This blog is moving, as of 4th June (St Petroc) 2016... to foodforfeastdays.com
First new post here: https://foodforfeastdays.com/2016/06/04/cornish-tea-st-petroc/
Tomorrow is St Patrick’s Day. That great excuse to let-up on the Lenten observances. St Patrick is the patron of Ireland and the day will be full of lots of Guinness and whisky-drinking, I'm sure. I’ve never really engaged much with St Patrick’s Day as I’m not Irish, but I applaud drinking for the saints, there's something deeply Catholic about that. When thinking of a suitable thing to serve for St Patrick's Day I thought of something that would work well with drinking. My mind instantly went to the great Southern delicacy of Pimento Cheese (pronounced puh-meh-nuh cheese), which I just so happen to associate with not only a Patricia (Patsy, to be precise, reigning Queen of Pimento Cheese) but also with a Patrick (her grandson, and heir to the Pimento Cheese Crown). Perfect for St Patrick’s Day!
You will need:
250 grams/8 oz mild cheddar cheese (you want cheap American cheese, sorry but you do, and that’s hard to get in England. Cheap cheddar or Red Leicester should work)
4 oz jarred pimento peppers in oil, chopped finely
Quite a lot of mayonnaise (Hellmans, and not 'light')
Let the cheese come to room temperature and then grate it into a bowl. Add the pimentos and several tablespoons of mayonnaise. Mix it up, trying to mash it all together. Stir in some of the oil from the pimentos. This is really a matter of trial and error. You want a fairly loose consistency, and the cheese should start to form a sticky, spreadable sort of mess.
It sounds disgusting, I know, but it’s so good. Leave it overnight in the fridge and be sure to get it out an hour or so before eating so it can come up to room temperature.
Eat in sandwiches, on crackers, in a grilled sandwich...
Serve with a hangover.
St Agatha (d. 251 AD) is one of the virgin martyrs mentioned in the Canon of the Mass. Her breasts were cut off during her martyrdom. In Sicily -- from whence St Agatha hails -- they make this pert little pastry on her feast day. You join the dots.
The recipe below is brought to you care of Googletranslate, a lot of editing, and some educated guesswork. I'm not sure I executed it perfectly, esp. as I used muffin tins, which aren't quite the right shape or cup size. I made some by hand which I cooked on a baking tray, they looked better, and are the ones pictured.
The finished pastry is basically a cassate, but without any marzipan, although some receipts that I found for these did use marzipan (unnecessary, I think). They're rather like a cross between a cheesecake and a bakewell tart, and the result is not unpleasant.
280 grams of sugar
550 grams of 00 flour
150 grams of lard/butter
1 large egg
50g candied diced peel
50g chocolate drops
grated lemon rind
For the icing:
250 grams of powdered sugar
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 egg white
Sift the flour into a bowl and mix with 150 grams of sugar. Add the lard (if you prefer you can use butter) and rub it in. Begin to knead into pastry with your hands. Then add the egg and lemon zest. Continue to knead until you have a smooth pastry dough. If it is a little dry add a splash of milk. Form into a big ball, wrap in plastic wrap and put in the fridge for about 45 minutes.
Prepare the filling by whisking the ricotta with 130 grams of sugar, continue to work the ricotta until it becomes smooth and you can no longer see the grains. Add the candied fruit and dark chocolate to taste. Put filling in the fridge and let it rest.
Remove the dough from the refrigerator and roll it out thin, then cut disks of the right size to line the moulds (already brushed with lard/butter and sprinkled with flour). Fill the cavity with ricotta cream previously obtained. Place a smaller disk of dough over the top and make sure that the contents does not spill. Be careful not to overfill as the cheese will expand during cooking.
Bake in a preheated oven at 170 degrees C for about 35 minutes. After cooking allow to cool on a rack.
Prepare the glaze by heating a tablespoon of water and the lemon juice. Sift in the icing sugar and stir it in. Allow to cool, add the egg white and mix with electric beaters until very foamy. Spread the icing over the pastries, making sure to cover them thoroughly. Garnish each pastry with a glace cherry.
