Monday, August 31, 2009

By Al Cooper

When waves of carrier-based planes of Japan=s Imperial Navy appeared over a sleepy Hawaii early on the morning of December 7, 1941 ushering the U.S.A. into World War II, they were carrying out an ingenious war plan conceived by Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto. The premise behind Yamamoto=s plan (which he had only reluctantly proposed to his nation=s military leaders), was that by crippling the U.S. Pacific fleet and thus opening up our pacific allies and the west coast itself to attack, a largely isolationist America would quickly seek to negotiate a peace in accord with Imperial Japan=s plans for a AGreater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere@. He stressed his conviction that for his plan to work, the mission must be carried out in absolute secrecy, and the destruction of the Pearl Harbor facility and our Pacific fleet must be complete. To this end Admiral Chuichi Nagumo the operational commander was instructed to launch a second attack after rearming and refueling the planes from the first two attack waves.
Entire books have been written around the question of why Nagumo failed to launch the second attack, especially when he knew the crucial U.S. carriers were not present in the anchorage as believed. Of even greater import to America=s ability to recover quickly was the failure of the Japanese attackers to destroy the gigantic fuel reserves and dry dock repair facilities which were left virtually untouched. In Nagumo=s defense, wildly exaggerated claims of destruction by the returning aviators, the fact that his pilots were untrained in the nighttime landings the second sortie would require, and his fear that the Amissing@ U.S. carriers might show up and destroy his unprotected fleet at any time seemed to dictate the wisdom of withdrawal.
In actual case, Yamamoto=s grim predictions came to pass. Despite six months of absolute domination everywhere the rising sun flag was planted, the tide began to turn against Japan with Midway, Coral Sea and a series of air/sea engagements in which the forces of Imperial Japan were met by many of those same ships which had supposedly been destroyed at Pearl Harbor, and which had been raised Afrom the dead@ to fight again in one of the greatest engineering feats in world history. But there is another - seldom-told - story.
Realizing that the Pearl Harbor mission had fallen short of its goal, an equally ingenious plan unfolded in the far reaches of the northwest Pacific within two months of the December 7th foray.
(Here, it is worth noting that one of America=s great failures of the Pacific War was to totally underestimate the genius of Japan=s war-making industry, particularly in the area of aviation technology, the legendary Mitsubishi AZero@fighter plane being but one example.)
Accompanied by a Zero float-plane, a Kawanishi H8K Emily flying boat approaches the WW II fortress of Rabaul harbor in the southwest PacificFrom a seaplane base somewhere in the Marshal Islands, tons of bombs and torpedoes were loaded on three Kawanishi flying boats. Designated the H8K by the Japanese Navy, this remarkable airplane came to be known as theAEmily@ by American pilots, in keeping with the doctrine of giving male names to enemy fighters, and female names to bombers and transports. With a wing span of 125 feet and a flying range of more than 4000 miles at an altitude of nearly 30,000 feet, this four-engine amphibian was capable of carrying a sixteen thousand pound payload at speeds close to 300 mph. Out of respect for its two canons and at least four machine guns, it was usually viewed only from a safe distance by Allied pilots who called it the AFlying Porcupine@.
On March 4th, 1942 two (some accounts say three started out) Emily flying boats headed for Hawaii to finish the job Nagumo had started with such fanfare. Even with their amazing range, they needed to refuel for such a round trip, and so a rendezvous with two submarines, the I-15 and I-19, each carrying ten tons of aviation fuel at a remote atoll known as French Frigate Shoals was organized. A third submarine - I-26 - accompanied them as protection and back-up, while I-23 was stationed ten miles south of Pearl Harbor with a radio beacon and rescue capabilities.
Alas for the Empire of Japan, after extraordinary planning and coordination, the two flying boats arrived at the appointed place and time to find the entire Hawaiian Islands socked in by weather.
A second try was made two months later, but by that time, U.S. Navy code breakers were onto the French Frigate Shoals submarine station, and that effort too was thwarted. All part of the Pearl Harbor attack that never happened.

