see you back online.
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A list of truly funny sayings --- but then Randy, one of the leaders of the genea-bloggers, is a funny man!
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Thomas recently took a trip to a cemetery --- and photographed some of his findings. He has a well-illustrated account of his field trip which he is sharing with the world.
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A Memorable Visit by Craig Manson at GeneaBlogie
Craig takes us on a visit to a special lady and shows us again how to write interesting accounts of family history --- and the visit is memorable indeed. This is a visit you won't forget either.
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Blue Ridge Blog by Marie Freeman
Three recent photographs by Marie are of interest to me --- all three tugged at my emotions so just go to Blue Ridge and find these lovely photographs:
Where does the sun shine a spotlight? [If one has ever lived in the mountains, this picture is for you. If one has never lived in the mountains, take a look and see what you've missed.]
And if you are into dogs, check out Marie's new and rapidly growing dog Annie at See, she can be good for a nanosecond.
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Sources:

The Garden drawing used above from the title page of The Garden, An Illustrated Weekly Journal of Horticulture in all its Branches (London: Hudson and Kearns, Midsummer 1902). Volume 61, Cover [Google Fullview Books on-line]; accessed October 27, 2007.