St Blaise was born in Sebastea in what used to be Armenia, but is now Turkey. He died in the 300s some time through having his flesh torn by hot metal combs, and then by being beheaded for good measure. Poor chap. Not nice at all.
The medieval Greek 'Acts of St Blaise' hold the key to his specialist area today --- throats. Apparently a poor woman's only child was choking on a fishbone and St Blaise sorted the little fellow out and ever since then he has dealt with throats. This has given Blaise a special place as one of the Fourteen Holy Helpers, the saints of medieval times who were particularly useful for certain things.
It's even traditional for people to have their throats blessed on the feast of St Blaise, using two crossed candles that have been blessed the day before at Candlemas. This is still very popular in many places --- I try to get the throat blessing each year if I can, as I do a lot of singing.
And so what better to prepare for St Blaise than a helpful linctus for the throat. After all it's a rotten time of year for sniffles and bad throats.
Really this is the traditional honey and lemon but with a few of my little twists.
Honey: a nice, light, runny honey. Sweet and tasty. Apparently it does pretty much nothing for the health, but it is soothing for a sore throat.
Lemon: works as an astringent, which helps clear the throat, but really does very little either.
Ginger: you can use a teaspoon or so of ground ginger (it works v. well and is much less faff than fresh stuff). This does all sorts of nice things to your body and it doesn't half clear your nose.
A couple of drops of Tabasco: peps it all up
And finally, garlic: apparently this actually *does* something. It's a natural antiseptic, it helps the body absorb nutrients, it boosts the immune system, and it makes your breath smell lovely.
And the ingredient that's probably best for your throat of all... WATER. Hot, steamy water.
I'm actually feeling quite vocally fresh at the moment, but it's always nice to be soothed in the winter months.
Finally: if you are from Milan you will of course have saved a bit of your Christmas panettone to eat today for San Biagio. I am not from Milan and so I have guzzled mine already.
One of the more peculiar highlights of my year is my January trip to the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg, where I have been privileged to give my 'dame' (in the traditional British Panto sense) four times now --- most recently as the Fairy Godmother in Cinderella. We always do the pantomime rather late in the season, when people and scenery are more easily available. The marvellous thing about this is that it extends the festal feeling of Christmas to the end of January, and towards its proper end at Candlemas.
In the traditional agrarian calendar the return to work after Christmas was gradual too. In England people got sort-of done with Christmas on twelfth night, and returned to work the following Monday (Plough Monday) to have a go at churning up the soil. But really, whilst there was some stuff to do, often the ground was frozen or it was simply too cold to get anything much done at all and so the festivities continued.
Candlemas was that bit later and as a significant feast it became the perfect time to get rid of Christmas once and for all, falling as it did at a cross-quarter point of the year (the days in between the quarter days --- the two solstices and equinoxes). The cross-quarter days were also occasions for paying debts and hiring new servants, and thus were often given to mini celebrations.
Much like our pantomimes now the time from twelfth night to Candlemas was often a time of mummers' plays and revels. Light was a big theme, largely because of the way the feast falls between the winter solstice and the spring equinox. The feast heralds the coming spring in many ways and all over Europe the blessing of candles, and processions with candles, is traditional.
It's very traditional -- certainly in France -- to eat pancakes at Candlemas, partly as it can often fall close to the start of Lent and so the need to use up good things in advance of the great fast was frequently an issue. But pancakes have been featured twice on this blog before and thus are not an option.
So... in quiet desperation and looking back to the joys of panto I thought, 'I wonder if they do anything for Candlemas in Luxembourg?'
It turns out, they do! The children basically go 'trick-or-treating'. They sing a very traditional song, which references St Blaise (tomorrow) and asks him to feed them well:
Dear little St. Blasius,
Gitt ons Speck Ierbessen
Give us bacon and peas.
