In direct connection with cookery as with horticulture, are the utensils and appliances which were at the command of those who had to do with these matters in days of yore; and in both cases an inquirer finds that he has to turn from the vain search for actual specimens belonging to remoter antiquity to casual representations or descriptions in Mss. and printed books. Our own museums appear to be very weakly furnished with examples of the vessels and implements in common use for culinary purposes in ancient times, and, judging from the comparatively limited information which we get upon this subject from the pages of Lacroix, the paucity of material is not confined to ourselves. The destruction and disappearance of such humble monuments of the civilisation of the past are easily explained; and the survival of a slender salvage is to be treated as a circumstance not less remarkable than fortunate.
It seems that the practice was to cut up, if not to slaughter, the animals used for food in the kitchen, and to prepare the whole carcase, some parts in one way and some in another. We incidentally collect from an ancient tale that the hearts of swine were much prized as dainties.
Besides a general notion of the appointments of the cooking department, we are enabled to form some conception of the aspect of the early kitchen itself from extant representations in the “Archaeological Album,” the “Penny Magazine” for 1836, and Lacroix [Footnote: “Moeurs, Usages et Costumes au Moyen Age,” 1872, pp 166, 170, 177]. The last-named authority furnishes us with two interesting sixteenth century interiors from Jost Amman, and (from the same source) a portraiture of the cook of that period.
The costume of the subject is not only exhibited, doubtless with the fidelity characteristic of the artist, but is quite equally applicable to France, if not to our own country, and likewise to a much earlier date. The evidences of the same class supplied by the “Archaeological Album,” 1845, are drawn from the Ms. in the British Museum, formerly belonging to the Abbey of St. Albans. They consist of two illustrations — one of Master Robert, cook to the abbey, as elsewhere noticed, accompanied by his wife — unique relic of its kind; the other a view of a small apartment with dressers and shelves, and with plates and accessories hung round, in which a cook, perhaps the identical Master Robert aforesaid, is plucking a bird. The fireplace is in the background, and the iron vessel which is to receive the fowl, or whatever it may really be, is suspended over the flame by a long chain. The perspective is rather faulty, and the details are not very copious; but for so early a period as the thirteenth or early part of the following century its value is undeniable.
Master Robert plucking a bird
The “Penny Magazine” presents us with a remarkable exterior, that of the venerable kitchen of Stanton-Harcourt, near Oxford, twenty-nine feet square and sixty feet in height. There are two large fireplaces, facing each other, but no chimney, the smoke issuing atthe holes, each about seven inches in diameter, which run round the roof. As Lamb said of his Essays, that they were all Preface, so this kitchen is all chimney. It is stated that the kitchen at Glastonbury Abbey was constructed on the same model; and both are probably older than the reign of Henry IV. The one to which I am more immediately referring, though, at the time (1835) the drawing was taken, in an excellent state of preservation, had evidently undergone repairs and structural changes.
It was at Stanton-Harcourt that Pope wrote a portion of his translation of Homer, about 1718.
A manufactory of brass cooking utensils was established at Wandsworth in or before Aubrey’s time by Dutchmen, who kept the art secret. Lysons states that the place where the industry was carried on bore the name of the “Frying Pan Houses” [Footnote: A “Environs of London,” 1st ed., Surrey, pp. 502-3].
In the North of England, the bake-stone, originally of the material to which it owed its name, but at a very early date constructed of iron, with the old appellations retained as usual, was the universal machinery for baking, and was placed on the Branderi, an iron frame which was fixed on the top of the fireplace, and consisted of iron bars, with a sliding or slott bar, to shift according to the circumstances.
The tripod which held the cooking-vessel over the wood flame, among the former inhabitants of Britain, has not been entirely effaced. It is yet to be seen here and there in out-of-the-way corners and places; and in India they use one constructed of clay, and differently contrived. The most primitive pots for setting over the fire on the tripod were probably of bronze.
The tripod seems to be substantially identical with what was known in Nidderdale as the kail-pot. “This was formerly in common use,” says Mr. Lucas; “a round iron pan, about ten inches deep and eighteen inches across, with a tight-fitting, convex lid. It was provided with three legs. The kail-pot, as it was called, was used for cooking pies, and was buried bodily in burning peat. As the lower peats became red-hot, they drew them from underneath, and placed them on the top. The kail-pot may still be seen on a few farms.” This was about 1870.
