Friday, February 14, 2014

A FOURTEENTH CENTURY DIETETIC: 3. Belgian (Walloon/Liègeois) food in the fourteenth century

This is one of several posts exploring a dietetic written in the fourteenth century by a certain “Brother Leonard” at the monastery of St. Jacques in Liège (today in Belgium). In 2007, Geneviève Xhayet published a transcription, with notes and commentary, of this Latin work and these posts reference that transcription. The other posts are:

1. What is a dietetic?
2. Brother Leonard on diet and health
4. Brother Leonard on behavior and attitude

For food history, dietetic works are especially valuable in one regard: they mention specific foods. The fact that the writer, writing from a medical point of view, approves or disapproves of each food mentioned is not so important as the fact these foods are mentioned at all. This is particularly fortunate in the case of Brother Leonard, who condemns far more foods than he recommends.

Leonard's work is uniquely valuable, since it mentions foods available in Liège in the fourteenth century (probably in the second half). In itself, information on such food in this period is extremely rare. But as it happens, roughly two centuries later (1604), another work would appear on the food of Liège, this an actual (and classic) cookbook: Lancelot de Casteau's Ouverture de Cuisine. Among other things, then, Leonard's work provides a contrasting, and earlier, view of the same cuisine.

How far beyond Liège were some of the more specialized foods eaten? Unfortunately, in the fourteenth century at least, it is difficult to say. In modern terms, this is Belgian food and the document is, among other things, a valuable Belgian document. But more precisely it is Walloon in origin. Though today the Walloons are primarily Francophone, the original Walloon language (still spoken by about a million speakers) is distinct, a Romance language with a large percentage of German borrowings, and this is reflected in a number of food terms. Writes Xhayet:
Leonard's lexicon appears as a good reflection of the usual language in the monastic milieu and more largely in the city of Liège, during the second half of the fourteenth century. The Régime de Santé is written in a Latin enriched with multiple borrowings from the vernacular languages, the French and the Walloon of Liège, including its German-isms.
To further narrow the focus, Liège for much of the fourteenth century was largely independent:
As ecclesiastical territories, the principalities of Liège and Utrecht enjoyed a special status. They were principalities ruled by bishops, in cooperation with chapters of cathedral canons made up exclusively of clerics and simultaneously holding spiritual and temporal authority. ....the prince-bishopric of Liège came under the influence of Burgundy late in the fourteenth century.
(Blockmans and Prevenier)
This is of most relevance in considering how much Liègeois food resembled that of neighboring areas. At this point, Liège was, politically at least, a separate entity; culturally, however, it may have shared more with its neighbors.

Finally, there is the simple fact that Leonard was writing for a Benedictine monastery. Certainly this may account for the long list of fish, for instance, and for the meals during certain religious feasts. On the other hand, even today the Benedictine Rule includes this stipulation: “Except the sick who are very weak, let all abstain entirely from the flesh of four-footed animals.” In prosperous fourteenth century Liège, it might have been hard to limit monks in this way, especially since the monastic spirit was, at that point, weakening (Van Ham). But Liège was not alone in this decline in Benedictine rigor. Spencer writes of British monasteries: “By the 1150's every form of meat and fowl was eaten.” Harvey makes similar remarks and adds that by this time Benedictine monks were using complex justifications for eating different meats and even distinguishing which food was eaten in the refectory - “the only room known for eating to St. Benedict and therefore the only room mentioned in the Rule” - and elsewhere. This may explain why Leonard distinguishes so often between food eaten in the refectory and at the abbot's table.

As it is, Leonard's text references meat almost continually. The closest thing one finds to self-mortification is the instruction not to have flan unless there are guests present.

Nor, writes Xhayet, do Leonard's recommendations closely follow the abbey's own guidelines, recorded towards the end of the thirteenth century in a Liber Ordinarius. During the winter, for instance, he enumerates different foods day by day, whereas the rule says simply “a continual fast is observed, except on Sundays and Christmas Day.” The Liber also mentions six fasting vigils through the year that are not found in his text.
The recommended foods betray a gradation in the intensity of fasting: moderate during certain fast vigils, they become stricter during Lent (with nonetheless temporary easing at Mid-Lent [a particularly French observance], Sundays and on other occasions, for example Holy Thursday), becoming severe on Ash Wednesday and yet more on Good Friday.
In considering the food described here, then, it is not sufficient to know the general nature of the religious community; a number of nuances apply. Not least is the fact, underlined by Van Ham, that such communities, since the twelfth century, were often made up of members of the nobility, which might also explain the relative abundance and even luxuriousness of much of this food.