Ee Pond, Pond Zwee,
One pound, two pounds,
Dat da anert Joer gitt der gesond,
So that next year you will be healthy.
Da gitt der gesond.
You will be healthy.
Loosst Déi jonk Leit liewen.
Let the young people live.
Loosst Déi al Leit stierwen,
Let the old ones die.
Kommt der net ball
If you don’t come fast,
On Feiss ginn kal ons.
Our feet will get cold.
Kommt Der net gläich,
If you don’t come at once,
Wed da gi op Schlaich.
We will slip away.
Kommt der net geschwënn,
If you don’t come soon,
On Feiss ginn ons Denn.
Our feet will get thin.
Kommt Der net gewëss,
If you don’t come for certain,
Da Der Kritt e Schouss voll Ness.
You will get a lap full of nuts.
It's a bit blunt, isn't it? It speaks of needing the spring, and perhaps in cold winters it was necessary for the children to remind the adults that it was in them that the future lay... not in their grandparents. Anyway, I decided to bypass the 'lap full of nuts' in favour of 'bacon and peas' which always go down well. So here's an idea for a souped up version of petit-pois a la francaise with added cabbages and leeks and bacon. In the spirit of ridding the house of the last bits of Christmas greenery you could also throw in a few miserable sprouts if you have them left.
Fry some bacon in cubes/small gobbets, then fry sliced leeks, halved sprouts and shredded cabbage until tender but still crisp. Add frozen peas and a little sherry and cream/milk. Grate on some nutmeg, and a little black pepper. Bubble it away for a few minutes. This all goes very nicely with roast pork and a Moselle valley wine.
It occurs to me now that perhaps the rhyme refers to a very traditional Luxembourgish dish of broad beans with pork (Judd mat Gaardbounen). But I think this dish of bacon and peas every bit as delicious.
Yesterday was the feast of St. Lucy and to aid me in my blogging duties (which I'll admit I have not been attending to of late), the brethren of my spiritual home St Louis Abbey, MO., have set to it and baked St. Lucy Buns and sent me photographs of them. There was no message included with the photographs to say 'put these on your blog', but I felt the imperative, and so here I am.
St. Lucy is one of those early Christian virgins who met a sticky end for refusing to part with her honour, much like St Agatha and St Agnes. In Lucy's story is the rather gruesome detail that her eyes --- which were so fine that they tempted many a man --- were gouged out. The tradition is that they were either removed as part of her torture, or that she removed them herself to ward off the unwanted advances. Given that she was Sicilian, and thus no doubt given to grand gesture, I find the latter more plausible.
The whole business with the eyes has meant that St. Lucy has come to be associated with light, and sight. Whilst some say that the story about her eyes being removed is late, the fact that her very name means light suggests that this has always been part of what she has to teach us. Lucy's feast falls during Advent, close to the solstice, and she points us towards Christmas with particular hope. It is beautiful that this year St Lucy's feast day fell the day before Gaudete Sunday, when with Rose vestments we take the edge off Advent a bit and look forward to Christmas with hope. There is a wonderful sense of looking forward, of seeking, of expectation. It is interesting to remember that Lucy was blinded... she could not see and indeed we do not yet 'see', rather we look forward to 'seeing', to the new vision that will come in and through the Incarnation.
I've been reading the Chronicles of Narnia of late, and I think it's no coincidence that the youngest of the Pevensie children --- the one who first discovers Narnia, and indeed the one who is first to see Aslan when they return in Prince Caspian --- is called Lucy. It is Lucy who looks forward, Lucy who points us towards Aslan.
In Scandinavian countries they are particularly fond of Lucy, and with such miserable dark winters well they should be. Lucy is venerated solemnly with all sorts of pagan-looking festivities involving girls who pop advent-wreath type things on their heads. I'm sure many poor young Swedish girls have set fire to themselves at this time of year --- it must have been particularly dangerous in the 1970s with all that polyester around.