The writer is doubtless correct in supposing that this utensil was originally employed for cooking kail or cabbage and other green stuff.
Three rods of iron or hard wood lashed together, with a hook for taking the handle of the kettle, formed, no doubt, the original tripod. But among some of the tribes of the North of Europe, and in certain Tartar, Indian, and other communities, we see no such rudimentary substitute for a grate, but merely two uprights and a horizontal rest, supporting a chain; and in the illustration to the thirteenth or fourteenth century Ms., once part of the abbatial library at St. Albans, a nearer approach to the modern jack is apparent in the suspension of the vessel over the flame by a chain attached to the centre of a fireplace.
Not the tripod, therefore, but the other type must be thought to have been the germ of the later-day apparatus, which yielded in its turn to the Range.
The fireplace with a ring in the middle, from which is suspended the pot, is represented in a French sculpture of the end of the fourteenth century, where two women are seated on either side, engaged in conversation. One holds a ladle, and the other an implement which may be meant for a pair of bellows.
In his treatise on Kitchen Utensils, Neckam commences with naming a table, on which the cook may cut up green stuff of various sorts, as onions, peas, beans, lentils, and pulse; and he proceeds to enumerate the tools and implements which are required to carry on the work: pots, tripods for the kettle, trenchers, pestles, mortars, hatchets, hooks, saucepans, cauldrons, pails, gridirons, knives, and so on. The head-cook was to have a little apartment, where he could prepare condiments and dressings; and a sink was to be provided for the viscera and other offal of poultry. Fish was cooked in salt water or diluted wine.
Pepper and salt were freely used, and the former must have been ground as it was wanted, for a pepper-mill is named as a requisite. Mustard we do not encounter till the time of Johannes de Garlandia (early thirteenth century), who states that it grew in his own garden at Paris. Garlic, or gar-leac (in the same way as the onion is called yn-leac), had established itself as a flavouring medium. The nasturtium was also taken into service in the tenth or eleventh century for the same purpose, and is classed with herbs.
When the dish was ready, it was served up with green sauce, in which the chief ingredients were sage, parsley, pepper, and oil, with a little salt. Green geese were eaten with raisin or crab-apple sauce. Poultry was to be well larded or basted while it was before the fire.
I may be allowed to refer the reader, for some interesting jottings respecting the first introduction of coal into London, to “Our English Home,” 1861. “The middle classes,” says the anonymous writer, “were the first to appreciate its value; but the nobility, whose mansions were in the pleasant suburbs of Holborn and the Strand, regarded it as a nuisance.” This was about the middle of the thirteenth century. It may be a mite contributed to our knowledge of early household economy to mention, by the way, that in the supernatural tale of the “Smith and his Dame” (sixteenth century) “a quarter of coal” occurs. The smith lays it on the fire all at once; but then it was for his forge. He also poured water on the flames, to make them, by means of his bellows, blaze more fiercely. But the proportion of coal to wood was long probably very small. One of the tenants of the Abbey of Peterborough, in 852, was obliged to furnish forty loads of wood, but of coal two only.
In the time of Charles I., however, coals seem to have been usual in the kitchen, for Breton, in this “Fantasticks,” 1626, says, under January:—“The Maid is stirring betimes, and slipping on her Shooes and her Petticoat, groaps for the tinder box, where after a conflict between the steele and the stone, she begets a spark, at last the Candle lights on his Match; then upon an old rotten foundation of broaken boards she erects an artificiall fabrick of the black Bowels of New-Castle soyle, to which she sets fire with as much confidence as the Romans to their Funerall Pyles.”
Under July, in the same work, we hear of “a chafing dish of coals;” and under September, wood and coals are mentioned together. But doubtless the employment of the latter was far less general.
In a paper read before the Royal Society, June 9, 1796, there is an account of a saucepan discovered in the bed of the river Withain, near Tattersall Ferry, in Lincolnshire, in 1788. It was of base metal, and was grooved at the bottom, to allow the contents more readily to come within reach of the fire. The writer of this narrative, which is printed in the “Philosophical Transactions,” considered that the vessel might be of Roman workman-ship; as he states that on the handle was stamped a name, C. ARAT., which he interprets Caius Aratus. “It appears,” he adds, “to have been tinned; but almost all the coating had been worn off. . . . The art of tinning copper was understood and practised by the Romans, although it is commonly supposed to be a modern invention.”