Sunday, August 23, 2009


From glowing cling peaches to corn-and-bean
succotash, each jar is filled with bits of summer
and pieces of tradition.

Some of my earliest and most pleasant boyhood memories had their genesis in one particular corner of the cellar which ran under the hundred-and-fifty-year-old home place. My father had built a storage area made up of glass-fronted shelves salvaged from some previous location, and it was behind those hinged doors that my mother stored the bounty of woods, orchards and gardens – the provender which would grace our table during the cold weather months of winter. One of my great pleasures was to make my way to that corner, and count the jars of “canned” tomatoes, corn, beans, beets, fruit, pickles and relishes my mother had carefully lined up there. Some of my favorites were the tall quart jars of wild blackberries, blueberries, raspberries and huckleberries I had helped to pick myself – each jar just the right size to make one of Mom’s prized pies.
Behind each of those bail-lidded Ball jars was a story: the green tree snake I met up with picking huckleberries in a Jersey swamp; the smell of kerosene into which I dropped hundreds of Japanese beetles from our concord grape vines, the sheer labor of turning the crank on the food chopper from which poured the minced ingredients of Mom’s famous pepper relish, and the arm itch I always suffered from picking green beans and their yellow-wax cousins; the surprise rain storm which caught us when harvesting blueberries in the pine barrens, and my father’s devotion to Stone tomatoes, Country Gentleman sweet corn, and Early Wakefield cabbage; and then there was the salt shaker he carried in his back pocket for “sampling” good things from the garden as we picked.
In our extended family today, the rich chili sauce my mother taught me to make is every bit as much of a mainstay as it was in the household over whose kitchen she presided seventy years ago.
The ethic of “home canning” which is so much an American institution actually had its birth on the other side of the Atlantic. During the Napoleonic wars, France experienced widespread food shortages, especially during the winter months when even the traditional grains and other dry staples the world had long depended on became scarce. In 1791 the French government offered a prize of 1200 francs to anyone who could come up with a method of preserving otherwise perishable foods from season to season. Around 1809 an inventive citizen by the name of Nicholas Appert discovered that by heating fresh garden vegetables and fruit to various high temperatures before sealing them tightly in suitable containers, spoilage could be greatly delayed or halted. His experiments caught the attention of Peter Durant who patented the process in England in 1810. Neither Appert or Durant had any idea why this method worked; it remained for Louis Pasteur to discover what was first called “the germ theory”, finally identifying bacteria, yeast and mold organisms as the culprits which for tens of thousands of years had limited the possibilities of intra-seasonal food preservation.
At first the search for the “suitable container” led down several paths: earthenware crocks and jugs sealed with paper and wax; small-mouth bottles capped by hard-to-find corks of various sizes or tin cans with lids soldered into place. In fact it was a 26-year-old New Jersey tinsmith named John Landis Mason who came up with the idea of a threaded glass container, to which a metal cap with matching threads could be screwed down over a rubber gasket making an airtight seal. Here at last was a viable commercial procedure which could be duplicated in the home kitchen. Patented in 1858, the famous “Mason Jar” would revolutionize the science and practice of food preservation and lead to a succession of improvements and challengers. Mason’s main competition came in 1882 from Henry W. Putnam’s “Lightning jar” which featured a wire bail securing a glass cap over a rubber ring, a system which allowed the jar to exhaust air during the heating process, and yet be firmly tightened by depressing the loosened bail immediately afterward.
In 1885 the Ball brothers began manufacturing their line of canning jars, destined to become one of the two most well-known and long-lasting brand houses, turning out first bail lid jars, and then mason types. In 1903, with nothing behind him but $100.of borrowed capital and a deep religious faith, Alexander H. Kerr established his glass company in Sand Springs, Oklahoma, introducing a whole new concept with his two-piece cap and lid sealing system on the traditional Mason jar foundation. Despite the fact that over the years there have been more than 400 jar manufacturers serving America’s army of home canners, Ball and Kerr (now owned by a single corporation), remain the dominant names in a field which claims a one hundred year history and en epic which has seen an estimated 150 billion jars produced.
The popularity of home canning received a big boost with the advent of World War I, and a gigantic impact from the Great Depression years of the 20s and 30s, reaching an all-time high with Pearl Harbor and the food rationing spawned by the Second World War. During the 1940s, it is believed that up to 60% of America’s fresh and preserved perishable food came from home gardens and canning kitchens.
Today, at a time when some of the same economic issues face us, I take some comfort from requests from our grandkids to teach them the nearly-forgotten art of home canning. Meanwhile, I get the same thrill I felt as a kid each time we open a jar of last year’s corn relish. Now . . . if I could only find a patch of wild huckleberries.