In addition to all this larking about, the Swedes also make lovely buns for St. Lucy, which they enjoy with coffee. And this is what Br Dunstan and Fr Ambrose made yesterday. The bright saffron in the mix reminds us of light, and the raisins are perhaps eyes --- I'm not certain on this point, but it sounds convincing so it's good enough for me.
Here's the receipt:
Melt butter in a pan. Add milk and heat until warm. Pour into a large bowl and add yeast, stirring to dissolve. Add egg, sugar, saffron and 1 tsp salt. Gradually add flour, stirring constantly, until mixture forms a smooth but sticky dough. Cover bowl with a clean tea towel and leave to rise in a warm place for 40 minutes or until double in size.
Punch down dough and knead until smooth. Divide into 4, then divide each piece into 8. Shape each piece into a 20 cm length, then form into an S shape, tucking ends into dough and pressing to join. Place on an oven tray lined with baking paper, cover with a tea towel and leave in a warm place to prove for another 40 minutes.
Preheat oven to 200°C. Place a raisin into each circle created by the S shape, brush with beaten egg.
Bake your buns for 10 minutes or until golden brown. Serve warm with nice hot coffee, and perhaps some butter.
In Florence on 7th September the streets are lined with people in procession, heading towards Santissima Annunziata with paper lanterns. Summer is breathing its last breaths, and in the pale Tuscan moonlight this yearly pilgrimage is completed with great festivity. Mummers and minstrels line the piazzas and vendors peddle victuals aplenty. Children run through the streets chasing the paper lanterns that glow in myriad colours suspended in the air. There is a surprising hush, as they await Benediction with humble awe...
I hope I'm painting a nice picture for you. Why is all this going on? It's going on because it's the Vigil of Our Lady's Birthday. On the following day people go to the Duomo - dedicated to Our Lady of the Flower - and there is a big market and people eat and drink and generally have a jolly time. I've never actually been, so this description could be entirely wrong, but I've read about it several times and always thought it sounded as if it was my sort of gig. I suspect, given the nature of its festivals and the time of year, that it's something of a harvest feast. The good food is in, the sun is beginning to ebb away. Time to party and for man to make his own light to serve him through the winter months to come.
Time also to give thanks to the great Queen of the harvest, who at Assumption heralded its good fruits, and who now begins to draw it to a close. Naturally, my imaginings go towards what the Florentines might be eating at this time of year. I've alighted on that great Tuscan salad, the Panzanella, made with stale bread and overripe tomatoes... as I'm sure a lot of both are knocking about at this time of year and need using up.
Panzanella is very simple, tomatoes, stale bread, onion, some herbs, oil, vinegar... let it be with its thoughts for a bit and then enjoy. I tend to be rather English about it and add all sorts of things that would doubtless upset traditionalists (Florentines)... things like yellow tomatoes, a few sun-dried tomatoes, maybe even an olive or two. Anything you fancy.
Salt the tomatoes a little - really only a little, I've known people to over salt with disastrous consequences - to get the juices flowing. Put the tomatoes in a big bowl with chunks of stale Italian bread, torn up basil, finely sliced red onion, and the other good things. Leave it to sit for at least half an hour at room temperature, and every now and then stir it up to be sure the juices go into the bread. Do this gently, so the bread at least stays in chunks. Mix it all up again just before serving and dish out. If you're me, or a kindred spirit of mine, garnish it with a hard-boiled quail's egg. Because everyone loves quail's eggs...
St James is traditionally associated with shellfish. The greatest sign of this is the scallop shell the pilgrims traditionally brought back from Santiago to prove that they'd completed the 'camino'. This shell has now become a general emblem of pilgrimage, a sign that someone is on a journey, or has completed one. Indeed, perhaps we should all wear one of the things permanently, for what is life but a pilgrimage? But enough of such cliches...
