Saturday, 16 July 2011

My Writing Journey -The Royal Stuart Dynasty

As  my thoughts were turning to novel writing, I was reading the seminal Holy Blood and the Holy Grail, which had been in print for some time and was clearly also being read by Dan Brown, since the Da Vinci Code appeared a few years later. A sceptical mind is attracted to conspiracy theories, particularly on the epic scale laid out in The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail. I was astonished at the thought that the blood lines of some of our most famous families might be descended from Christ.
     In particular, the Catholic Royal House of Stuart seemed doubly blessed in being connected through both Mary Magdalene and Joseph of Arimathea. This might explain the Stuart’s insistence on divine right to absolute rule under God, without the intervention of Parliament. This stance, along with their inconvenient Catholicism, cost some of them their heads and eventually, after the protestant daughters of James II failed to produce living heirs, extinguished the Stuart flame. This made way for the protestant Hanoverians, who could claim distant Stuart ancestry through a daughter of Charles I, over the heads of a long list of Catholics with better credentials.
     The failure of the subsequent Jacobite rebellions, ending in the defeat of Bonnie Prince Charlie, grandson of James II, at Culloden in 1746, finally consigned the dynasty to a footnote in history. It was a great comfort to the Hanoverians that neither Bonnie Prince Charlie, nor his brother, an eminent Catholic Cardinal, had any legitimate heirs. The lack of a future generation of Stuart champions and the brutal suppression and ethnic cleansing of Jacobites, especially in the Highlands of Scotland, led the Stuart cause to fizzle out.
     However the Hanoverian view of Bonnie Prince Charlie as a rebel leader with a price on his head was eventually replaced by a romanticised picture of a tragic hero who very nearly succeeded. If only he had not been let down by everyone around him, particularly the French King who didn’t send the promised army in support, and his own generals, who forced him to turn back undefeated at Derby, within striking distance of a terrified London.
    This romanticised view is deeply cemented in the Scottish psyche through a vast body of stories, songs and myths created mainly in the nineteenth century.

A few years ago I volunteered to do a cookery demo on rainbow trout for members of our fishing club. A lot of them were putting caught fish back because they didn’t know what to do with them. I was prepared to show them how to fillet, bone and skin fish as well as smoke them and prepare a few standard recipes. Invitations were sent out but apart from the committee (pressed men!), not a single member wanted to come. Apparently in Yorkshire real men don’t cook or at least can’t admit to an interest, so the event was cancelled.

I remember being interested in what my mother was cooking and of course as a student you have to fend for yourself. I said earlier that lots of chemists are interested in cookery and that stems from the fact that synthetic chemists who make things, spend their time putting reactants together and heating them, which is of course just controlled cookery.
   My favourite dish is Confit de Canard which sounds much better than salted duck legs. I salt and slow cook them in their own fat in batches when they’re on special offer at Sainsbury’s. I’ve read lots of fancy chef’s recipes but they all turn out the same. Rub a good teaspoon of salt onto each leg and store in a plastic bag in the fridge for about 24hrs. Wash off the salt solution then dry and put into hot duck fat. Simmer very slowly for 4-5 hours or until tender but not falling apart. To get started buy duck or goose fat in tins or better still buy a large tin of confit from a French supermarket and keep the fat.  Get the skins that lovely golden colour by putting them under the grill for a few minutes before serving. They  can be frozen.

      Up in Caithness we have access to fantastic natural game; rabbits, hares and venison are all readily available. These days I’m getting more interested in presentation-see smoked salmon (smoked by cousin Eric) and quaills eggs above. I like cooking in pastry and the combination of fillets from rabbit (light) and hare (dark) make an appealing en-croute, as shown above.

See The Stuart Agenda at willowmoonpublishing and and .com 

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