Antique canning jars from a personal collection
reflect one hundred years of preserving history.
(Blue glass indicates age & silica sand origins.)


Here is a freshly-cut wedge of aged Dutch Gouda as the center piece of a luncheon plate featuring fresh figs, strawberries, grapes, apple slices and home-made whole-grain bread.

As the seasons change from spring to summer and from late summer to fall, a time-honored ritual is played out in Switzerland’s dairy country as the milking herds are moved, first from the barns and fields of the low country to the high pastures of flower-covered grass, and then back again before the snows of winter. Leading each procession is a special cow known as the Herrkuh, whose neck bell rings more loudly, and with a different tune than those of all the other herd members. The honor which goes with that clarion leadership role is further underlined by the hand-decorated leather strap, festooned with folk art and strung around her neck, and from which the bell bearing its distinctive number is suspended. In many villages that springtime procession will be preceded by a parade in which the Herrkuh is led through town bedecked in wreaths of flowers. It is also traditional to retire that number, and hang the bell-and-collar in an honored place on the barn wall when that animal dies.
When I sit down to a repast, at the center of which reclines a wedge of Swiss Emmentaler, nutty Gruyere, or an aromatic cube of raclette, I cannot help but reflect on the pride in tradition and passion for perfection which lies behind the road to my table that piece of dairy history has traveled.
I know of a French affineur and cheese-buyer, named Denis Prevent who travels between the mountain farms of Savoie regularly, searching for fresh farmstead-made cheese to stock the curing shelves of his cheese cave and, finally, his retail shop in Chambery. He looks for farms with south-facing pastures, whose sun-warmed wild flowers will add high flavor and color to the milk coming from the local herd. His grandfather, born in 1860, did the same thing, with a horse-drawn cart. Knowledgeable wholesale buyers from the U.S. and other countries have learned to seek out people like Denis who add one more key link in that international road to our dining pleasure.
I think back to the proprietor of a small-village country store in central Vermont, who took the time to explain to a teen-age farm kid why he ordered his huge wheels of Cabot Co-op cheddar by month and pasture number. “The best flavor”, he said,“comes from the summer clover grown in pasture No. 14”. That neighboring farm kid has never forgotten that random experience and a lesson in staying “connected” with the food traditions which dine with us at our tables.
High on my list of things to do this year, is a visit to Rockhill Farm and Creamery in Utah’s Cache County where a new chapter in artisanal cheese-making is going on. There Pete Schropp and Jennifer Hines are turning out some truly great hand-crafted cheeses from their small herd of six spoiled Brown Swiss cows – one forty-gallon batch at a time. In the meantime, I have already enjoyed sampling their Apple-smoked, and Lightly-buzzed offerings.
As promised in a previous column, here are a few recommendations for getting the most out of fine cheese.
• Always bring cheese up to room temperature before serving.
• When possible, buy your cheese from a monger who will cut your wedge from a
• Between uses, rewrap the cheese tightly in new, clean plastic wrap for
• Freezing is extremely harmful to cheese.
• With a bread accompaniment, choose a bread which matches the cheese.
The same advice applies when choosing a wine beverage.
• Natural companions for a cheese plate include slices of pear, apple,
strawberries,figs, dates, or a variety of olives. A dipping sauce of olive
oil and balsamic vinegar for fruit & bread goes well.

