Spice of the Week: Vanilla

Is there anyone out there who doesn’t know vanilla? Still, there’s much to learn about this fascinating spice.

Vanilla beans were actually introduced in Europe in 1521, when Spaniards brought them over after discovering them with the Aztecs. Its name is actually derived from the Spanish “vainilla”, which means “pod”. The Indians actually used vanilla pods as currency, and today, it still is a very valuable spice. In fact, its high price led to the appearance of many imitation vanillas that are often synthetically created.

Find out more at the Biodiversity Library Exhibition.

Alternate recipe: Vanilla liqueur

¾ l water
500 g sugar
2 vanilla pods  
3 dl clear alcohol

Boil sugar and vanilla into a syrup. After cooling, pour in alcohol. Let vanilla soak 14 days, then remove. Liqueur is light-colored, but may be darkened with caramel.

Spotlight: the voyage of circumnavigation (Fernão de Magalhães)

In 1519, Portuguese seafarer Ferdinand Magellan, then aged 39, started out on the very first ship voyage around the entire Earth. Aside from being a huge accomplishment at the time, the trip offered full-blown proof that the earth in fact is round.

On 20 September 1519, five ships set sail from Sanlúcar de Barrameda, in the south of Spain. The situation was tense from the very beginning; most of the crew were Spaniards, and they intensely disliked their Portuguese captain. This would eventually lead to a mutiny in the bay of San Juan in 1520, which Magellan managed to strike down.

Unfortunately for Magellan, he wasn’t able to finish the trip. He was killed by natives on the island of Mactan at the age of 41. His voyage lasted 12 days short of three entire years. Juan Sebastian del Cano then assumed leadership of the expedition. Six months after Magellan’s death, he discovered the Maluku islands. From there, Cano and his crew returned to Spain, with a ship full of spice (cloves). Images from literature about this expedition are found below.

Discover the entire story at the Biodiversity Library Exhibition.

Spice of the Week: Poppy seed

“In Flanders Fields the poppies blow” is the chilling opening of the famous poem by John McCrae which immortalized the poppy in war literature. But – you guessed it – there is a lot more to poppies and their seeds than just this wonderful poem.

Did you know, for instance, that even though the seeds are not poisonous, they contain a small amount of opiate? And that many countries preventatively have forbidden planting poppies without explicit permission? No wonder that it was once considered to be sacred to Hypnos, the Greek god of sleep. Ancient Greeks and Romans even used an infusion of poppy as a sleep aid and stomach soother.

But if you’re into cooking, check out the BLE. A recipe (as well as much more details on its fascinating history) are found on the poppy card!

Alternate recipe: Poppy paste

 125 ml milk or water
125 g poppy seeds
125 g sugar
75 g coarsely chopped raisins
2 tablespoons honey
grated peel from 1 lemon

In a small pot, mix sugar and milk or water and simmer for 5 minutes. Add poppy seeds, raisins, honey and lemon peel, and continue to simmer for another 3 minutes, stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens. Allow to cool before using on cakes, buns or pastry.

Spice of the Week: Celery

Nothing so boring as celery, right? Wrong! This symbol of sadness and death (in ancient cultures at least) is surprisingly multifaceted. Check it out.

The Greek legend of Achilles features celery as a medicine for the hero’s horse. But in today’s Greece, celery as a plant (Apium graviolens) is thought to bring luck. Maybe the luck lies in its medicinal value… celery seeds help alleviate bladder pains and are said to be good for diabetics!

And of course, it’s a staple of today’s cuisine. Be it in soup or salad, celery’s savory flavor always brings something extra to the table. Want to try it for yourself? Or do you want to check out its history in the Biodiversity Heritage Library? Then surf to the BLE

Alternate recipe: Green mustard

1 kg green tomatoes
150 g powdered sugar
2.5 dl vinegar
3 green peppers
2 onions
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
1 teaspoon celery seeds
½ head white cabbage, salt
Slice all vegetables and grind in meat chopper (while raw). Sauté with salt about 15 minutes, season to taste with spices, vinegar and sugar. Pack into jars, close lids tightly and boil. Store in cool, dark place. Serve as a garnish for sausages and hot dogs.