The foods
To begin, here is a list of all the food and drink mentioned in Leonard's text. (An entry in italics in square brackets is Xhayet's alternate translation of the same term; an item with a question mark is her “best guess” of the term's meaning.)

Meat (in general); beef, pork, mutton, veal; bacon; oxen or cow intestines
Chicken; capon; goose giblets
Omelets [crepes], hard boiled, soft boiled, poached, "boiled"
Fish (in general) fried in oil; eels, herring (fresh, brined or smoked), cod; “gem of the sea” [shellfish?], haddock (fresh or smoked), carp; loach/rockling, salmon, gudgeon; scallops
Broad beans, peas with bacon; long vegetables, leeks (as a dish, in tarts, balls, in scabwort); greens in milk, turnip greens (in milk); greens/herbs; parsley, parsley roots, hyssop; root vegetables; onions and green onions, civet (with onions), garlic, yellow garlic
Milk, cream; cheese, cheese of Flanders, soft cheese; butter
Broth/soup [brouet]; eel broth; meat broth; of salted beef, pork, mutton; of game/boar; black broth; of capon, goose giblets; of bacon/veal; haddock; jewel of the sea; dumplings in broth

Pottage/soup (herring, root vegetables, other)

Sops of bread (in wine, in honey, in milk); black bread; crusts and dry bread

Pasties; flans; tarts, tartlets, tourtes; wafers [waffles]

Oat gruel
Fruit (raw and cooked); pears (raw or cooked), apples, figs, cherries, grapes; nuts/hazelnuts

Apple beignets ("apple cut crosswise after wrapped in pastry then fried in oil")

Comfits? ("spices")

Sauces (in general); black sauce, green sauce, cameline; mustard

Pepper, saffron, fennel seed, cumin (explicit); cinnamon (implicit)

Vinegar; oil; fat or lard
Local (identified)
Burudt (pork blood sausage), Bockuhooset (smoked herring), Truley
Pick, crouzo, cuost, centamaihle; froesh, kwock [cake or spice cake?]
Wine (red, white, new, old, standard, pittance); water; small and strong ale, hopped beer; scabwort (enola campana); absinthe wine; nectar

Translation issues
A fourteenth century document will typically have transcription issues at the very least, not to mention the problems around translating terms which occur rarely or not at all elsewhere. Here are the key ones for Leonard's work.

Brodium (broth/soup [brouet]) – Typically, this word, like the Italian brodo, would mean “broth” or “bouillon”. At least two Latin documents from around Leonard's era use it in this sense: the Tractatus de modo preparandi et condiendi omnia cibaria, probably from the start of the fourteenth century and the Registrum Coquine from the early fifteenth century. Leonard himself uses the word to refer to liquids associated with a single ingredient: “cattle, pigs and their broth”, “eel broth”, “capon broth”. Xhayet however gives this as “brouet” and explains that it refers to a dish simmered in verjuice or vinegar, adding in a note that “The term 'brouet' indicates simmered dishes, in sauce, of various consistencies such as pottages, stews and even broths.” This is generally true, but the term in this period typically refers to a preparation with several ingredients, often as solid as it was liquid. As it happens, the root of the word (breu; similar to “brew”) did originally mean “broth” and, according to the TLF, one of the few places it still had that meaning in later centuries was... Liège. What is more, Leonard also refers explicitly to “pottage” (potagio) and the ingredients in it and Casteau, writing two centuries later, refers only to pottage and not brouet. Leonard even refers to “pottage which is prepared... with the broth of salted meat.” (Leonard curiously refers to "dividing" cold pottage; emphasizing how solid the latter could then be.) So the sense of “broth” is all the more fitting here. The one exception may be a reference to taking a piece of mutton out of its broth, in which case one might consider the liquid, with some solids in it, a soup.

