Thursday, August 22, 2013

Presto! A Language Disappears, Recipes for Revival

Every day another language disappears from our world as its last speakers pass away. I received a rude awakening to that fact last week in Mineral Point, Wisconsin. Previously, I was unaware of this beautiful, historic town in southwest Wisconsin. It was originally settled in the 1840’s by miners from Cornwall, England who had been displaced when many tin mines closed. Some of them immigrated to Wisconsin to work in the lead mines. Many of the original limestone houses in Mineral Point have been preserved and maintained; it has become a center for local artists.                

In a bookstore, I found several Cornish language textbooks. When I asked the proprietor about them, she said, “We are not English. We are Celtic like the Irish, Scottish, Welsh, and people from Brittany, France, and Galicia, Spain.” Her anger pulsated with her response. Clearly, she sought justice for the English submerging of her culture.

Since that trip, I’ve tried to find information about Cornwall and its history and culture. As a sign of how merged into the general English culture it is, very little information is available about it other than it had a Celtic background. Cornwall occupies one county in Southwest England; its current population is about 500,000. While it used to be a center for mining, its main industry now is tourism. It boasts beautiful coastal areas, beaches, and the least cold climate in England. I apologize for being ignorant of its history.

Are the differences between the Cornish and English minor? Did the Cornish have a culture that was buried by the dominant culture around them? I suppose many smaller groups, as they strive to maintain their cultural heritages, are debating similar questions. The larger question is how to maintain one’s culture without becoming tribal to the point of warring with neighbors over surmountable differences.

The last Cornish speaker passed away in 1914. Nevertheless, in the last 15 years, people there have been reviving it. Once again, the Cornish language is taught in several of their elementary schools. High school students from Mineral Point have a yearly visitor exchange with their counterparts in Cornwall. There are now an estimated 300 Cornish speakers.

The European Union is aiding the revival by designating the Cornish pastie a heritage food. It can now only be made and sold legally in Cornwall. It has to be shaped like a ‘D’ and its opening has to be on the side. So much for living and letting live.

For fear of violating any laws, I won’t give you a recipe for the pastie. It looks too complicated to make anyway. There have been no restrictions placed on Cornish hens, however, so here’s a recipe for Cornish game hens. Preparation time 15 minutes. It serves two.

                                                  Herb Roasted Cornish Game Hens

1 large Cornish hen
1 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp coarse black pepper
1 tsp minced rosemary
1 tsp thyme
1 bay leaf
1 shallot roughly chopped
1 carrot chopped into pieces
1 celery stalk chopped
juice of ½ lemon

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.
Rinse the hen. Season with salt and pepper inside and out.
Stuff the cavity with the spices.
Place some of each of the veggies in the cavity. Place the rest of the veggies on the bottom of the pan.
Place the hen on top of the veggies.
Squeeze lemon juice over the hen and in the cavity.
Cook for about 45 minutes.



Lyn Cote said...

That was a great trip, Lisa. And I never knew about the Cornish people either though I had been to Mineral Point before.

Lyn Cote said...

I tried 3 times to leave a comment!

Lisa Sachs said...

Hi Lyn, It was a great trip especially the day in Mineral Point. Small subgroups with lost languages always pique my interest.