Bean and bell pepper salad is a winner for a potluck — or any time

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For a texture- and nutrition-rich bean salad, start with these ingredients (clockwise from top): yellow bell pepper, celery, red bell pepper, marinated artichoke hearts, red onion, black beans and red kidney beans.

By Betty Gordon

© 2018 text and photos. All rights reserved.

For office potlucks, I used to make scratch cakes or cookies, or the occasional savory bread pudding, which were always warmly received.

But one pre-potluck night, after getting home much too late from work, I didn’t have the energy or patience to embark on one of my go-to recipes for the next day’s event.

I thought I’d try a bean salad, which I’d never made before, but also didn’t seem like it would require too much time or effort, just some nontaxing chopping.

Colorful, crunchy and packed with flavor, it was a winner. Eager requests for the recipe followed.

And so did expectations.

For every future potluck, I did not hear the polite inquiry, “What are you bringing?”

The question was much more direct, friendly and hopeful, of course, but with the undertone of almost a command: “Are you bringing the beans?”

They were that popular with the office crowd. So I complied, time after time.

Try this bean salad, and you’ll see why. It’s a nice balance of a bit of sweetness from the kidney beans, a bit of acidic bite from the vinegar and a whole lot to chew on.

It’s good all-year round but particularly handy now that we’re moving into picnic and outdoor grilling season because it contains no mayonnaise. I still wouldn’t leave it sitting out for hours, but it certainly won’t go off as quickly as summertime favorites potato salad or coleslaw.

I like a mix of red kidney beans and black beans, but feel free to use cannellini, navy beans or anything else that you like. Can volume varies from 14 to 16 ounces, so don’t worry if what you buy differs slightly from the recipe. It’ll work.

If you don’t like bell peppers, eliminate them and increase the amount of celery to 2 cups.

Red onion can be pretty powerful, so you might prefer using milder sweet Vidalia onions.

I find the marinated artichoke hearts too large straight out of the jar, so I cut them into smaller pieces. That way, a bit of fleshy artichoke is included in nearly every bite.

Once all the ingredients are mixed, taste and adjust the seasonings. More salt and pepper, or a touch further of granulated sugar might be needed.

I make this as a side dish, but to stretch it even further, serve over white rice.

Or to feed a larger crowd, double it.

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After combining all ingredients, taste and adjust the seasonings, if needed.

Two Bean, Bell Pepper and Artichoke Heart Salad

Hands on: 20 minutes

Total time: 20 minutes

Serves: 6 to 8 as a side dish (makes about 6 cups)

1 (15-ounce) can light red kidney beans, drained and rinsed

1 (15-ounce) can black beans, drained and rinsed

1 (12-ounce) jar marinated artichoke hearts, drained, but reserve the liquid

1 cup diced celery (about 4 ribs)

1/2 cup diced red bell pepper

1/2 cup diced yellow bell pepper

1 cup diced red onion

3 to 4 tablespoons marinated artichoke oil

4 tablespoons red wine vinegar

1 teaspoon granulated sugar

1/2 teaspoon dry ground mustard

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 teaspoon salt, or to taste

Prep the beans, artichoke hearts and vegetables and set aside.

In a large glass mixing bowl, add marinated oil, vinegar, sugar, mustard, pepper and salt. Stir until well-combined. Add beans, artichoke hearts, celery, bell peppers and red onion. Mix until all the vegetables are evenly coated with the dressing.

Cover and chill several hours or overnight. If pressed for time, serve immediately.

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Cooking class in Naha, Okinawa: A hands-on lesson in making soba noodles from scratch

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Clockwise from upper left: Mozuku-su (seaweed with cucumber and ginger garnish), fried Japanese doughnut, jasmine tea, white rice and Okinawa soba soup (with tofu slices, pressed fish cakes [on right], green onions, handmade soba noodles and red ginger garnish).
By Betty Gordon

© 2018 text and photos. All rights reserved.