Brodium pastillorum (dumplings in broth) – This term very literally means “Pastie broth”. Xhayet writes reasonably enough that the “pasties” here were dough stuffed with meat, surely smaller than the pasties usually referenced as entire dishes and so effectively dumplings. The idea of “pasties in broth” appears to be unique to Leonard's work. It may have been a local specialty, though Casteau mentions nothing like it.

Vota (omelette [crepe]) – Leonard refers several time to vota, a Latin form of the Walloon vôte, which Xhayet glosses as being derived from volvita (“turned”). In period French, a similar word, voulte, meant an omelet. In his nineteenth century glossary for Morvan, de Chambure specifically cites this old usage in saying that the word vouter meant “to turn”, “to roll about” and then says "whence probably also 'vôtt, vote, volte', which in Walloon and in the Jura also mean an omelet." In notes to Rabelais' work, d'Aulnay writes “An omelet was once a called a volte of eggs.” Turning to a dictionary of Wallon, Remacle (1844) defines “Vôtt” as “Omelet, eggs beaten and cooked in a frying pan with butter” and even adds phrases for "your omelet is runny" and a proverb: "It is not in watching an egg that one makes a good omelet." Yet Xhayet translates this as “crepe”. And looking two centuries after Leonard to Casteau, one finds a recipe for a Hungarian vote, with several others based on it:
To make a Hungarian vote
Take a dozen beaten eggs, and put them with white bread strained with a little very thick cream, and beat that with the eggs, and make a vote, well cooked on both sides, sugar and cinnamon on it.
(A modern reader, seeing the sugar and cinnamon at the end, may assume this is a dessert; but a later variation using cheese and onions is flavored with both as well.) Certainly, whatever this is, it is something more than an omelet, though how “eggy” it would be would depend on how much bread was added to the dozen eggs. Casteau cites several other “Hungarian” recipes, raising the question of whether, at this point, the Liègeois simply thought that this was how the Hungarians made omelets. By the nineteenth century, the bread has become flour; Semetier (1894) defines a “Vôte” as “a mix of flour, eggs and milk prepared in a frying pan à la 'bouquette'.” (The bouquette itself was a later crepe-like food.) In more recent years (1978), Albert Renson is cited as defining it as “an omelet composed of eggs, wheat flour and milk, all turned about in a frying pan with a piece of butter or melted fat.” Since Casteau's time, then a vôte appears to have become a kind of hybrid, an omelet with enough flour added to make it something else, yet not quite a crepe. And in fact an 1857 definition describes it in just such ambivalent terms: “Egg crepe; a type of omelet made with flour.” Starting with Casteau then, it is probably best simply to use the Walloon term, just as, in English, we borrow “crepe” and “croissant” directly from French. The vôte today is neither an omelet nor a crepe, but a hybrid between the two. This said, in Leonard's time, it very likely still had the same sense as in French; that is, it was an omelet.

Waf (wafer [waffle])This is a judgment call. The fourteenth century waffle and wafer were essentially the same thing: dough cooked between two hot metal plates. Even the word “wafer” has a direct relationship to gaufre, the French word for “waffle”: “O. Fr. waufre, gauffre, goffre ; Fr. Gaufre”. A wafer that is was once a waufre, which was the same as a gaufre, or, today, waffle. But a waffle has long been associated with a honeycomb pattern and today tends to be relatively thick; medieval wafers (one of the most common forms of dessert “pastry”) were thinner and bore a variety of images or patterns. Even if “wafer” itself is misleading today, that word is more appropriate in this period.

Offas (sops/balls) – This typically refers to sops (pieces of bread), often dipped in wine or more rarely milk, honey or meat broth. But Leonard also refers to offas – basically balls – made of leeks. In one strange case, too, he seems to refer to offam as a meal, along with prandium (dinner). This might conceivably refer to some form of informal meal, like a snack; but monks already had a snack (the collation).

Olus (greens/dish of greens/dish) – This word basically refers to greens or herbs, but can also refer to a dish of them. To complicate matters, Leonard sometimes refers to, for example, an “olus with salted meat”, which suggests a general dish. He also refers to several made with milk, which is particularly interesting since his text does not include recipes and this is a rare reference to cooking greens in milk. He also mentions hot olus, essentially vegetable stew.