As one well-known chef has said, “cheese is the purest and most romantic link between humans and the earth.” I only wish I had said it first. !

Sunday, August 9, 2009


All during the cool days of late winter and early spring, we are treated to the gallantry of gaudy, red male finches, parading their avian testosterone in feats of vainglorious acrobatics above our rear deck. Below, their female audience busy themselves at the two hanging feeders overflowing with black oil sunflower seeds, feigning either a planned indifference or outright disdain for all the aerial foolishness going on. The finches come, seemingly by the hundreds, far outnumbering the juncos, sparrows and noisy red wing blackbirds who vie for our daily handouts, as we watch from our grandstand seats.
Because we overlook both a river and a pond, the coming and going of seasonal waterfowl is a constant in our observing hours, and it is not unusual for the latter to play host to more than forty or fifty Canada geese; and ducks in the hundreds. Now and again a pair of snow geese will overnight with us, seeming to fit right in. Three pair of great blue herons nest and raise young in our tall grove of cottonwoods each year, and pose for us on one leg apiece in their patient waiting game in the pond’s shallows.
Red-tail hawks and an occasional kestrel patrol all this activity, just in case they spot some easy pickings, and they favor the power pole in our back yard as a gazing gallery, a spot which also appeals to a barn owl we love to see and hear. Twice this spring we admired a pair of golden eagles who glided by us at house level as well as a single bald cousin.
At least one pair of geese we kept an eye on this spring, chose not to nest near the water, but on a high rocky hill where their young sang a noisy chorus at every take-off and landing by their food-bearing parents. We watched in amazement early one morning as a parade of two adults and seven baby geese picked their way down the hill, across our backyard, over rocky barriers and through the tall grass of an irrigated field to the safety of the water – and the launching of their first family swim.
With the arrival of summer, the picture changes, and so does the palette of nature’s colors. Bluebirds, swallows, fly catchers and swifts cruise the sage country on one side of our house, and yellow-headed and Brewer’s blackbirds join the ground crew under our finch feeders. Ever since the first of May, our two hummingbird feeders will have been under constant assault by first dozens, then hundreds of starved black throats, broad-tails and the occasional “lost” rufous. But. . . those busy hummingbirds no longer have an exclusive claim on all that hand-mixed nectar. About three years ago, some “wandering” orioles discovered our sweet shop, and apparently marked us on their built-in GPS system. To be exact, one pair of hooded orioles and another belonging to the Bullock’s race stopped by and did a taste test. They and their growing progeny are now our summer regulars, and between the two colonies we are probably feeding a dozen of these wondrously-colorful members of the blackbird family.
At one time, all orioles were labeled as “Baltimore orioles”, to which was later added a group known as “Northern” orioles. Because their ranges are subject both to change and overlapping, there have emerged the two races we see here in the southwest. Except for the Lazuli bunting and the western tanager, I believe our two oriole visitors are about the most beautiful of all American song birds. They bring an eyeful of delight to our back window. Along with their usual fare of insects and seeds, we are happy to supply their built-in sweet tooth with the nectar they love.
As well as a great sense of color, Nature also has a sense of humor, and proof of that is embodied in a big bird, who seldom resorts to flight, has been known to “knock” on our sliding glass door, and enjoys coming to watch the antics of our hummingbirds (hungrily and with malice aforethought) almost daily. So, along with a photo of one of our cherished orioles, I am including a shot of our favorite roadrunner “The Beeper”.

Al welcomes audience call-ins during his weekly radio program Provident Living – Home & Country heard each Monday at 4:00 PM on KSUB (590), Cedar City.