This is the sixth in a series about my March 2018 trip to Okinawa and Tokyo, Japan, and Guam. See my April 1 discussion of Navy man George Tweed eluding Japanese soldiers for more than two years on Guam in World War II; April 8 about Okinawan food specialties, and visits to a market and area known for its pottery; April 15 about the sinking of Japan’s Tsushima Maru and the deaths hundreds of schoolchildren during WWII; April 29 about photographing newlyweds after their Shinto ceremony; and May 14 about the WWII destruction of Shurijo Castle.

For someone who loves pasta as much as I do — all shapes, sizes and varying international specialties — you might think I would have tried making linguine, ravioli or some other shape from scratch.

That was never the case, until I took a cooking class at Taste of Okinawa and made soba noodles by hand. It not only took longer from start to finish than I was expecting — about three hours — but was far more labor-intensive as well.

As with the other cooking classes I’ve taken in Asia (for my experience in Chiang Mai Thailand, see my post from May 1, 2017, and for Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, see December 12, 2016), we started with a market visit. Taste of Okinawa staffer Rina led us among the stalls and aisles to pick up some ingredients we’d use to make our dinner.

And as with my other classes, Taste of Okinawa was happy to accommodate dietary restrictions (it’s helpful to notify in advance if making this request). Instructors need time to prepare a different broth, for example, made from bonita flakes, instead of the usual pork-based stock.

I had been to the Makishi market earlier in the week and seen a brownish, oblong-shaped item neatly stacked in rows. I had an idea what this was and I picked up a sample to smell it. The vendor was not happy with my having done so, and I quickly replaced it and apologized.

But my nose confirmed that it was dried fish of some sort.

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Dried bonita, a type of tuna, is used extensively in Okinawan and Japanese cooking. The vendor I had previously visited did not have a hand with a big red “X” warning shoppers not to touch.

At the market, Rina refined my identification, saying that this was dried bonita, one of the key ingredients in Okinawan cooking, and indeed in Japanese cooking overall.

At the vendor we visited who sold this bonita, a machine made quick work of shaving the rock-hard dried fish into wispy paper-thin flakes, an orange-pink in color. The flakes were packed in a plastic bag and we left for the next stop.

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This machine rapidly spits out sliver-thin shaved pieces of bonita.

There, Rina picked out dried mozuku, a brownish, thin-stranded, nutrition-rich seaweed that we would use in making a side dish. Deep-fried Japanese doughnuts were also purchased, and this would become our dessert.

Back at Taste of Okinawa, staff had prepped recipe ingredients into small glass bowls and other containers while we were at the market.

The interior furnishings were very simple. Two long communal tables were positioned along the length of the left wall, framed by wooden chairs on both sides. On the right, a small bar, craft beer taps, stovetop, refrigerator, oven and food prep area occupied the space.

We donned colorful aprons, and stood at our individual stations: three on one side of one of the long wooden tables, the other two facing us.

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Some of the ingredients we’d be using to make dinner were premeasured by staff at Taste of Okinawa. We cut the carrot, green onion, shiitake mushrooms and fish cakes to size as instructed.

Our group included an Okinawa-based Marine brigadier general, his wife, his sister visiting from California and her adult daughter, and me.

Instructor Zoey, a Taiwanese-born, self-described “highly competitive” young woman, stood at the head of the table and gave us a brief summary of her culinary background (more on that later) before we began our soba noodle production.

The first step required little effort from our two teams: We briefly shook close-topped plastic bags to aerate the white wheat flour. (Some soba is made from buckwheat.)

Next, in a small bowl, baking soda and salt were blended with one egg and a little bit of water. This differs from a basic Italian pasta recipe, which generally is just flour and eggs.

In a large mixing bowl, a well was made in the center of the flour and the egg-water mixture was added. By hand, we took turns bringing in the flour from the well’s sides until the ingredients held together in a ball.