James' association with the scallop comes from the legend that when his tomb was being moved from Judea to Galicia by his disciples - for no apparent reason save to set up a lucrative shrine in Spain - they were shipwrecked and James' coffin emerged out of the water absolutely fine, but covered in scallop shells. These shells are of course a common sight on Galician beaches and probably struck many a pilgrim drying off after taking a dip as a nice thing to take home for the wife, or even as a useful thing to use as a cup, bowl or sundry utensil, on the journey home.
In Chambers' Book of Days (Edinburgh, 1868) there is a jolly extract from Erasmus' Pilgrimages which gives an account of the scallop shell. Someone meets a pilgrim (who is clearly not much different from the average package tourist) and the dialogue is thus:
'What country has sent you safely back to us, covered with shells, laden with tin and leaden images, and adorned with straw necklaces, while your arms display a row of serpents' eggs'?'
'I have been to St. James of Compostella,' replies the pilgrim.
'What answer did St. James give to your professions?'
'None; but he was seen to smile, and nod his head, when I offered my presents; and then held out to me this imbricated shell.'
'Why that shell rather than any other kind?'
'Because the adjacent sea abounds in them.'
The pilgrims probably ate the scallops too, abounding as they did in the adjacent sea and in season just in time for St James' feast on 25th July.
Indeed, queen scallops are perfectly in season in the UK at the moment, and so what better than a simple recipe for scallops and bacon? This is one lily that really doesn't need gilding.
Your most important ingredient is a cast iron skillet. Fry strips of good smoked streaky bacon in the skillet, starting on a moderate heat. When the bacon is just starting to crisp set it aside. Fry the scallops in the bacon fat for a couple of minutes, adding a little smoked paprika. Put the scallops on a serving plate, and give the bacon a final frazzle in the pan on high. Add the bacon to the plate and pop on some chopped fresh chilli, and coriander. Serve as a sharing starter... or fry up on a camp stove when stopped for the night on a pilgrimage.
Of course, this year the feast of St James is a Friday - which I didn't think about when preparing this recipe a couple of weeks in advance of blogging - so you could either leave the bacon out or ignore this recipe entirely and go and eat an oyster... Because even though there is no 'r' in the month there is an old proverb which runs that 'whoever eats and oyster on St James' day will never want for money'. I'm certainly up for testing that one out.
Yesterday was St. Swithin's Day, the feast of that great harbinger of rain, a saint whose association with the weather firmly aligns him with everything that is truly and honestly British in spirit.
But who on earth was he?
Swithin was an Anglo-Saxon bishop of Winchester, a good and humble man. When he died he requested to be buried outside, where people could see his grave and the rain could fall on it. This duly happened, and he remained in peace until in 971 when the monks decided to move him indoors to a swanky new shrine. Apparently, as they were digging him up, it started to rain. This is to where some trace the legend that the British press comments upon without fail every year - that if it rains on St Swithin's Day there will be rain for 40 days, and that if it doesn't it will be clear for 40 days.
It was sunny yesterday. I'm not holding my breath.
As far as anyone knows the legend has never played out. So quite why it's gained such traction is a mystery. My own theory is simply that speculating about the weather at this time of year is normal. We are looking forward to harvest, and perhaps in St Swithin's legend is the earlier history of pagan gods of weather and harvest being angry or happy - and the harvest being good or bad.
Indeed, St Swithin is connected with a particular harvest - the apple crop. If it rained on St Swithin's Day it was said that he was christening the apples. The heavy rainfall this traditionally heralded suggested the necessary water would be there for the apples to grow big and juicy. The very earliest of the apples would start to be eaten around St Swithin's Day - but never before it.
So the pagan harvest-god theory isn't that bonkers.
For St Swithin I decided to make something with apples, naturally. But the only English apples really ready at the moment are the Bramleys, the great king of cooking apples. Sadly they aren't that useful for anything but crumbles and sauces as they tend to dissolve to mush. So I thought a sweet caramel apple sauce would be nice... but apple sauce has to go on something.