Puretam (puree) - This is not difficult to translate, but the Latin term is extremely rare in texts. One other exceptional example is in Des Guidi's sixteenth century work on bathing, where he suggests at one point taking a “puree made from chard, violets, borage and mercurialis, or cooked fruit, or dark bread with a lot of bran.” (puretam factam ex bletis, violariis, boraginibus et mercuriali, vel poma cocata, vel panem subnigrum multi sursuris).

Gemma maris (gem of the sea [shellfish?]) - This is listed (as “salted”) along with herring, cod and haddock and so was a fish of some sort. Xhayet very tentatively suggests it was a "crustacean', but gives as examples mussels and oysters, and mussels, notably, are recorded in Liège in this period. Otherwise Leonard mentions a number of fish which do not appear in records from 1317, 1414 and 1424, but notably not one thatdoes: sturgeon, a prized fish which might be one candidate for this exalted label.

Mosteelhe (loach/rockling) - Godefroy defines moustoile or moustele as a loach; to complicate matters, the variants of this word more typically mean “stone marten”. But the closest modern French term, motelle, corresponds to the Latin mustela, which in English is “rockling” (there are several kinds; the “bearded” types seem to be the most common in the north). 

Pick, crouzo, cuost, centamaihle, froesh, cyebueire; kwock [cake or spice cake?] - At present, none of these can be translated. From context, Xhayet suggests that pick might be some kind of sauce (“if there are fried capons with wine, refuse pick.”) One possibility might be a pickling sauce; a later phrase for lightly pickled herring is hareng pec. Leonard says to “flee rancid crouzos and salted meat,” but no more. He writes that one should absolutely not eat “a vegetable dish of cuost without milk”. Centamaihle seems to be a fish, since he says at one point to avoid both that and herring. He gives no hint about the meaning of froesh, beyond the fact that one should not eat cherries or cheese in its place. Cyebueire seems to refer to a piece of pork. Leonard writes that after dinner one should not drink “nor eat kwock,” leading Xhayet to suggest that this might mean “cake” (and so be linked with the Dutch koek and the Walloon couque).

Local specialties
One unique aspect of Leonard's text is its use of terms specific to his region. Some of these have endured; others are known from period texts.
  • Burudt (pork blood sausage) – This word itself seems impossible to document elsewhere, but Xhayet seems justified in saying that the phrase “burudt of pork blood” probably refers to black sausage.
  • Bockuhooset (smoked herring) – This is one of innumerable variants on a word for smoked herring: bochois, boexhois, bouckehous, bochois, boexhois, bouckehous, bochons (Godefroy); bokhaut, bocksharing (Pirenne).
  • Truley – This remains a Belgian specialty. Davidson: “Truleye (from truler, to crumble) is a cold soup into which ginger bread is crumbled, but there is also a hot version made with beer, sugar, butter, and nutmeg.” Semetier (1894) has an entry for: “Truler, trouler. Emielter. Hainaut : Trîlé in which he refers to a “beer soup obtained by boiling a quarter pound of cassonnade, two sticks of cinnamon and three mastelles with a cruchon of beer.” (A mastelle is a kind of spice-bread cracker of maslin; a cruchon a small, long-necked bottle.) Leonard however writes of a “truley in wine”, which would have been something like a hot wine toddy.

Meat and poultry
The most striking aspect of meat in this Benedictine work is just how much of it there is. The reference to intestines, and even sausage, recalls Harvey's explanation of the fine distinction established between flesh-meat (carnes) and meaty dishes (carnea) in order to justify eating certain meat products. It is unlikely however that that rationale applied here, since the monks apparently felt free to eat meat in all its forms.

Though bacon is of course pork, it is typically treated as a separate element in period records. In earlier centuries, even otherwise vegetarian monks were sometimes allowed to use its "juice" in the place of oil.

Otherwise, if he does not actually describe how meat was cooked, Leonard's frequent concern that it be under-cooked and references to “roasts” and “roast veal” suggest that it was roasted more often than boiled (roasting cooks meat less evenly than boiling it). At the same time, a reference to “boiled” as a course in a meal (see below) suggests that some meat was also boiled (as does the frequent reference to broths). His reference to "black broth" is probably to the broth of wild boars (a surprising addition to an ecclesiastical diet), but that is uncertain.

At one point he refers to taking fatty roast pork, cutting it up and having it with bread and mustard. He also refers to cutting blood sausage up in pottage.