The BLE at Science on a Plate

On 2 and 3 March, the Biodiversity Library Exhibition was presented at the Science on a Plate-exhibition in the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh. Jiri Frank of the National Museum in Prague joined Graham Hardy from the RBGE and a number of volunteers to explain the visitors the BLE and the BHL-Europe project, the BLE and also Europeana.
A few hundred people came by our stand to enjoy the food and spices featured in our virtual exhibition. Since we were in Scotland, we were sure to offer the visitors homemade haggis, the recipe for which we detailed in a previous blog post. But there was also a much less adventurous option in the form of pepper nuts, which were baked by Graham Hardy himself. And for the culinary daredevils out there, our stand featured the scoville scale, which measures the spiciness of a specific kind chili pepper. Only a handful dared to taste the Jolokia chili pepper, which is the spiciest of them all.

The Scoville scale
There were also several spice samples, such as cardamom, fennel, ginger, curcuma and even several spice plants to get the idea from where is the spice coming from.

The Scoville scale and the corresponding spices. The plants in the background are, from L to R: Juniper, Turmeric, Lemon grass, Guinea pepper
A selection of spices
One of the highlights of the event was the visit by a group of blind women and their guide. They smelled the spices and tasted the food; it was a great moment demonstrating the power of taste and aroma.

And if you’re in the vicinity of Edinburgh at the end of March, you would do well to visit the Science on a Plate-festival, which runs from 31 March to 9 April. More info is found on the official website.

The BLE-team prepares the BLE-presentation
The BLE-stand
Visitors were happy to come by.
A blind woman tastes one of the spices.


On 2 and 3 March the BHL-Europe team was in Edinburgh to present the Biodiversity Library Exhibition on Spices at the Science on a Plate-exhibition of the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh. We will make sure to write a report on that soon, but in the meantime, we invite you to learn more about haggis, probably Scotland’s most famous dish. It was on hand for tastings at our stand!

Haggis at our stand

In 1929 the Scottish food historian, F. Marian McNeill wrote:
“The choice of the haggis as the supreme national dish of Scotland is very fitting. It is a testimony to the national gift of making the most of small means; for in the haggis we have concocted from humble, even despised ingredients a veritable plat de gourmets.”

Haggis in one form or another has been eaten in Scotland for centuries. In bygone times housewives  prepared their own haggis, but today nearly all haggis is prepared either by a butcher or in food factories, and only needs to be reheated at home.

Recipes for haggis in its current form start appearing in cookery books from the early nineteenth century. One reason for this is the use of haggis as a part of the meal served at special anniversary suppers held to mark the birthday (25 January) of national poet Robert Burns (1759-1796). These anniversary suppers started in 1800. Burns’ poem Address to the Haggis written in 1786 begins:

Fair fa' your honest, sonsie face,
Great chieftain o' the puddin-race!
Abune them a' ye tak your place,
Painch, tripe, or thairm:
Weel are ye wordy o' a grace
As lang's my arm.

Ingredients and spices

Recipes for haggis, whilst agreeing on the essential ingredients - offal, suet and oatmeal – vary depending on whether the meat used is from a sheep, lamb, calf or even deer. The recipes also vary markedly as to the spices used to flavor the haggis. Without spices, haggis would be almost unedible.  The one spice used in all recipes is pepper (either white or black) [Piper nigrum]. Other spices which have been added include:

Clove [Syzygium aromaticum]
Nutmeg [Myristica fragrans]
Coriander [Coriandrum sativum]
Allspice [Pimenta dioica]
Cayenne Pepper [Capsicum frutescens
Recipe for sheep haggis (1856):

1 cleaned sheep or lamb’s paunch
2 lb. (900 g.) dry oatmeal
1 lb. (450 g.) chopped mutton suet
1 lb. (450 g.) lamb’s liver, boiled and minced
1 lamb’s heart, boiled and minced
1 lamb’s lights, boiled and minced
1 large finely chopped onion
½ teaspoon each: cayenne pepper. ground allspice, salt and pepper
1 pint (600 ml.) stock   