Then, with the dough separated into five portions, we each began kneading our ball on a floured surface for about 15 minutes. Zoey said the texture we were looking to achieve was soft and smooth “like a baby’s bum” and enough give to leave a small indentation when pressed lightly with a fingertip.

The dough was placed back into a plastic bag to rest for about 30 minutes at about 115 degrees Fahrenheit (45 Celsius), in this case, a warmed microwave oven.

Meanwhile, we worked on the other dishes for our meal. The mozuku was reconstituted in a bowl of water, and we practiced our knife skills by making julienne strips of cucumber, carrots and shiitake mushrooms; cut pieces of green onions; and grated ginger. The mozuku dressing consisted of sugar, vinegar, soy sauce and bonita stock.

The mozuku was drained, the dressing mixed in and then garnished with the cucumber and grated ginger.

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My uncooked soba noodles weren’t perfectly even in size or length, but they tasted just fine in Okinawa soba soup.

Working with the dough again, Zoey instructed us to roll it out into a rectangular shape to about 1/8-inch thick. This was pretty tricky, even with an elastic dough, and my rectangle was decidedly lopsided.

Then, accordion-like, the dough was folded back over itself three times to form four layers.

Our last step was the hardest and most time-consuming: Cutting the folded dough into (in theory) identical 1/4-inch-thick pieces, then unraveling the layers — using as much extra flour as needed — and piling the strands on a cutting board.

The more exact the better, but since the end product is a tangle of noodles, consistency is a goal, not an obsession. The point of slicing the dough so thinly is that when the strands are placed in a large pot of boiling water to cook for 60 to 90 seconds, they will double in size.

After the noodles were cooked, we placed them on a rimmed baking sheet, poured a bit of vegetable oil over the top and stirred continuously with chopsticks for a minute or two to help separate them as they cooled.

The noodles were given a quick dip in water to rinse off the oil.

Finally, it was time to make a bowl of Okinawa soba soup. In my case, it was vegetarian, and using tofu where the others had pork belly, which was prepared in advance by staff.

So, my soba noodles were swimming in bonita broth, topped with pieces of tofu, pressed fish cake slices, green onions and red ginger.

Mmmmmmmmm. Was the effort worth it? Absolutely. The noodles were slightly chewy, and oh, so easy to slurp (as is customary in Japanese cuisine). I had an extra portion of noodles leftover, which went into a plastic bag and were stored in the mini-fridge in my hotel room overnight. I had them plain for breakfast the next morning. That might not sound appetizing, but they were!

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Once cooking class was finished, Zoey performed another aspect of her job: Making snacks and light meals for early evening diners at Taste of Okinawa.

Taste of Okinawa, when not hosting afternoon cooking classes, is also a craft beer bar and restaurant. Zoey, who has had a strong interest in cooking since she was a preteen, describes the menu as fusion cooking with Italian and French influences and “my own personality in it.”

While we were talking after class, she was preparing orders of nachos, salads, and fish and chips for the early evening patrons.

Born in Taipei, Zoey has been cooking since she was 7, and calling up her grandmother to get help and advice while her parents were at work.

By 11, she was in a bookstore writing down recipes from a Jamie Oliver cookbook — while not understanding much English. Computer-generated translation helped her make sense of her notes.

After attending a cooking high school in Taiwan, and her interest in bettering her English only increasing, she wrote up a business plan at 21 and asked her parents to help support her while she worked in kitchens abroad, including Spain, gaining experience and widening her culinary horizons.

Eventually, she landed in Paris in 2013 and enrolled in an intensive, nine-month course at Le Cordon Bleu. Having already spent years catering dinners and events to promote her mother’s antique jewelry business, Zoey didn’t find Le Cordon Bleu overly taxing, but it did help her to refine her palate and culinary vision.

“If you know ingredients, how to choose it, how to use it, that’s the best cuisine,” she told me.