This led me to think about eggs. Now Swithin's headlining act was a little trick he worked for the Winchester egg-woman --- you know her I'm sure. For those who don't, the story goes like this; there was an old woman in Winchester, crossing a bridge, with her basket of eggs. Some workmen - all rotters - started teasing her and broke her eggs. It could have ended sadly, but Swithin saw it all, and restored the old woman's eggs. Day saved. Omlette for supper.
Or not omlette... but perhaps drop scones. Drop scones with a nice caramel bramley apple sauce, and then perhaps some (full fat) yoghurt, a little honey, some flaked almonds, and the wispiest wisp of cinnamon to freshen it all up.
To make the drop scones you'll need to make a normal batter.
Whisk that all up and leave it for a while to be with its thoughts. In the meantime peel, core and slice (thickly) two large English Bramley apples. Put these in a wide heavy based pan with about 4 tbspns of butter and the same of sugar (I favour caster but you might want something darker), and a little water. Cook over a low heat until the apples start to break down and it all starts to thicken and caramelise. Avoid stirring as it will make the sugar crystalise and the apples break up - it's nice to have some chunks. Lightly shake the pan instead. You can do all this in advance and then leave it.
When ready to make the scones (if you're American you might want to call them pancakes) heat a pan/griddle relatively hot and use a little butter or light oil (less is more here). Then drop in tablespoons of the batter and wait until bubbles form, then flip and leave for about 30 seconds. Then plate up.
[St Monica, praying]
Yesterday was not only the feast of St Margaret the Barefooted. It was also the feast of St Monica... St Augustine's Mum. The fact that St Monica is St Augustine's Mum, and my tendency to interpret everything as a British panto, has often left me thinking of St Augustine in a principal boy sort of role, with St Monica as a jolly sort of a panto dame. This is obviously nonsense.
St Monica shares a few things with St Marge the B. They both suffered abuse in their marriages, and are both patronesses of those abused in marriage. St Monica spent most of her life worrying about St Augustine and, having converted from paganism, spent a great deal of time praying for him, and for others. Her husband, who remained a pagan, took umbrage (particularly to Augustine’s baptism) and treated her badly. Naturally she bore this with saintly patience.
It’s a good job that St Monica did convert, because she desperately needed the power of prayer – and all the help the graces of his baptism could provide - to likewise turn around her wastrel of a son, St Augustine, and to stem the great tide of laziness and debauchery that washed through his life. Of course we all know that her prayers were answered, and her son became one of the great Fathers of the Church, even if the Orthodox don’t rate him terribly much.
But why am I writing about St Monica? Porridge. That’s why. For many years my friend William and I have argued about when the ‘porridge season’ begins. William has usually opted for the first autumnal sort of day, and has even been known to have porridge in September. I’ve always considered it to begin with the first true frost. I’m sure my Scottish friends think it lasts all year, but we English, particularly Southern English, are more reserved in our porridge consumption.
Anyway, the great porridge question has long perplexed me. I was thinking about this yesterday as the rain was pouring down and I looked out on a bleak English August day. In fact I was thinking that I’d very much like a bowl of porridge, that it would be both warming and filling, but that I’d have to back-track on all my dearly held and conservative views about porridge in order to have one. Then, in the course of my hagiographical explorations, I read about St Monica’s habit of taking porridge as an offering to shrines. St Augustine mentions it in his Confessions, saying that his mother; ‘brought to certain oratories, erected in the memory of the saints, offerings of porridge, bread, and wine.’ (Confessions 6.2.2). St Monica eventually gave up her somewhat pagan habit of making these offerings, and instead offered a heart full of devotion. Presumably at this point she switched to eating the porridge.
This got me thinking.
Perhaps St Monica’s Day should be the official start to the English porridge season. Perhaps it’s there in the liturgical calendar for us. Perhaps one of the fruits of the new calendar (for pre 1970 St Monica’s Day is in May) is that we are now given a sign about when it’s sensible to start eating porridge.
Well it’s oatally good enough for me. Porridge season has started.