See that the paunch is well cleaned, then soak it in salt and water for about 2 hours, take it out and let it dry.  Put the oatmeal on a baking tray in a low oven and let it dry out and crisp up a little.  Then put the liver, heart (trimmed) and lights in salted water to cover and cook for about ½ hour.  Strain, but reserve the stock, and chop the meats up finely, or mince.  Mix all the ingredients (except the paunch) together and season well.  Then add the stock.  Put into the cleaned paunch (fill to about half) and sew up loosely, but securely.  Have ready a large pot of boiling water mixed with the rest of the liver stock, prick the haggis all over with a small knitting needle to prevent bursting, then cook in the water and stock, at a slow simmer uncovered, but keep up the water level, for about 3 hours.   
This recipe would serve about 16. Bon appétit!

Spice of the Week: Rosemary

This week, we’re highlighting rosemary as our spice of the week. With its biblical tradition, the relevance of this spice goes much further than just usage in the kitchen.

Legend has it that when Jesus' family was resting during their escape to Egypt, Mary spread her robe on a rosemary bush. Henceforth, the shrub was known as the Rose of Mary, which explains its contemporary name. The plant was also important in ancient Greece, where students wore rosemary wreaths which they believed would help their scholastic effort. It was supposedly sanctified by goddess of love Aphrodite, and it served as a symbol for fertility, love and reliability.

Discover more on rosemary at the BLE!  

Alternate recipe: Rosemary toast with cheese

100 g Edam
10 g Bryndza (sheep's milk cheese)
1 teaspoon rosemary
5 garlic cloves
2 teaspoons chopped dill, fresh or dried
ground white pepper
Grate Edam and mix in Bryndza, crushed garlic, rosemary, dill, white pepper and mix thoroughly. Fry dark bread in a dry pan or a toaster and spread on cheese mix. Serve warm.

BHL and its developers: Lee Namba

In this third installment in our “BHL and its developers”-series, we interview Lee Namba from Atos. Topics include the role he plays in the project, the Fedora-system and his favorite beer!

Lee, can you tell us what it is that you do for BHL-Europe?

Atos has been part of the project since the very beginning, which – compared to most people involved – is a very long time. And over the course of the project, I’ve done many different things, but in general, I (and Atos) took on the role of giving technical direction to the project and working on the architecture.

This included thinking about how to globally architect the system working with all the developers. We had to ask ourselves what the interfaces between components should look like, how we would use Fedora in the OAIS architecture, how to integrate with the content provider systems on the ingest-side … We really tried to find out the different possibilities and the benefits or drawbacks to each different solution.

On the development side, we also worked on establishing a shared development environment. This included recommending github as an SCM and issue tracker and setting it up, organizing the servers, VM’s, and environments, establishing a best practices development environment with the development wiki and so on. I also did a training session on continuous integration using Jenkins and on different types of testing for BHL-Europe.

You mentioned Fedora. Can you elaborate on that a little bit?

Fedora is an open source software that is used for digital preservation. In BHL-Europe the digital objects need to be preserved for a long time (50, 100 years or even longer!), and during that time files might need to change because of evolving computers, operating systems, and file formats. Other things that might change are the storage mechanisms (hard disk, tape, dvd, RAM memory …).

Fedora creates a way of organizing files so that in the future, if you lose your whole system, you can recover just the files and recreate the system. It is used in libraries around the world and allows objects to be transformed and accessed over the web. If, for example, there’s a high resolution TIFF file stored in Fedora, and you want to access it over the internet, you may prefer a smaller JPEG file because it’s faster to download and easier to view in the web browser. Fedora allows you to transform this large TIFF file into a JPEG file but we only use this function in a limited fashion.
Why in a limited fashion?

For scalability reasons. If Fedora had to do not only preservation but also transform and serve up these files, then it would be serving two purposes. For smaller libraries with a smaller volume of users, that’s fine. But we’re hoping many users will use BHL-Europe, so Fedora could become a limiting factor and access would be very slow.
Can you tell us something about creating the architecture from the very beginning?