From friends of friends, she heard about an opening at a new place — Taste of Okinawa. She arrived in June 2016, helping to design a menu and create the first cooking classes.

She’s planning to add a class in Chinese to the one she already teaches in English. Classes are also available in Japanese.

I had a lot of fun making soba noodles. When I next attempt this at home, I’ll be sure to budget a full afternoon and remind myself as I’m struggling to unravel my noodles of the deliciousness to come.

Quick reference: Classes can be booked in advance online. Adults, 6,500 ¥ (about $59), children, 3,500 ¥ (about $32). Cold jasmine tea is included in the price, and craft beer and other beverages are available for purchase. Inquire about a group rate for more than 10. Visa, MasterCard and American Express accepted. A booklet of recipes is included to take home. Class: Tuesdays-Sundays: 3:30-6:30 p.m. Restaurant hours: 5-7 p.m. Tuesdays-Sundays for snacks and light food; 7-11 p.m. for full menu. The website has a printable map and detailed instructions for finding the location. 1-6-21 Tsuboya, Naha, Okinawa. Phone: +81-98-943-6313; website: tasteof.okinawa

 

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Okinawa’s Shurijo Castle: Restored fortress of Ryukyu kings was headquarters for Japan’s 32nd Army during World War II

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Monarchs of the Ryukyu Kingdom sat in a chair like this in the seiden (main hall) to receive important political guests at Shurijo Castle, in what is now Okinawa, Japan. The facing dragons are symbols of the king and can be found in many places around the castle.

By Betty Gordon

© 2018 text and photos. All rights reserved.

This is the fourth in a series about my March 2018 trip to Okinawa and Tokyo, Japan, and Guam. See my April 8 post about Okinawan food specialties, and visits to a market and area known for its pottery; April 15 about the sinking of Japan’s Tsushima Maru and the deaths hundreds of schoolchildren during World War II; and April 29 about photographing newlyweds after their Shinto ceremony.

About a year before the American-led invasion of Okinawa commenced on April 1, 1945, the Japanese Army began digging in.

Literally.

The Allies’ hard-fought Pacific Island victories were bringing World War II ever closer to Japan’s home islands, with horrific losses on the battlefield on both sides.

Japan’s Imperial forces were losing ships and aircraft at an unsustainable pace. With resources dwindling and resupply lagging far behind demand, it became clear to military planners that defense and counterattacking were now the best strategies to conserve what men and matériel they had left, and to delay as long as possible the Allies’ turning their attention to advancing toward Tokyo.

So in the spring of 1944, thousands of Japanese soldiers and Korean laborers, poorly fed and often ill-treated by senior officers, set about excavating coral, dirt and limestone without the aid of tunneling equipment — think pick ax and wheelbarrow — on the southern third of the island.

(The Japanese Army, outnumbered two to one in manpower, and with a tenth of the firepower of their enemy, knew they could not defend the entire island, though there would be brief, spirited resistance against U.S. Marines fighting in the north.)

Near Shuri, the second-largest town on the island, steep ridges, cliffs and dense foliage marked the landscape, the very features that would bedevil the attacking Americans. The castle itself, ringed by stone walls 20 feet thick at the base and some reaching 40 feet tall, was strategically perched on the highest point.

When Operation Iceberg began, the view west toward Naha, Okinawa’s largest town, would reveal a massive Allied armada hovering within easy striking distance of Shuri.

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This was an entrance to the underground cave complex from where General Mitsuru Ushijima commanded Japan’s 32nd Army.

The caves beneath Shuri Castle became headquarters of the Japanese 32nd Army, under the command of General Mitsuru Ushijima. More than 1,000 men — the size of a fighting battalion — would be housed in timber-reinforced tunnels and side shafts that were 50 feet underground at their shallowest depth.