Neckam mentions the roasting-spit, elsewhere called the roasting-iron; but I fail to detect skewers, though they can hardly have been wanting. Ladles for basting and stirring were familiar. As to the spit itself, it became a showy article of plate, when the fashion arose of serving up the meat upon it in the hall; and the tenure by which Finchingfield in Essex was held in capite in the reign of Edward III. — that of turning the spit at the coronation — demonstrates that the instrument was of sufficient standing to be taken into service as a memorial formality.
The fifteenth century vocabulary notices the salt-cellar, the spoon, the trencher, and the table-cloth. The catalogue comprises morsus, a bit, which shows that bit and bite are synonymous, or rather, that the latter is the true word as still used in Scotland, Yorkshire, and Lincolnshire, from the last of which the Pilgrims carried it across the Atlantic, where it is a current Americanism, not for one bite, but as many as you please, which is, in fact, the modern provincial interpretation of the phrase, but not the antique English one. The word towel was indifferently applied, perhaps, for a cloth for use at the table or in the lavatory. Yet there was also the manuturgium, or hand-cloth, a speciality rendered imperative by the mediaeval fashion of eating.
In the inventory of the linen at Gilling, in Yorkshire, one of the seats of the Fairfax family, made in 1590, occur:—“Item, napkins vj. dozen. Item, new napkins vj. dozen.” This entry may or may not warrant a conclusion that the family bought that quantity at a time — not a very excessive store, considering the untidy habits of eating and the difficulty of making new purchases at short notice.
Another mark of refinement is the resort to the napron, corruptly apron, to protect the dress during the performance of kitchen work. But the fifteenth century was evidently growing wealthier in its articles of use and luxury; the garden and the kitchen only kept pace with the bed-chamber and the dining-hall, the dairy and the laundry, the stable and the out-buildings. An extensive nomenclature was steadily growing up, and the Latin, old French, and Saxon terms were giving way on all sides to the English. It has been now for some time an allowed and understood thing that in these domestic backgrounds the growth of our country and the minuter traits of private life are to be studied with most clear and usurious profit.
The trencher, at first of bread, then of wood, after a while of pewter, and eventually of pottery, porcelain or china-earth, as it was called, and the precious metals, afforded abundant scope for the fancy of the artist, even in the remote days when the material for it came from the timber-dealer, and sets of twelve were sometimes decorated on the face with subjects taken from real life, and on the back with emblems of the purpose to which they were destined.
Puttenham, whose “Art of English Poetry” lay in Ms. some years before it was published in 1589, speaks of the posies on trenchers and banqueting dishes. The author of “Our English Home” alludes to a very curious set, painted in subjects and belonging to the reign of James I., which was exhibited at the Society of Antiquaries’ rooms by Colonel Sykes.
It is to be augured that, with the progress of refinement, the meats were served upon the table on dishes instead of trenchers, and that the latter were reserved for use by the guests of the family. For in the “Serving-man’s Comfort,” 1598, one reads:—“Even so the gentlemanly serving-man, whose life and manners doth equal his birth and bringing up, scorneth the society of these sots, or to place a dish where they give a trencher”; and speaking of the passion of people for raising themselves above their extraction, the writer, a little farther on, observes: “For the yeoman’s son, as I said before, leaving gee haigh! for, Butler, some more fair trenchers to the table! bringeth these ensuing ulcers amongst the members of the common body.”
The employment of trenchers, which originated in the manner which I have shown, introduced the custom of the distribution at table of the two sexes, and the fashion of placing a lady and gentleman alternately. In former days it was frequently usual for a couple thus seated together to eat from one trencher, more particularly if the relations between them were of an intimate nature, or, again, if it were the master and mistress of the establishment. Walpole relates that so late as the middle of the last century the old Duke and Duchess of Hamilton occupied the dais at the head of the room, and preserved the traditional manner by sharing the same plate. It was a token of attachment and a tender recollection of unreturnable youth.