At first, a large effort was made to prioritize and decide on the requirements. We had to think about security questions, site functionality, whether it was a high-traffic site or not… This was followed by thinking about all sorts of non-functional requirements, such as making sure that the components in BHL-Europe are robust and don’t require much maintenance and also administration requirements.

Then, we created an initial architecture diagram using google docs, and it has continued to evolve after testing and prototyping different solutions and changing requirements. From the architecture diagram, we created different project deliverables which were architectural and technical documents.

You have tasted beers from many different countries over the course of the project. What’s your favorite one?

Kozel from Prague!

Kitchen fun

Almost three weeks ago, we launched our “Spice of the Week”-series here on the blog. So far, we’ve gotten some great feedback – not in the least on the recipes we publish (here, on Facebook and at the Biodiversity Library Exhibition itself).
This inspired one of our colleagues, Jiří Frank, to don a chef’s hat and create his own recipe for roasted duck and pickled cheese. From the looks of it, the attempt seems to have been rather successful!

If you want to share your own recipes featuring the spices from the BLE, you can always publish them on our Facebook-page. Or better yet, use our Facebook-page to publish pictures of your own culinary creations, or tweet them to us. They might inspire others, or encourage feedback. So do your part! And still to come: the recipe for pickled cheese.

Jiří’s recipe: traditional long roasted duck

1 or 2 ducks (depending on the number of guests)

Clean the duck under water. The duck could be cat on the half or you can keep it whole (depending on how much space you have in oven). I was expecting several guests, so it was the reason why two ducks. But the oven is too small to cover two dripping pens which will be too high with whole ducks. So I cut them on half. After you clean the ducks (you can also put out the blood if you cat the duck on half) wash the meet and the skin by milk. It is an old trick and it will keep the skin very crispy after roasting. Put caraway and salt on the meet and put the duck on dripping pen. At last put a cap of water under the duck, depending on dripping pens size. Put the pen/s in oven, turn it on 105 degrease and leave it for 9 hours without opening the oven. The dripping pen is open, important to mention. After 9 hours the duck will be delicate and crispy with delicious sauce under. Best serve with red and white sour and sweet kraut and dumplings.

Bon appétit …

Pebernødder (pepper nuts) at Science on a Plate

Over the weekend, BHL-Europe was present at the Science on a Plate-event of the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh. We presented our Biodiversity Library Exhibition, with a special focus on our Spices-exhibition! Graham Hardy of the RGBE baked pebernødder, or pepper nuts. A full recap of the event follows next week, but for now, please check out this recipe for pepper nuts.


Spiced Christmas biscuits are a feature of many countries, particularly in northern Europe. This recipe is for Danish pebernødder, but similar biscuits are called pfeffernüsse in Germany and there is a Dutch version that is coated in chocolate! British gingerbread is not that far removed from these spiced biscuits, the main difference being that it only contains ginger instead of a range of spices.

275 g plain wheat flour
110 g margarine
150 g sugar
1 egg
2 tablespoons of golden syrup
¼ teaspoon bicarbonate of soda

SPICES (all finely ground): 
2 teaspoons cinnamon (bark from a tree originally from SE Asia)
1 teaspoon ginger (root from a herb originally from SE Asia)
1 teaspoon cloves (flower buds from a tree originally from the ‘Spice Islands’)
2 teaspoons cardamom (seed from a herb originally from India)
1 teaspoon white pepper (seed from a vine originally from India)

Mix fat and flour, add everything else and work to a smooth dough. Keep cool. This dough can be stored in the freezer. To make the ‘nuts’ form the dough into small balls no bigger than a marble. Bake at 180°C for 8-10 minutes (fan ovens may need a slightly lower temperature). When baked the pebernødder should have a crunch to them and be golden brown.

The same dough can be used to make biscuits that can be decorated with icing and hung on the Christmas tree. Roll the dough to 3mm thickness and use biscuit cutters to make shapes. A drinking straw works well as a cutter for making holes in the biscuits. Baking temperature and time is as above.