The fortifications, covering 13,000 feet (about 2.5 miles), included a well-stocked kitchen and pantry, dispensary, telephone switchboard area, operations rooms, an overtaxed ventilation system and much more. Humidity hovered close to 100 percent, moisture covered nearly everything and the soldiers developed rashes because their skin never dried.

Even with these hardships, the tunnels were so secure they could withstand fire from 16-inch naval shells.

Said one incredulous Marine, when the fighting was over, as quoted in the excellent “Tennozan: The Battle of Okinawa and the Atomic Bomb”: “Two-tiered quarters, running water, everything beautifully engineered — it was like a ship inside the hills. That’s why you never saw a [Japanese soldier] most of the time: They’d be bombed, bombarded, napalmed — and safe inside those thousands of caves. And caves with mouths so small you wouldn’t see them until you were almost right on them and they started shooting.”

(For those interested in an exhaustive, detailed and highly readable examination of the Battle of Okinawa, I highly recommend George Feifer’s “Tennozan,” published in 1992. The word comes from the all-or-nothing gamble a 16th-century Japanese ruler made on a lone battle. Now it means “any decisive struggle.”)

Eventually, underground fortifications spanned the width of the island at the Shuri Line, about 12 miles across at that point, reaching both coasts to north of Naha (four miles away) on the west and Yonabaru on the east. (Okinawa is 60 miles long and ranges from two to 18 miles wide.)

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It wasn’t just the walls that were destroyed at Shurijo Castle. After three days of bombardment from the USS Mississippi in May 1945, the entire complex was rubble.

About two months into the Battle of Okinawa, over a three-day period in late May 1945, Shuri Castle itself was totally destroyed by fire, the result of almost continual bombardment by the USS Mississippi from offshore. Photographs show the surrounding barren landscape, random bits of shriveled timber the only things left of what had once been a splendid architectural achievement.

Ushijima and part of the 32nd Army retreated south, to Mabuni on the Kiyamu Peninsula, where the final fighting would take place. After a total of 82 days of battle, Okinawa fell to the Allies. (Obviously, this a much-condensed version of the deadliest campaign of the Pacific war, with an especially high toll paid by civilians. Estimates range, but it’s possible up to 150,000 Okinawans died, a third of the pre-war population.)

After the war, the priorities were to rebuild housing and resurrect businesses, and to replant farms to re-establish what had once been the lifeblood of many Okinawans.

Reconstruction at Shurijo Castle and Park, as it is now known, would have to wait for decades, but finally the former home of Ryukyu’s dynastic rulers was opened in 1992 to coincide with the 20th anniversary of the end of American administration and the return of Okinawa to Japanese rule.

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The seiden is the center building with the decorative arch. When the castle was rebuilt, construction was based on the 18th-century version.

Based on excavations, survey plans and photographs, the castle is a faithful replica of the 18th-century version of the structures from the days of Ryukyuan royalty, when the islands were an independent kingdom. (Fires destroyed earlier castles dating to the 1400s.)

Over 500 years, economic, artistic and intellectual exchanges with China, Japan, Korea and southeast Asian countries enriched island life, allowing the development of a unique culture. (Part of this time, the invading Satsuma clan from Japan was in charge.)

Chinese-influenced arts, such as lacquerware and textiles, were localized by the Ryukyuans. Brightly colored garments fashioned from a fabric-dyeing method called bingata, which I’ll write about in a future post, were favored by women of the noble class. Cranes and flowers were popular motifs, and the kimono-like clothing was also worn for traditional dances.

Chinese architecture also served as an example for the style of the seiden (main hall), with its up-curving eaves, roof tiles and part of the exterior painted a brilliant vermillion.

At the base of the stairs leading to the seiden stand two dragon pillars made from sandstone. One dragon, its mouth open, faces the other, with its mouth closed. Dragons, symbols of the king, can be found all over the property.

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A scale model of the una (striped area) in front of the seiden illustrates what the site looked like for special ceremonies.