The prejudice against the fork in England remained very steadfast actual centuries after its first introduction; forks are particularised among the treasures of kings, as if they had been crown jewels, in the same manner as the iron spits, pots, and frying-pans of his Majesty Edward III.; and even so late as the seventeeth century, Coryat, who employed one after his visit to Italy, was nicknamed “Furcifer.” The two-pronged implement long outlived Coryat; and it is to be seen in cutlers’ signs even down to our day. The old dessert set, curiously enough, instead of consisting of knives and forks in equal proportions, contained eleven knives and one fork for ginger. Both the fork and spoon were frequently made with handles of glass or crystal, like those of mother-of-pearl at present in vogue.
In a tract coeval with Coryat the Fork-bearer, Breton’s “Court and Country,” 1618, there is a passage very relevant to this part of the theme:—“For us in the country,” says he, “when we have washed our hands after no foul work, nor handling any unwholesome thing, we need no little forks to make hay with our mouths, to throw our meat into them.”
Forks, though not employed by the community, became part of the effects of royal and great personages, and in the inventory of Charles V. of France appear the spoon, knife, and fork. In another of the Duke of Burgundy, sixty years later (1420), knives and other implements occur, but no fork. The cutlery is described here as of German make. Brathwaite, in his “Rules for the Government of the House of an Earl,” probably written about 1617, mentions knives and spoons, but not forks.
As the fork grew out of the chopstick, the spoon was probably suggested by the ladle, a form of implement employed alike by the baker and the cook; for the early tool which we see in the hands of the operative in the oven more nearly resembles in the bowl a spoon than a shovel. In India nowadays they have ladles, but not spoons. The universality of broths and semi-liquid substances, as well as the commencement of a taste for learned gravies, prompted a recourse to new expedients for communicating between the platter and the mouth; and some person of genius saw how the difficulty might be solved by adapting the ladle to individual service. But every religion has its quota of dissent, and there were, nay, are still, many who professed adherence to the sturdy simplicity of their progenitors, and saw in this daring reform and the fallow blade of the knife a certain effeminate prodigality.
It is significant of the drift of recent years toward the monograph, that, in 1846, Mr. Westman published “The Spoon: Primitive, Egyptian, Roman, Mediaeval and Modern,” with one hundred illustrations, in an octavo volume.
The luxury of carving-knives was, even in the closing years of the fifteenth century, reserved for royalty and nobility; for in the “Privy Purse Expenses of Henry VII.,” under 1497, a pair is said to have cost £1 6s. 8d. of money of that day. Nothing is said of forks. But in the same account, under February 1st, 1500-1, one Mistress Brent receives 12s. (and a book, which cost the king 5s. more) for a silver fork weighing three ounces. In Newbery’s “Dives Pragmaticus,” 1563, a unique poetical volume in the library at Althorpe, there is a catalogue of cooking utensils which, considering its completeness, is worth quotation; the author speaks in the character of a chapman — one forestalling Autolycus:—
“I have basins, ewers, of tin, pewter and glass.
Great vessels of copper, fine latten and brass:
Both pots, pans and kettles, such as never was.
I have platters, dishes, saucers and candle-sticks,
Chafers, lavers, towels and fine tricks:
Posnets, frying-pans, and fine puddingpricks . . .
Fine pans for milk, and trim tubs for sowse.
I have ladles, scummers, andirons and spits,
Dripping-pans, pot-hooks. . . .
I have fire-pans, fire-forks, tongs, trivets, and trammels,
Roast-irons, trays, flaskets, mortars and pestles. . . . ”
And among other items he adds rollers for paste, moulds for cooks, fine cutting knives, fine wine glasses, soap, fine salt, and candles. The list is the next best thing to an auctioneer’s inventory of an Elizabethan kitchen, to the fittings of Shakespeare’s, or rather of his father’s. A good idea of the character and resources of a nobleman’s or wealthy gentleman’s kitchen at the end of the sixteenth and commencement of the seventeenth century may be formed from the Fairfax inventories (1594-1624), lately edited by Mr. Peacock. I propose to annex a catalogue of the utensils which there present themselves:—
The furnace pan for beef.
The beef kettle.
Great and small kettles.
Brass kettles, holding from sixteen to twenty gallons each.
Little kettles with bowed or carved handles.
Copper pans with ears.
Great brass pots.
An iron peel or baking shovel.
A brazen mortar and a pestle.
A laten scummer.
A pepper mill.
An iron range.
A tin pot.
A galley bawk to suspend the kettle or pot over the fire.