Leonard makes a very rare reference to white meat, when he says of chicken to only take the “white located under the white” (album sub albo locatum). Note that the only poultry mentioned are chickens, capons and geese.

Leonard lists a great variety of fish, which would not be surprising in a monastery, were it not for the quantity of meat also listed. Most of it seems to have been grilled (he explicitly cites “roasting”, which for fish would probably have meant grilling in this period), but also mentions haddock broth. Much of it, too, was salted or smoked, but these were standard preservation methods in the period.

Peas and broad beans
In most cases, he says not to eat broad beans crushed, but whole; he recommends crushed peas. Leonard pays special attention to the problem of under-cooked pea pods (that is, the pods of field or gray peas, not the younger, more tender peas known today). His mention of crushed broad beans in wine is unique.

The most surprising dairy-related reference is to cooking greens in milk. Otherwise, Leonard makes it clear that different kinds of cheeses were available in Liège, notably the cheese of Flanders. This may seem like a minor point, but at this early date, varieties of cheeses were not often mentioned. Even references by region were relatively rare (Brie cheese being a notable exception).

His one reference to “cream” is uncertain, but suggests it was a luxury.

Baked goods/flour-based
Leonard does not go into details about bread, beyond warning against dry crusts. But he does exceptionally mention black bread. Again, one would expect that monks would have eaten a lot of this, as they did in earlier eras, but the impression here is that they mainly ate a better bread.

He mentions oat gruel, which is relatively uncommon (the Menagier, for instance, mainly cites oats as food for horses). He also refers to letting gruel cool or even pouring wine into it to cool it.

His references to tarts, tartlets and tourtes are too general to distinguish except perhaps by size. Most were probably savory rather than sweet at this point.

Sauces, flavorings and preparations
Leonard refers to cameline sauce (based on cinnamon), green sauce (with parsley, sorrel, etc) and black sauce. Cameline and green sauce are both fairly well-known (eels in green sauce are still popular in Belgium today). Black sauce is less so, but the Forme of Cury includes a recipe for it using blood and bread. He warns against the smell of garlic, which had still not established the close association it would later have with French cuisine, but was used in the monastery for flavoring. Several times he mentions putting vinegar in pottage (echoing a usage stretching back to the Romans). (Note that he does not mention verjuice, then the favored tart addition to such preparations.)

He also refers to two preparations commonly found in late medieval cookbooks: cuminey (where cumin was the dominant spice) and civet (onion sauce, at this point). He also refers to preparing carp in "clear onion", probably referring, as in some modern cookbooks, to clear onion juice. On the other hand, he makes no specific reference to the mix of spices cinnamon, ginger, clove, paradise seed, etc. – commonly found in more upscale secular cuisine at the time. The specific spices he references are pepper, saffron, fennel seed and cumin. Note too that the first two at least were imports and still relatively costly; this hints at the relative luxury of this diet.

He refers to stuffed chickens and says they may have too much hyssop in them, again hinting at information one might otherwise find in a recipe. (Taillevent uses hyssop in several stuffings, but along with several other ingredients.)

Leonard's many warnings about food cooked in oil or fat show how much both were used at the abbey.

Sweets and desserts
Sweets and desserts were not necessarily synonymous in this period (sugar was used in many recipes for main dishes), but Leonard's references imply treats in general for certain foods.

In this period, fruit were the main sweet, but he only mentions a handful of them: pears (raw or cooked), apples, figs, cherries, and grapes, as well as “nuts” (which might be generic or might refer to hazelnuts). The closest thing to a recipe he provides is in his reference to "apples cut crosswise after wrapped in pastry then fried in oil"; that is, apple beignets. He mentions (unusually) a fruit plate (scutellam fructuum). 

A flan (in Walloon, floon) in the fourteenth century was somewhat like a cream tart, but typically made with cheese, not the egg-milk preparation more familiar today. Originally, it had simply been a flat cake. It is clear from Leonard's direction not, on several dates, to serve these unless there were guests that these had a favored status. Wafers seem to have been a more common offering for the monks.

His mention of “spices” is excessively vague. These were probably the candied spices (comfits) used for after-dinner treats, but may have been any small luxury.