When the biscuits have cooled they can be decorated with icing. Pre-prepared coloured icing is available in handy tubes if you want to keep things easy.

Spice of the Week: Ginger

Could ginger hold the key to living longer and healthier? Chinese philosopher Confucius certainly thought so. A spice that’s been cultivated in Asia for more than 3,000 years, ginger is our Spice of the Week.

Actually, Confucius could have been on to something. Ginger is an antioxidant which helps slow the aging process. And as an added extra, it also relieves symptoms of motion sickness. As a spice, it is the dried, ground or preserved root  of the Zingiber officinale plant. Its fascinating history (and a fantastic recipe) is described at the BLE!

Alternate recipe: Ginger chicken

1 chicken
3 tablespoons butter
1 egg
handful of peeled and coarsely chopped almonds
2 rolls
1 teaspoon ginger
1 tablespoon chopped parsley

Prepare stuffing from soaked and squeezed rolls, egg, tablespoon butter, chopped almonds, ½ teaspoon ginger and parsley. Salt and mix thoroughly. Stuff chicken, salt to taste, sprinkle with ginger and surround with butter. Bake until red. Serve with potatoes and salad.

Introducing the BHL-Europe portal result list

The result list after performing a search is the most important thing for the user. In the case of the BHL-Europe portal, it is an interface environment with an easy navigation set-up and several functions that help the user get the most precise search result. The result list is structured in two columns and several blocks.

Right Column

The bigger right column shows the result items as Journal/Series, Volumes, Articles and Monographs. Each item type has its own icon representing the specific content type and is number according to his position in the list. The metadata of each item are structured in 4 categories which depend on the content type.  For a monograph, for example, these are: Title, Author, Year and Publisher. The title is always interactive and clicking on it will bring up the bibliographic page for this item. Below the item metadata there are three icons allowing the user go to the bibliographic page for that item, read the item in the content viewer or tag the item (the tagging function will be explained in details in the next development news update, the icon is not implemented yet).

List view

 There are two display modes to structure the list of results: the list view and the table view. The list view is a classical view sorting the items in lines (see picture above). Each item has the full title displayed, no matter how long it is. The table view is designed to display more results on one screen (see picture below). Items are in blocks of the same size; three next to each other is the maximum. The text is limited to three text lines for category.  If the text is longer, which is usual for titles, you can see the whole title by moving the mouse over it (item 2 on the picture below). The number of items on one page for both table and list view can be set between 5 and 30, and you can always switch between the list and table view.

Table view

The result list is sorted by relevance by default and it is sorted alphabetically by title if the search parameter is set to equal.

Left Column

The smaller left column includes two blocks. The first contains the search summary with the number of items matched in the result and the search string. The search string holds the term searched for along with the search parameter and the number of matches for each individual search term in the index. So if I search for several terms across several parameters the search summary shows me how many results I get for this complex search string in total, but it does not mean that the individual search terms do not appear more frequently in the index, if I were to search for them individually.

Search summary

Every search parameter is entered on one line for a clearer overview and to enable the opportunity to remove or add more search parameters easily.  To change the search parameters you can easily click on the edit search button in the search summary block and edit the search or browse settings (depending on from where the search began). The advanced search block or browse block will appear above the result list.

Facet list

One of the most useful (and amazing!) tools on the portal is the facet list. The facet list is the second block in the left column and is structured in a number of facet categories: Material type, Author, Year, Language, Content provider and Scientific name (see picture above). The main function of the facet list is to allow you to filter the result list by combining selections in categories and helps you find exactly what you are looking for.  Each facet selection adds a new request at the end of the search string. You can remove the filter by clicking on the minus button in the search block or by clicking on “REMOVE” directly on the category in the facet list. You can remove the requests independent of order.
Each change will affect the search result and result list items. Most categories are self-explanatory, but it is important to mention specifically the “scientific name” category. Expanding this category will show a long list including genera and species names or synonyms for names found in the content of the items in the result list. All results in categories in the facet list are sorted alphabetically or chronologically. You can expand or collapse individual category or all of them together.