Spits, square and round, and various sizes.
In the larders (wet and dry) and pastry were:—
Moulding boards for pastry.
A boulting tub for meal.
A little table.
A spice cupboard.
A chest for oatmeal.
Here follows the return of pewter, brass, and other vessels belonging to the kitchen:—
Pewter dishes of nine sizes (from Newcastle).
Long dishes for rabbits. — Silver fashioned.
Saucers. — Silver fashioned.
Chargers. — Silver fashioned.
Pie plates. — Silver fashioned.
Voider. — Silver fashioned.
Fire shoves and tongs.
A brig (a sort of brandreth).
A pewter baking-pan.
Kettles of brass.
A shredding knife.
A chopping knife.
An apple cradle.
A pair of irons to make wafers with.
A brass pot-lid.
Beef-axes and knives. — For Slaughtering.
Slaughter ropes. — For Slaughtering.
Beef stangs. — For Slaughtering.
In the beef-house was an assortment of tubs, casks, and hogsheads. Table knives, forks, spoons, and drinking-vessels presumably belonged to another department.
The dripping-pan is noticed in Breton’s “Fantasticks,” 1626: “Dishes and trenchers are necessary servants, and they that have no meat may go scrape; a Spit and a Dripping-pan would do well, if well furnished.” Flecknoe, again, in his character of a “Miserable old Gentlewoman,” inserted among his “Enigmatical Characters,” 1658, speaks of her letting her prayer-book fall into the dripping-pan, and the dog and the cat quarrelling over it, and at last agreeing to pray on it!
But this is a branch of the subject I cannot afford further to penetrate. Yet I must say a word about the polished maple-wood bowl, or maser, with its mottoes and quaint devices, which figured on the side-board of the yeoman and the franklin, and which Chaucer must have often seen in their homes. Like everything else which becomes popular, it was copied in the precious metals, with costly and elaborate goldsmith’s work; but its interest for us is local, and does not lend itself to change of material and neighbourhood. The habits of the poor and middle classes are apt to awaken a keener curiosity in our minds from the comparatively slender information which has come to us upon them; and as in the case of the maser, the laver which was employed in humble circles for washing the hands before and after a meal was, not of gold or silver, as in the houses of the nobility, but of brass or laten, nor was it in either instance a ceremonious form, but a necessary process. The modern finger-glass and rose-water dish, which are an incidence of every entertainment of pretension, and in higher society as much a parcel of the dinner-table as knives and forks, are, from a mediaeval standpoint, luxurious anachronisms.
In Archbishop Alfric’s “Colloquy,” originally written in the tenth century, and subsequently augmented and enriched with a Saxon gloss by one of his pupils, the cook is one of the persons introduced and interrogated. He is asked what his profession is worth to the community; and he replies that without him people would have to eat their greens and flesh raw; whereupon it is rejoined that they might readily dress them themselves; to which the cook can only answer, that in such case all men would be reduced to the position of servants.
The kitchen had its chef or master-cook (archimacherus), under-cooks, a waferer or maker of sweets, a scullion or swiller (who is otherwise described as a quistron), and knaves, or boys for preparing the meat; and all these had their special functions and implements.
Even in the fifteenth century the appliances for cookery were evidently far more numerous than they had been. An illustrated vocabulary portrays, among other items, the dressing-board, the dressing-knife, the roasting-iron, the frying-pan, the spit-turner (in lieu of the old turn-broach), the andiron, the ladle, the slice, the skummer; and the assitabulum, or saucer, first presents itself. It seems as if the butler and the pantler had their own separate quarters; and the different species of wine, and the vessels for holding it, are not forgotten. The archaic pantry was dedicated, not to its later objects, but to that which the name strictly signifies; but at the same time the writer warrants us in concluding, that the pantry accommodated certain miscellaneous utensils, as he comprises in its contents a candlestick, a table or board-cloth, a hand-cloth or napkin, a drinking bowl, a saucer, and a spoon. The kitchen, in short, comprised within its boundaries a far larger variety of domestic requisites of all kinds than its modern representative, which deals with an external machinery so totally changed. The ancient Court of England was so differently constituted from the present, and so many offices which sprang out of the feudal system have fallen into desuetude, that it requires a considerable effort to imagine a condition of things, where the master-cook of our lord the king was a personage of high rank and extended possessions. How early the functions of cook and the property attached to the position were separated, and the tenure of the land made dependent on a nominal ceremony, is not quite clear. Warner thinks that it was in the Conqueror’s time; but at any rate, in that of Henry II. the husband of the heiress of Bartholomew de Cheney held his land in Addington, Surrey, by the serjeantry of finding a cook to dress the victuals at the coronation; the custom was kept up at least so late as the reign of George III., to whom at his coronation the lord of the manor of Addington presented a dish of pottage. The tenure was varied in its details from time to time. But for my purpose it is sufficient that manorial rights were acquired by the magnus coquus or magister coquorum in the same way as by the grand butler and other officers of state; and when so large a share of the splendour of royalty continued for centuries to emanate from the kitchen, it was scarcely inappropriate or unfair to confer on that department of state some titular distinction, and endow the holder with substantial honours. To the Grand Chamberlain and the Grand Butler the Grand Cook was a meet appendage.
