Thursday, January 19, 2012

Who in the world am I? Ah, that's the great puzzle.

I read something a while back that mentioned humpty dumpty . . . either that or I looked in the mirror and felt a certain kinship with the eggy fellow.   Whatever . . . it got me wondering about the origin of the little rhyme.

Way back when . . . and I mean waaaaaaaaaaay back to the 15th century . .  . Humpty Dumpty was a term used to describe someone who was  . . . uhm . . . stout.  Yeah, that’s it . . . stout.  Or, to be less delicate . . . really friggin’ fat.
Anyhoo . . . much to my surprise, Mr. Dumpty was not a reference to a particular person; or any person at all, for that matter.  Nor even an egg as the illustrations would lead you to believe. 

I had always assumed it was a linguistic slam of a king or something.  Well, it turns out the Humpty Dumpty was an allusion to a weapon of war . . . a big ass (pun intended) cannon, to be exact. 

In sixteen hundred and forty-eight,
When England suffered the pains of state,
The Roundheads laid siege to Colchester town
Where the king's men still fought for the crown.

There was a siege on the town of Colchester in 1648.   The town contained a castle and several churches and was . . . dum diddy dum . . .  protected by the city wall. Not just any wall . . . but THE wall . . . Humpty’s wall!  Humpty Dumpty was strategically placed said wall. 

There One-Eyed Thompson stood on the wall,
A gunner of deadliest aim of all.
From St. Mary's Tower his cannon he fired,
Humpty Dumpty was its name.

During the siege, a bombardment from the attacking forces busted a hole in the wall beneath the cannon which, not surprisingly, caused the great fall. 

Humpty dumpty sat on a wall,
Humpty dumpty had a great fall;
Threescore men and threescore more,
Could not place Humpty as he was before.

‘All the king's horses and all the king's men’ . . . i.e. the cavalry and knights . . . attempted to raise Humpty Dumpty on to another part of the wall. But because Humpty was so . . . uhm . . . stout . . . that is, the cannon was so frickin’ heavy  . . . they couldn’t get him back up on the wall.

Humpty Dumpty sat on the wall,
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall;
All the king's horses and all the king's men
Couldn't put Humpty together again.

This caused the town to fall into the enemy hands.  The end.

No-Knead Bread

3 Cups All-Purpose Or Bread Flour, More For Dusting
¼ Teaspoon Instant Yeast
1¼ Teaspoons Salt
Cornmeal, As Needed

In a large bowl combine flour, yeast and salt. Add 1 5/8 cups water, and stir until blended; dough will be shaggy and sticky. Cover bowl with plastic wrap. Let dough rest at least 12 hours, preferably about 18, at warm room temperature, about 70 degrees.

Dough is ready when its surface is dotted with bubbles. Lightly flour a work surface and place dough on it; sprinkle it with a little more flour and fold it over on itself once or twice. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rest about 15 minutes.

Using just enough flour to keep dough from sticking to work surface or to your fingers, gently and quickly shape dough into a ball. Generously coat a cotton towel (not terry cloth) with flour, wheat bran or cornmeal; put dough seam side down on towel and dust with more flour, bran or cornmeal. Cover with another cotton towel and let rise for about 2 hours. When it is ready, dough will be more than double in size and will not readily spring back when poked with a finger.

At least a half-hour before dough is ready, heat oven to 450 degrees. Put a 6- to 8-quart heavy covered pot (cast iron, enamel, Pyrex or ceramic) in oven as it heats. When dough is ready, carefully remove pot from oven. Slide your hand under towel and turn dough over into pot, seam side up; it may look like a mess, but that is O.K. Cover with lid and bake 30 minutes, then remove lid and bake another 15 to 30 minutes, until loaf is browned. Cool on a rack.

Yield: One 1½-pound loaf.

“Who in the world am I? Ah, that's the great puzzle.”
Lewis Carroll quote

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