On the first floor, in a series of rooms, the king conducted political business and hosted ceremonies. Today this area is devoid of furniture but the supports, ceiling and partitions are a buffed, shiny red. (When entering the seiden, be prepared to take off your shoes, as is Japanese custom. You’ll be given a plastic bag to carry them in until you leave the hall.)

Upstairs visitors will find the king’s red-and-gold “seat” on a raised platform. Guarded also by facing dragon pillars, the seat — less imposing than a high-backed throne — was reconstructed from pictures and references that date to King Sho Shin, who ruled from 1477 to 1526.

An area on the second floor was the domain of the queen and her attendants, and another room served as a place of worship, where the king and his female attendants would pray for peace and the safety of the kingdom.

Current exhibitions, in buildings adjacent to the seiden, are “Treasures of the Kings” (painting, lacquerware and textiles) and “Ryukyuan People’s Picnic” (multi-tiered food boxes, thermoses and self-contained picnic sets elaborately decorated with gold and inlaid mother of pearl). The exhibits run through July 3.

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Following the path after these stone stairs, topped by Zuisenmon Gate, will lead to the una and seiden.

When Commodore Matthew Perry arrived in May 1853 in Naha, seeking rights for American ships to provision in Okinawa (then called Lew Chew, with many alternate spellings), the Ryukyu kingdom was in its waning years. Without an invitation, the imperious Perry and a procession of 200 from several of his ships, including two bands, arrived at Shuri Castle.

Over the next year, Perry’s willful and sometimes threatening negotiations in the Japanese home islands would bring to an end centuries of self-imposed isolation and jump-start trade with the West.

With the Meiji Restoration in 1879, an emperor replaced centuries of shogun rule and the Ryukyu Islands were annexed by Japan, which changed the name to Okinawa.

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From this part of the gardens, the view features Naha, capital of Okinawa Prefecture, and the Pacific Ocean in the background.

Shurijo Castle’s grounds cover more than 300 acres, and some areas are still being restored. The property can be separated into three sections: administrative, centered around the seiden, its core buildings and a large plaza; the ceremonial and ritual area to the west, most of which is outdoors with lovely gardens and views; and the residential area to the east, where no male except the king and his relatives could enter. This was mainly managed by women of the court, and these buildings are not open to the public.

Some markers do mention the war damage, but the information is brief. Vertical gates, some partially obscured by overgrown trees and vines, block the cave mouths and access to the 32nd Army complex. No part of it is open to the public.

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Bezaitendo Shrine was the repository of Buddhist scriptures that were a gift from the king of Korea. Enkanchi Pond surrounds the temple. The original building dated to 1502, about 80 years after the Ryukyu kingdom was established.

Shurijo, and other Ryukyuan sacred sites and monuments on Okinawa, were added as a group to the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in 2000.

Allot at least two hours to see all of the buildings, stone gates and temples (more if you are reading everything and taking photos). Arriving early before the crowds is also recommended. If kids are along, make sure to pick up a “stamp collection rally” pamphlet. A stamp and red ink pad are near all 25 of the buildings open to visitors, so kids can update their pamphlets. Prizes are awarded depending on the number of stamps collected. A complete set earns the “stamp of the king,” a page of stickers, a 5 3/4-by-7 1/2-inch plastic sleeve for papers, and a booklet “The Bright Red Castle of Ryukyu Kingdom,” illustrating the castle’s history.

