Friday Fun Facts - 2/7/2014

Here are this week's Friday Fun Facts about Diana Gabaldon's books.

1) This is Coigach, on the northwest coast of Scotland. (Photo credit: Adam Cunningham, on Flickr.) Click on the photo for a bigger view.
"When Duncan Kerr said the name Ellen, I kent it was my mother he meant--as a sign that he knew my name and my family, kent who I was; that he wasna raving, no matter how it sounded. And knowin’ that--” He shrugged again. “The Englishman had told me where they found Duncan, near the coast. There are hundreds of bittie isles and rocks all down that coast, but only one place where the silkies live, at the ends of the MacKenzie lands, off Coigach."

(From VOYAGER by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 33, "Buried Treasure". Copyright© 1994 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.) 

Here's another view. (Photo credit: John Dera, on Flickr.)  I don't know if there really are silkies (seals) on one of the islands in the area, or whether Diana made that up, but it looks like a beautiful place. Have any of you been there?

2) This photo shows what vanilla beans look like. Vanilla beans are the fruit of a type of orchid called Vanilla planifolia.
I poked my head back through the door, taking care to stand outside.

“Cardamom,” I said firmly. “Nutmeg, whole. Dried this year. Fresh extract of anise.  Ginger root, two large ones, with no blemishes.” I paused. Mr. Murphy had stopped chopping, cleaver poised motionless above the block.

“And,” I added, “half a dozen whole vanilla beans. From Ceylon.”

(From VOYAGER by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 41, "We Set Sail". Copyright© 1994 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)
Those vanilla beans would have been a rare sight to a sea-cook in the 18th century! Even today, vanilla beans are one of the most expensive spices in the world, second only to saffron.

The photo above, from Wikipedia, shows what a vanilla vine looks like:
The vanilla fruit grows quickly on the vine, but is not ready for harvest until maturity--approximately six months. Harvesting vanilla fruits is as labor-intensive as pollinating the blossoms. Immature dark green pods are not harvested. Pale yellow discoloration that commences at the distal end of the fruits is an indication of the maturity of pods. Each fruit ripens at its own time, requiring a daily harvest. To ensure the finest flavor from every fruit, each individual pod must be picked by hand just as it begins to split on the end. Overmatured fruits are likely to split, causing a reduction in market value. Its commercial value is fixed based on the length and appearance of the pod.
For information about cooking with vanilla beans, look here and here.

3) Here's a video showing what a strathspey (a type of Scottish dance) looks like.
After supper there was dancing, to the accompaniment of the landlord’s fiddle. I had never been much of a dancer, being rather prone to trip over my own feet in times of stress. I scarcely expected that I would do better, attired in long skirts and clumsy footgear. Once I had shed the clogs, though, I was surprised to find that I danced with no difficulty and great enjoyment.

Women being in short supply, the innkeeper’s wife and I tucked up our skirts and danced jigs and reels and strathspeys without ceasing, until I had to stop and lean against the settle, red-faced and gasping for breath.

(From OUTLANDER by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 16, "One Fine Day". Copyright© 1991 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)
The term "strathspey" (pronounced STRATH-spay) is named after the Strathspey region of Scotland. You can hear some more strathspey music here.

4) The photo above shows a vintage-1950's electric fire, recently listed on I imagine that this might have been like the one in the house Roger grew up in.
Brianna hovered now over the sofa where her mother lay, motionless as a tomb figure on a sarcophagus. With a shudder, Roger had avoided the hearth where the banked fire lay sleeping, and had instead pulled up the small electric fire with which the Reverend had warmed his feet on winter nights. Its bars glowed orange and hot, and it made a loud, friendly whirring noise that covered the silence in the study.

(From DRAGONFLY IN AMBER by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 49, "Blessed are Those..." Copyright© 1992 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)
Here's an article about the use of electric fires in the UK in the mid-20th century.

5) This photo shows a handfasting ceremony. (Photo credit: Larissa Cleveland)
[Roger] took her hand in his, palm to palm.

“D’ye know what handfasting is?”

“Not exactly. Sort of a temporary marriage?”

 “A bit. In the Isles and the remoter parts of the Highlands, where folk were a long way from the nearest minister, a man and a woman now would be handfast; vowed to each other for a year and a day. At the end of it, they find a minister and wed more permanently--or they go their own ways.”

Her hand tightened in his.

“I don’t want anything temporary."

(From DRUMS OF AUTUMN by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 40, "Virgin Sacrifice". Copyright© 1997 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)
From Wikipedia:
By the 18th century, the Kirk of Scotland no longer recognised marriages formed by mutual consent and subsequent sexual intercourse, even though the Scottish civil authorities did. To minimise any resulting legal actions, the ceremony was to be performed in public. This situation persisted until 1939, when Scottish marriage laws were reformed by the Marriage (Scotland) Act 1939 and handfasting was no longer recognised.
For more about the history of handfasting, look here and here.  Also, check out Scot Ansgeulaiche's handfasting page. (For those of you who don't know, Scot and his wife, Samantha MacKenzie, run the Jamie and Claire Tour of Scotland.)

I hope you enjoyed these Friday Fun Facts! Look here to see all of my Friday Fun Facts blog posts. And please come back next week for more!


Erin said...

Very interesting, Karen! Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Trying again. Enjoy your blog. The Strathspey video was great. Perhaps you can also do one for jigs and reels as they are faster and more fun.

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