Day By Day

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

This Day In History

Today is "Pepper Pot Day", supposedly commemorating the first production of "Philadelphia Pepper Pot Soup" on this day in 1777 by members of Washington's Continental Army in winter quarters at Valley Forge in . In case you want to recreate "the soup that won the war" here's a recipe:


  • 1 pound honeycomb tripe
  • 5 slices bacon, diced
  • 1/2 cup chopped onion
  • 1/2 cup chopped celery
  • 3 leeks, chopped
  • 1 bunch fresh parsley, chopped
  • 2 green bell peppers, diced
  • 2 quarts beef stock
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried marjoram
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves (optional)
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1 large potato, peeled and diced
  • 2 large carrots, diced
  • 4 tablespoons margarine
  • 4 tablespoons all-purpose flour


  1. Place the tripe or other meat that you have selected to use in a saucepan, and cover with water. Bring to a boil, and turn off the heat. Allow the meat to cool a bit in the water, and then drain and rinse. Cut into 1/4 inch pieces.
  2. In a large heavy kettle, saute the bacon until clear. Add the onion, celery, leeks, parsley, and green peppers; saute until tender.
  3. Stir in beef stock, thyme, marjoram, cloves, red pepper flakes, bay leaf, and black pepper. Bring the kettle to a boil, and turn down to a simmer. Cook, covered, until meat is very tender, about 2 hours.
  4. Add the diced potato and carrots, and cook for an additional 20 minutes.
  5. Prepare the roux by stirring the flour into the melted butter or margarine, and cooking for a moment on the stove. When the soup is done to your liking, stir in the roux. Simmer, stirring all the while, until the soup thickens a bit. Correct the seasonings.
Alternatively you can just head down to the local grocery and buy a can of Campbell's Pepper Pot Soup and heat it up. That's what I plan to do.

On this day in 1170 Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury, was murdered in Canterbury Cathedral. Becket is celebrated in both the Catholic and Anglican communions as a saint because of his defense of Church prerogatives against Royal authority.

The story of Becket is well-known. He had risen in the service of King Henry II to the position of Chancellor. Like many monarchs during the High Middle Ages, Henry systematically sought to expand the powers of the King at the expense of other institutions. Becket was his instrument, working zealously to further Henry's interests against aristocratic landholders and even the Church. Becket was more than a loyal servant to the King; he was also his close friend, and even served as tutor and foster father to Henry's son and heir.

In 1162 Henry named Becket as Archbishop of Canterbury, head of the Church in England. His intent was to use Becket to control the Catholic hierarchy in his realms and to thus further consolidate royal power, but Becket took his new role seriously and worked to block Henry's efforts. Tension between the two men reached a peak in 1164 when Becket openly defied a royal command to sign an agreement [the Constitutions of Clarendon] that would have enhanced Henry's power over the Church and weakened its ties to Rome. At that point Becket fled to France where he sought and gained protection from King Louis VII. For several years thereafter Henry II and Becket fought a paper war in which the King would issue edicts against the Archbishop and his supporters and Becket would respond with excommunications and interdicts against the King's men and clerics who took Henry's side in the dispute.

Matters reached a head in 1170 when Henry II, seeking to secure the succession of his son Henry ["The Young King"], had the boy crowned by the Archbishop of York and other loyal clerics. This was an encroachment on Becket's prerogatives to supervise coronations and he in response excommunicated the clerics who had participated in the ceremony. At that point King Henry made an ambiguous remark. Accounts differ as to its wording, but the most common rendering is "Will no one rid me of this turbulent priest?" Shortly thereafter Becket was assassinated by four of Henry's knights.

Three years later Becket was canonized as a saint and as such served as a symbol for those who opposed royal ambitions. Facing a domestic revolt, Henry made a pilgrimage to Saint Thomas' tomb and paid public penance there, so Becket in death had some measure of revenge. For centuries thereafter Becket's tomb at Canterbury was a popular pilgrimage destination -- that is where Chaucer's pilgrims were heading. The tomb and Becket's corpse were finally destroyed in 1538 on orders from King Henry VIII, another monarch who had troubles with the Church. Today there is a shrine to his memory marked by a single candle.

And on this day in 1916 another famous murder took place in Moscow. Grigori Rasputin ["The Mad Monk"] was a Russian mystic who became a personal advisor to Czarina Alexandra and her husband, Czar Nicholas II. Opponents of the monarchy charged that Rasputin's influence over the royal family was undermining the government and many members of the regime saw him as a threat. He was a marked man, but getting rid of him would prove to be tough. In 1914 he was knifed by a former prostitute and follower of a rival mystic. Supposedly the wound was so large that his entrails were hanging out of his body, but he recovered and was soon back in the palace advising the Czar. Then on this day in 1916 a group of noblemen lured Rasputin to the Moika Palace where they fed him large quantities of cakes and red wine laced with cyanide. He took no notice of the poison. Frustrated, the conspirators then shot him with a revolver. He fell to the ground, and they assumed he was dead. He wasn't. When they checked the body Rasputin suddenly grabbed the chief conspirator and tried to strangle him. They shot him again three times, and he still struggled. They then clubbed him, knifed him, and castrated him, wrapped his body in a carpet and sank him in the Neva River. Under water he again wakened and burst his bonds, but never resurfaced. When his body was dragged from the water and autopsied it was found that he died from drowning and the position of the body suggested that when he died he had been trying to claw through the ice that covered the river. At least that's the way the story of his death has been told.

And you thought Chuck Norris was tough.