Monday, 15 October 2012

Dear William Shakespeare (1564 - 1616),

Oh dear.

I have become one of those literary scholars who writes about you.

There are thousands of 'em already. I swore I'd never join their ranks, because no offence Bill, I like chatting about your plays and all, but they've been done to death. They've been performed in every conceivable way, from the classic interpretations at the Globe, to musical / gangsta / teeny-bopper versions, to such brilliant cinematic creations as Hamlet 2 starring David Arquette.*

The producers are currently in talks with Lindsay Lohan for "Lady Macbeth Outs Her Spots: Brought to you by ProActiv"

Plus they've been scrutinized more closely than a presidential candidate's tax records. Forget, for a moment, the thousands of brilliant minds committed each generation to the study of your works. There are teams of scholars performing research on your handwriting - which is astonishing when you consider that the only known examples are six signatures on legal documents. Not to mention the whole industry of 'attribution studies' (read: literary conspiracy theories) trying to prove that you were not even the author of your own plays. Honestly: I don't care to read a full catalogue of all the bird species you've even mentioned.** Or perform a geneological study of your aunt's great-uncle's second cousins.

But it is necessary that I write on "Othello" this week, because damn it, I made something with strawberries. And nowhere in all of literary history do strawberries mean as much as they do in Othello.

Because in Othello, Desdemona's virtue is symbolised in a simple white handkerchief. And that handkerchief is decorated with embroidered strawberries. And those strawberries are sewn in thread dyed in maidens' blood, just so you know that they're meant to symbolise fidelity:

She may be honest yet. Tell me but this,
Have you not sometimes seen a handkerchief
Spotted with strawberries in your wife's hand?

I gave her such a one; 'twas my first gift.

I know not that; but such a handkerchief --
I am sure it was your wife's -- did I to-day
See Cassio wipe his beard with.

What comes to mind, when I read about the handkerchief, has nothing to do with Desdemona's supposed affair with Cassio. I'm more interested in how the heck you sell the concept of blood-dyed thread to the maidens? I mean, let's say I'm a 17th Century textile worker. I'm manufacturing some red thread, and it has to be symbolic. So I find a troupe of innocent looking young girls, paste on a beseeching smile, and approach them with a syringe? No, because syringes weren't invented. It would be a beseeching smile and some sort of hatchet. Perhaps they decorated the hatchets with Hello Kitty? Now there's a topic for some original Shakespearean research. 

Now that we are all thoroughly repulsed, let's eat some strawberries! Since they feature on a creamy-coloured luxurious handkerchief, I'll combine the strawberries with some cream. And just to distance them from the visions of blood and hatchets, let's add some nice distracting basil and balsamic vinegar. Something this unusual would never have shown up on a Jacobean menu. And if it did, I'm sure the blood that the strawberries were marinated in came from the most virtuous of innocents.

*In which the prince and Jesus, with the use of a time machine, try to save Gertrude and Ophelia. Not a joke. I couldn't make that up.

**Not only does this exist, but in 1890, an American fan decided to import every species into the USA. 122 years and 200 million birds later, the starlings are a bit out of control.

Strawberry, Basil & Balsamic Ice-cream

Makes 1 litre, with a little extra for sneaky tastes

2 punnets strawberries
2 big handfuls basil leaves
3 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1/2C sugar
3C cream
1C milk
1/2C Greek yoghurt


Blitz the strawberries, basil, balsamic, and sugar in a food processor. Combine the cream, milk, and yoghurt in a bowl, and slowly mix in the berry puree. Chill for a few hours.

Pour into an ice cream machine and  churn until a taste makes you swoon! Done.

If you don't have an ice cream machine, you can freeze the mixture in a bowl or tin; just be sure to stir it every hour or so during freezing to stop ice crystals forming. A proper whisk with electric beaters about 3 hours in is a good idea too.

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