The primary object of these feudal endowments was the establishment of a cordon round the throne of powerful subjects under conditions and titles which to ourselves may appear incongruous and obscure, but which were in tolerable keeping with the financial and commercial organisation of the period, with a restricted currency, a revenue chiefly payable in kind, scanty facilities for transit, and an absence of trading centres. These steward-ships, butler-ships, and cook-ships, in the hands of the most trusted vassals of the Crown, constituted a rudimentary vehicle for in-gathering the dues of all kinds renderable by the king’s tenants; and as an administrative scheme gradually unfolded itself, they became titular and honorary, like our own reduced menagerie of nondescripts. But while they lasted in their substance and reality, they answered the wants and notions of a primitive people; nor is it for this practical age to lift up its hands or its voice too high; for mediaeval England is still legible without much excavation in our Court, our Church, nay, in our Laws. There lurk our cunning spoilers!
Mr. Fairholt, in the “Archaeological Album,” 1845, has depicted for our benefit the chef of the Abbey of St. Albans in the fourteenth century, and his wife Helena. The representations of these two notable personages occur in a Ms. in the British Museum, which formerly belonged to the Abbey, and contains a list of its benefactors, with their gifts. It does not appear that Master Robert, cook to Abbot Thomas, was the donor of any land or money; but, in consideration of his long and faithful services, his soul was to be prayed for with that of his widow, who bestowed 3s. 4d. ad opus hujus libri, which Fairholt supposes to refer to the insertion of her portrait and that of her spouse among the graphic decorations of the volume. They are perhaps in their way unique. Behold them opposite!
Master Robert and wife
Another point in reference to the early economy of the table, which should not be overlooked, is the character of the ancient buttery, and the quick transition which its functionary, the butler, experienced from the performance of special to that of general duties.
He at a very remote period acted not merely as the curator of the wine-cellar, but as the domestic steward and storekeeper; and it was his business to provide for the requirements of the kitchen and the pantry, and to see that no opportunity was neglected of supplying, from the nearest port, or market town, or fair, if his employer resided in the country, all the necessaries for the departments under his control. We are apt to regard the modern bearer of the same title as more catholic in his employments than the appellation suggests; but he in fact wields, on the contrary, a very circumscribed authority compared to that of his feudal prototype.
One of the menial offices in the kitchen, when the spit came into use, was the broach-turner, lately referred to. He was by no means invariably maintained on the staff, but was hired for the occasion, which may augur the general preference for boiled and fried meats. Sometimes it appears that any lad passing by, or in want of temporary employment, was admitted for this purpose, and had a trifling gratuity, or perhaps only his dinner and the privilege of dipping his fingers in the dripping, for his pains.
Warner cites an entry in some accounts of the Hospital of St. Bartholomew at Sandwich, under 1569:—“For tournynge the spytte, iiijd.“ and this was when the mayor of the borough dined with the prior. A royal personage gave, of course, more. The play of “Gammer Gurton’s Needle,” written about 1560, opens with a speech of Diccon the Bedlam, or poor Tom, where he says:—
“Many a gossip's cup in my time have I tasted,
And many a broach and spit have I both turned and basted.”
The spit, again, was supplanted by the jack.
The “History of Friar Rush,” 1620, opens with a scene in which the hero introduces himself to a monastery, and is sent by the unsuspecting prior to the master-cook, who finds him subordinate employment.
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