It is striking that Leonard refers to various qualities and types of wine. Apparently, the monks had a range of choice in this regard, though sometimes only because of special occasions. Aside from red and white, new and old wine, he also makes a distinction between the wine of the pittance (a better wine, apparently) and the normal ration.

His emphasis on water shows again how common and important a drink it was in the medieval period.

Leonard's casual reference to hoppam as opposed to cervisiam parvam et fortem touches on what was in fact a significant development in this period: the evolution of ale into beer.

Today, the distinction between ale and beer is in the fermentation method; but in discussing medieval brews, the difference is in the use of hops, which made ale (the French cervoise) beer. (In fact these distinctions are not always that neat in the period itself, but that is the general convention.) While there is earlier evidence of this development, in fourteenth century Liege, it was just taking hold.
In 1364 the bishop of Liege and Utrecht acknowledged that over the previous thirty to fifty years a new way of making beer had become known which used an herb called hops. In the following year he levied a tax on hopped beer, with the permission of the emperor, and that was the first time he allowed people living in his lands to use the plant. He did insist that the tax paid be equivalent to what he had received before on the same volume of beer. As a result of the change, Liege brewers did so well that the town prohibited them from trading in money, that is in speculating in foreign exchange.
At this point, the new drink does not seem to have had a separate name but was simply “hopped beer” (more precisely, hopped ale).

His most surprising reference is to a drink made from scabwort (enola campana). This is one of a number of herbs used over the centuries in medical preparations. Monasteries used various such herbal potions in set periods, but this appears to be a unique reference to it as a standard drink, along with wine, water and beer.

On the other hand, he only mentions absinthe wine once, although absinthe had a far longer history in the dominant French culture at that time. What is more, he mentions it in a way that suggests it was again an indulgence, not a medical concoction.

Leonard also mentions nectar, which Le Grand d'Aussy lists as one of the spiced wines (like hypocras) of the era. (Walafrid Strabo wrote that tansy was also called “ambrosia”, also suggesting a distant connection; but this was more likely to have been the spiced wine.)

Though he specifies a number of distinct meals, Leonard has no reason for the most part to mention courses. Still, in one section he writes: “Do not drink first until after eating something boiled, second after the roast, third after the boiled, fourth after the cheese.” This is a very neat enumeration of the expected courses. Among other things, it shows that the cheese course, as today, was a late one.

The portrait that Leonard draws of the particular food at this particular monastery in a particular city is not quite that of secular meals; there are a great deal of references, for instance, to sops in wine. Still, the selection of meats and fish available was a generous one. Many of these would have been the same through much of the European world at this point. On the other hand, several of the foods referenced – the local version of smoked herring, the blood sausage, the truley, the vôte, the various untranslated terms – show specific food in a specific context. A number of the preparations are, at the least, not known from other sources: greens in milk, roast pork with bread and mustard, blood sausage in pottage, haddock in broth, dumplings in broth, cold gruel with wine. Wafers (or waffles) were the most commonly mentioned after-dinner treat in this period; his mention of flans in this regard is somewhat rare. His detailed description of an apple beignet precedes others by hundreds of years. His several mentions of a drink made from scabwort appear to be utterly unique; his reference to hopped beer (ale) records the evolution from ale to beer at this precise time.

Overall then, frustratingly laconic as this document often is, it provides a wealth of unique information on fourteenth century food in general and on Belgian/Walloon/ Liègeois food in particular.


Page for the Ouverture de Cuisine at Belgica (digital library site for the Royal Library of Belgium)

Lancelot de Casteau: Ouverture de Cuisine. Liège 1604.  (text transcription)

Ouverture de Cuisine, translation by Daniel Myers

Belgium: Flemings, Walloons and Germans

Blockmans, Willem Pieter, Walter Prevenier, The Promised Lands: The Low Countries Under Burgundian Rule, 1369-1530 1999

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Godefroy, Frédéric, Dictionnaire de l'ancienne langue française et de tous ses dialectes du IXe au XVe siècle 1881

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Unger,Richard W., Beer in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance  2007

Strabo, Walahfrid, On the Cultivation of Gardens: A Ninth Century Gardening Book tr. James Mitchell 2009

Legrand d'Aussy, Pierre Jean-Baptiste, Histoire de la vie privée des Français depuis l'origine de la nation jusqu'à nos jours 1782

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