Quick reference: Shurijo Castle, 1-2 Kinjo-cho, Shuri, Naha City, Okinawa. 8:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily April-June and October-November, 8:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily July-September, 8:30 a.m.-6 p.m. daily December-March. Adults, 820 ¥ (about $7.50); high school students, 660 ¥ (about $5.50); elementary and junior high students, 310 ¥ (about $2.80); 5 and under, free. Closed the first Wednesday and Thursday in July. Easily reached by taking the monorail to Shuri Station. It’s about a 10-minute walk from there to the western entrance near Enkakuji Temple. This area and some of the other outlying buildings can be seen without paying admission. oki-park.jp/shurijo/en

For an in-depth discussion of the tunnels and caves, with illustrations, and the overall Battle of Okinawa, see http://www.ibiblio.org/hyperwar/USA/CSI/CSI-Okinawa/

At Scotland’s Stirling Castle, seven sumptuous new tapestries showcase centuries-old craftsmanship

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This section of the seven new tapestries at Scotland’s Stirling Castle is called “The Unicorn in Captivity.” It took two years to weave. The overall project spanned 13 years, and was completed in 2015. The seven tapestries together are known as “The Hunt of the Unicorn.”

By Betty Gordon

© 2018 text and photos. All rights reserved.

In October 2017, I visited Scotland for 10 days. This is the fourth in a series about my wanderings. See my December 15, 2017 post about Abbotsford, home of Sir Walter Scott; January 9, 2018 about the Royal Yacht Britannia; and February 3 about the Pipers’ Tryst Hotel and National Piping Centre in Glasgow.

In addition to its strategic importance and favored status as a Scottish royal residence of yore, one aspect of Stirling Castle bridges the 16th century to the 21st, and from the Old World to the New: Its unicorn tapestries.

Large, heavy and expensive (especially if they featured gold thread), tapestries provided eye-pleasing beauty, a measure of insulation in vast drafty rooms and topics of conversation for European monarchs and their castle invitees.

Though cumbersome and sometimes spanning the length and width of a wall, tapestries were transported from palace to palace, delivering a continuing message of the crown’s wealth and prestige. In the long run, however, the tapestries’ very mobility may have done irreparable damage to the fibers and overall integrity.

In 2002, as part of a refurbishment, Stirling Castle undertook what would become a 13-year, £2 million project to create seven new tapestries, called “The Hunt of the Unicorn,” inspired by Scottish Renaissance works that hung in the palace when James V and his wife, Mary of Guise, were in residence in the 1530s and 1540s.

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Before 1603, facing unicorns were featured on the Royal Coat of Arms of Scotland. Images of the mythical animal can be found in many locations at Stirling Castle.

The unicorn occupied a prominently place in Scottish heraldry, is the figure seen on the castle’s logo and can be found in locations high and low around the property. National Unicorn Day (really) is marked on April 9 annually.

The original tapestries, noted in a 1539 inventory of more than 100 in James V’s possession, have not survived. But tapestries from a similar time period and theme do; they were probably woven around 1495-1505 in the textile hotbed of the southern Netherlands and once the property of French aristocrats.

Their colorful history includes being looted during the French Revolution and possibly covering potatoes in a barn before being recovered in the 1850s.

These highly prized tapestries were purchased in 1923 by John D. Rockefeller Jr., of oil-money fame, for his New York residence. He donated them to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York in 1937. They’re now at the Met’s Cloisters Museum in Upper Manhattan.

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The tapestries hang in the Queen’s Inner Hall. The upper left section is “The Unicorn at Bay,” illustrating the beast surrounded and under attack. The one in the upper right is “The Unicorn Is Killed and Brought to the Castle.”

The seven new Stirling tapestries, the biggest weaving project taken on in the United Kingdom in a century, hang in the Queen’s Inner Hall, next to her bedchamber. The hall is the palace room in which she would have greeted honored guests.

Well into 2015, the Stirling project employed a multinational team of 18 weavers, some based at the castle and others at the West Dean Tapestry Studio (part of West Dean College) near Chichester, England.

Creating just one tapestry consumed more than 16,000 hours of work, using, when possible, the techniques and tools that would have been available in the 1500s. Four tapestries were made at the castle and three at the college.

An exhibit in a temporary wooden building in the Nether Bailey, northeast of the castle proper, allows visitors to better understand the processes that went into crafting the new tapestries.

