Thursday, May 10, 2012

Wholemeal At Its Heart...

Every now and then, you find something which is best described as a comfort food. It might be a taste from your childhood, or it might just be something which is so un-pretentious and down to earth that you can only relax when you consume it.

McVitie's Digestives are just such a comfort food.

A digestive biscuit, originally known as a Wheaten, is sometimes referred to as a sweet-meal biscuit and is a semi-sweet biscuit which originated in the United Kingdom. It is probably closest to the graham cracker in America, though the graham cracker is a typically a bit dryer and more brittle. They were originally known as Digestive biscuits because their high baking soda/sodium bicarbonate content was thought to aid in digestion.

In 1830, Robert McVitie opened a provision shop in Edinburgh and ran his baking operation in the basement. Alexander Grant came to work at McVitie's in 1887 and five years later created McVitie's Digestive. For over over 100 years that same secret recipe has been used to the delight of millions.

McVitie's Digestive is uniquely delicious, with its sweet wheaty taste and distinctive size making it one of the most popular British biscuits today.

Whether enjoyed crunched or dipped in a cup of tea, it is a familiar sight across the UK. But be warned to not dunk it too long in your tea, or it will tend to fall apart.

I can't think of a more perfect accompaniment to a cold or rainy day than the comfort of one of these biscuits. Not too sweet, not too dry, not to crispy, they are the perfect way to enjoy a quiet moment of relaxation during any day.

More information can be found at McVitie's

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Wednesday, May 2, 2012

And This is Timber Racing!

When the last two Saturdays arrive in Baltimore, there is a part of the city whose focus is not on the American pastime of baseball, but rather an earlier and much deeper and British connection to the turf and horse racing. 

I must say, the Grand National is one of my favorite races. For the money, a general admission pass will give you three great races viewed from a hillside with a picnic basket and a waterproof picnic blanket. This is a hard value to beat when it comes to racing and the view of the course.

2012 Grand National

The Grand National began in 1898 when several young men who wanted to compete in the Maryland Hunt Cup, but were too young to enter. All the riders were under 16 and rode ponies, except for one horse. The race was run over 2 1/2 miles near Chattolanee Hotel near the Golf Course of the present Green Spring Valley Club. As the riders became older, the age limit was raised so they could continue to participate. 

The race continued to be run over various courses in the Green Spring Valley through 1917, with the lengthening to 3 miles in 1906 and averaging 15 to 20 fences plus ditches and even streams. 

With a brief hiatus due to World War I, the race resumed in 1920 at Five Farms, the estate of Stuart Oliver, until the property was sold in Baltimore Country Club for their new golf course. 

In 1925 the Grand National moved to Brooklandwood, the estate of Captain Isaac Emerson, now the site of St. Paul's School at the corner of Falls Road and Green Spring Valley Road, where it remained through 1934. This 3 mile course consisted of 15 fences averaging 4'1" high and also had a water jump. 

2012 Grand National

Another move was in store for the race, this time to Hereford Farms at the corner of York road and Piney Hill Road, just south of Hereford, where the race was run from 1935 until 1941, when World War II again interrupted racing. The Hereford Farms course was 1 1/2 miles long run twice around and had 16 fences to be negotiated. It was also here that the first subscriber fee was introduced to watch the races. 

With the war over, the Grand National was once again resumed in 1946, this time in its final and current location, Western Run Valley and the farms of the Griswold and Fenwick families. The 3 mile course consisted of 18 fences, 2 board and 16 rail, ranging from 3'9" to 4'2" high.

While the Grand National is often compared to the Maryland Hunt Cup, there are distinct differences, the Grand National is a shorter race, resulting in faster racing. The Hunt Cup is the real test of a horses endurance.

This isn't your average horse race. The horses, averaging 10-13 years old race over 22 fences, 4 board and 18 rail, ranging in height from 2'11" at the water jump to 4'10" at the number 16 fence. And that is it, one race! It is an entire afternoon spent picnicking and tailgating. The only vendors present are selling the race program and race caps and t-shirts. There is no other commercial activity and no commercial advertising present anywhere. How many other horse racing events are only based around one race? And how many major sporting events are still void of corporate sponsorships? I can't think of anywhere else I'd rather be on the last Saturday in April.

13th Fence at the 2012 Maryland Hunt Cup

The Maryland Hunt Cup began in 1894 when the members of the Elkridge Hunt challenged members of Green Spring Valley Hunt to a timber race on Dr. William Lee's property near Stevenson Station in the Green Spring Valley and heading east finishing near George Brown's race track at Brooklandwood, a distance of 4 miles. The first race was limited to members of those two clubs, but the next year the race was opened to members of any fox hunt in Maryland, and in 1903, members from recognized hunts throughout the United States and Canada were invited to participate.

The next year the race began at Hampton Gate on Dulaney Valley Road, a mile north of Towson, and ran over a circular course of about 4 1/8 miles. In 1896, the race returned to the Green spring Valley, starting at Brooklandwood and running a distance of a little less than 5 miles. It remained in that area one last time in 1897, starting in a field directly north of Brooklandville Station on the east side of Falls Road.

In 1898 the race moved near Cockeysville, starting and ending at Gerar, the country home of E. Gittings Merryman, near Cockeysville and the following year to “Long Green,” the country seat of W.S.G. Williams. The house at Gerar was demolished by 1962 to make way for Marriott's Hunt Valley Inn, with the remainder of the property becoming part of the Hunt Valley Industrial Park and Long Green would become part of the Deford/Boordy Vineyard Estate.

The race returned to the Green Spring Valley in 1900 and 1901 before moving to R.M. Dennison’s farm, Salona in Timonium in 1902

Then in 1903, the race started 1/4 mile north of Towson, directly east of York Road, and finishing at Hampton.

In 1904, the Hunt cup returned form one last run in the Green Spring Valley, site of its birth ten years earlier, where it remained through 1914, running over a number of owners properties.

In 1915, the Hunt Cup left the Green Spring Valley for good, never to return. That year it was run for the first time in the Worthington Valley, starting and finishing at Merberne Manor Farm, the home of G. Bernard Fenwick, where it remained through 1918. Since the Fenwick Farm was entirely fenced in wire, the race committee had to build panel fences in order to run the race.

With the Fenwick Farm being planed in corn in 1919, the race moved back to Hampton in Dulaney Valley for two years before moving to Five Farms, country home of Stuart Oliver, for the 1921 race, that last race to be run outside Worthington Valley.

Finish Line at the 2012 Maryland Hunt Cup

In 1922, the Hunt Cup returned to the Worthington Valley and Snow Hill, the home of Charles L.A. Heiser, and the present Hunt Cup course. Since that time, the course has remained fixed, with only the names of the property owners changing over the years.

The present course was originally laid out by G. Bernard Fenwick and Thomas Disney and has stood the test of time, still providing perhaps the most challenging and well know steeplechase course on either side of the Atlantic. It is this race, and this race alone which receives regular mention in British Steeplechase racing circuits and for good reason.

So the last Saturday in April each year, I make the trek to Worthington Valley to join my friends and many strangers and watch one of the greatest spectacles in Steeplechase racing. I wouldn't have it any other way!

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