Friday, 4 February 2011

On good bread and good guns.

     It does not cost much. It is pleasant: one of the most hypnotic businesses, like a dance from some ancient ceremony. It leaves you filled with peace, and the house filled with one of the world's sweetest smells. But it takes a lot of time. If you can find that, the rest is easy. And if you can not rightly find it, make it, for probably there is no chiropractic treatment, no Yoga exercise, no hour of meditation in a music-throbbing chapel, that will leave you emptier of bad thoughts than this homely exercise of making bread.
                                        M.F.K. Fisher, How to Cook a Wolf. 1942

Making bread is a great thing. The only drawback M.F.K. Fisher could find was that it takes a lot of time. The no-knead bread recipes essentially eliminate the time element so there really is no reason not to make bread anymore.  Here's a photo of the loaf from yesterday.  I sometimes make it, but P is getting really good at this.

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Datus Proper first brought my attention to M.F.K. Fisher's writing in his own book Pheasant's of the Mind: A Hunter's Search for a Mythical Bird.. In that book, he frequently and reverently refers to her translation of Brillat-Savarin's The Physiology of Taste.

 In Proper's pheasant hunting book he puts forth the proposition that a man should own one good shotgun and that a month's salary is not an unreasonable figure to account for it.  A suggestion I found shocking when I read it and somehow still do; a month's salary has never been available to me for such a purchase.  For himself, Proper followed his own advice.  He hunted a side-by-side sidelock shotgun made by  James Woodward.  A London best gun made some time just before the turn of the last century.  A quick search reveals that only Woodward side-by-side I can find listed on the internet right now (it is sold) was priced at $28,500. I'm fairly certain that Mr. Proper, who was a Foreign Service officer in the State Department never made that amount in one month, so I guess his strategy turned out to be a pretty good investment too.

A 12 GA sidelock made by James Woodward & Sons.
In his book Good Guns Again, Stephen Bodio makes a good argument for boxlock actioned shotguns, preferably British made.   Bodio himself also seem to like the rather odd French made Darne slide-action guns.  Boxlock actions have fewer parts and are less delicate than sidelock actions.  Fewer parts means they are generally more reliable, but also fewer parts means they require less precise hand fitting and so are less expensive to make.

Barrel markings on my 12 ga. Jeffery boxlock.
 Unable to follow Proper's advice, I followed Bodio's.  I spent far less than a month's salary on a good, if not best, shotgun.  My own shotgun is a British boxlock made by W. J. Jeffery & Co.  It is labeled with the 13 King Street, St. James's St. London address on the barrels; records indicate it was made in Birmingham in 1906 by a Mr. Clarke.  This was not an uncommon arrangement, to have boxlocks made in Birmingham and sold by London makers. In 2006 I had a little 100 year birthday party for my shotgun.  It has a splinter forend, a straighthand stock, double triggers, 28" barrels and is chambered for the non-standard (in the US anyway) 2 1/2" 12 gauge shells.  The 2 1/2" shell was British standard in the beginning of the last century.

Standard 12 gauge shells are 2 3/4". The fact that it is chambered for non-standard shells meant the price was a bit lower than it might have been.  A standard upland field load for a 2 3/4" shell is 1 1/8 oz. of shot.  The standard load for a 2 1/2" shell is 1 oz. of shot which also happens to be the standard load for a 2 3/4" 16 gauge shells.  A shotgun chambered for the British 2 1/2" 12 gauge shell is quite comparable to a 16 gauge shotgun.  The difference is that a 1oz. load from a 12 gauge barrel packs a bit more of a punch.  The ballistic advantage comes from the fact that the shot itself leaves the larger diameter barrel in a shorter shot column, it is not quite a strung out as it is leaving the smaller diameter 16 gauge barrel.

The action and top lever shows some case coloring, and probably has been refinished.
The British were never really fans of the 16 gauge and not many were made there. It was a favorite on the continent, there were plenty of French and Belgian 16 gauge shotguns made.  In fact, my first side-by-side was a French made 16 gauge; a Breuil with horribly pitted barrels and chambered for another oddball sized shell -- 65mm 16 gauge.  The stock cracked while stored in my gun safe in a damp attic in Ithaca NY. That gun was never the same. Sixtten gauge shotguns were  was popular here in the US too.  Many of the classic American shotguns made by  Parker, Fox, L. C. Smith and Ithaca were chambered for 16 gauge shells.
Scroll engraving with Rosettes on the screws.
Engraving was standard practice for fine firearms (even boxlocks) at the turn of the last century.  The Jeffery is engraved with a very elegant fine scroll and and leaf pattern with rosettes on the screws. Modern pressed "engraving" can not compare and as far as I'm concerned, you might as well not have it at all.

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 A few years ago, running up a steep hillside to get into position for a shot at a grouse Erdős was pointing, I slipped on a snow covered log. My arms went out, the Jeffery was in my right hand, and I hit it damn hard on the log.  It put a pretty good gash in the otherwise delicate forend and I was surprised it did not break it.  I would not be surprised if that fall was responsible for the scratch in the engraving (it is just visible if you enlarge the image above.) Since then I have been a bit more careful about the kind of hunting I do with it.  That was about the time I  personalized my 20 gauge Citori so that I had a more pedestrian gun for rough conditions like Chukar hunting.  To me, it is unacceptable to put the Jeffery away in the safe and not use it, it is a fine tool perfectly designed and expertly built for its intended use.  But there is a balance between using it an caring for it, I don't so much own my 105 year old shotgun, it's more that I'm the current caretaker.

A really good loaf - open crumb, large hole structure, crispy crust, great flavor.

So how does one get from bread to guns and back again?  These are the well trod paths of my autodidact mind.

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