A few material concession were made. In the 16th century, tapestries relied on plant-derived dyes, such as woad, a flowering member of the cabbage family, for blue, and madder, a perennial Eurasian herb, for red. The 21st-century tapestries utilized longer-lasting chemical dyes, perfected at West Dean’s dye laboratory.

Wool, silk and gilt comprised the weft sections (horizontal threads) of the old tapestries, but the modern versions substituted mercerized cotton, a treated stronger fiber, for the silk.

Getting the color palette right and tracing full-size drawing of the originals — known as making a cartoon — were part of pre-production, which required visits to New York to view the former Rockefeller tapestries. In the cartoons, some alterations were made to restore areas where the originals were damaged or nonexistent. They were also reduced in size by about 10 percent.

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Modern weavers executed each section with the image positioned on its side. This is “The Mystic Hunt of the Unicorn,” the last tapestry to be woven. Only two fragments from the original survived, so artisans re-creating it could only guess at the part of the story being told. This is a photo of a photo from the exhibition I saw when I visited the castle in 2017.

Eventually, a stronger-paper version of each cartoon was temporarily stitched to the weaving as a guide for the workers. As in medieval times, the modern masters worked with the image on its side. But in a break from tradition, the cartoon was replicated from the front, easier for the weavers, and for visitors interested in watching the project come to life.

Medieval pictorial tapestries served several purposes. They could be appreciated solely as decoration and admired for the skills involved. But more importantly, they told a story, often with secular and/or religious components.

“The Hunt of the Unicorn” obviously portrays just what it says: Silk-and-velvet-clad noblemen, accompanied by professional hunters and dogs, in the multi-stage pursuit of their quarry and its horn, which was believed to be imbued with mystical powers of purification.

Some suggest that the hunt could also be a courtship tale, with the unicorn representing a lover’s object of desire.

Alternatively, a strong argument could be made for the tapestries as Christian allegory, with the unicorn representing Christ.

For example, in the section called “The Unicorn in Captivity,” which took two years to complete, with the weavers working from right to left, the ornately collared and tethered animal lies on its side, enclosed by circular fencing, under a thin-trunked pomegranate tree heavy with fruit. In the background, among myriad other flowers are wild orchid, violets, thistle and bistort, a medicinal herb.

In the secular version, the golden chain tying the unicorn to the tree represents marriage and the pomegranates indicate fertility. Is this the beloved tamed?

In the religious version, the small booklet I got at the castle suggests that the wounded unicorn represents a risen Christ, and the juice of the pomegranates symbolize his blood.

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A closer look at “The Unicorn Is Killed and Brought to the Castle,” which shows the unicorn in the upper left being killed and in the center draped over the back of a horse.

The religious allegory is even stronger in the panel titled “The Unicorn Is Killed and Brought to the Castle.” In the center, the dead animal, its horn somewhat parallel with its mane, is draped over the back of a handsome horse. The unicorn’s neck is ringed in hawthorn, evoking Jesus’ crown of thorns.

Whatever the meaning, the tapestries illustrate that an ancient craft, practiced across cultures and over the centuries, is still a viable art form in today’s digital age.

Quick reference: Stirling Castle: 9:30 a.m.-6 p.m. daily March 26-September 30, 9:30 a.m.-5 p.m. October 1-late March. Closed December 25-26. Admission: Adults, £15 (about $20.33); ages 60 and over, £12 (about $16.26); ages 5-15, £9 (about $12.20). Castle Esplanade, http://www.stirlingcastle.scot

The Met Cloisters: 10 a.m.-5:15 p.m. daily March-October, 10 a.m.-4:45 p.m. daily November-February. Closed Thanksgiving Day, December 25, January 1. Admission: Adults, $25 adults; ages 65 and older, $17; students, $12. 99 Margaret Corbin Drive, Fort Tryon Park, New York, New York. 212-923-3700. http://www.metmuseum.org/visit/met-cloisters.