16 December 2010

16 December - Catherine of Aragon; Orange and Pomegranate Compote

Today in 1485, Queen Isabella of Castile, in the midst of her continuing campaign to regain southern Spain from the Moors, gave birth to a daughter in the Archbishop's Palace of Alcala de Henares (near Madrid).  The baby was christened Catalina after her great-grandmother, Catherine of Lancaster, and from her father, King Ferdinand of Aragon, she was styled "of Aragon".

Juan de Flandes, c. 1495
Catalina's early years were full of the completion of the Reconquista by her parents, which ended in 1492 with the surrender of Granada; this was followed immediately by the discovery and exploration of the New World by Columbus, and the beginnings of the Renaissance in Spain.  Her mother was a firm believer in a humanist education for her daughters, and Catalina, like her sisters, was tutored in studies more usual for a medieval prince.

Besides lessons in deportment (including dancing and music), religion, and needlework skills, she learned to speak French, Latin, and Greek, and studied classic literature and philosophy, genealogy, and canon and civil law.  From her mother, she learned that queens could lead armies and reconcile warring factions; from both parents, she learned that a politically expedient marriage could also be a successful partnership.

As a measure of protection against France, Catalina was betrothed in 1489 by the Treaty of Medina del Campo to Prince Arthur of England (born in September 1486), son of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York.  In the tangled genealogy of royal Europe, Catherine had nearly as good a claim to the throne of England as her future husband, as she was legitimately descended from John, Duke of Lancaster, the third son of Edward III, while Arthur's best claim came through his mother and the House of York, who descended from the second and fourth sons of Edward III (of Henry VII's spurious claim to the throne via a bastard child of John of Lancaster, the least said, the better).  The newly established Tudor monarchy was bolstered by this arrangement with the powerful rulers of Spain, achieving a measure of legitimacy in the eyes of Europe.  Catalina and Arthur were married by proxy in May of 1499; in September 1501, she sailed from Spain, arriving in England in October.

Not yet 16, she married the fifteen-year-old Prince of Wales that November; he died the following April.  For the next seven years, Catherine, the Dowager Princess of Wales, lived as a pawn between the machinations of her father and father-in-law - ostensibly betrothed to her brother-in-law Henry, but certainly never treated as such.  This came to an end with the death of Henry VII in 1509.

And then she married Henry VIII...

You should know the rest of the story, but if not, there are more than enough books at the library and websites online to fill that lack.

Catalina's badge was the pomegranate, seen here above her head in this woodcut of her coronation.  In honor of this Infanta of Spain, have ORANGE AND POMEGRANATE COMPOTE for dessert.

This is very simple.  Remove the rind and white skin from 4 oranges; slice them on a plate (to catch the juice) and place the thin slices in a glass serving dish, or arrange them in 4 individual serving dishes.  Remove seeds from 2 pomegranates (see below for how to do that), and sprinkle them over the orange slices.  Sprinkle the fruit with about a tablespoon of the reserved juice from the sliced oranges, and the same amount of fresh lemon juice and rose water.  Sprinkle with sugar to taste, and chill until ready to serve.

This being the time of year when Clementines show up at the Commissary, I usually have a crate or two on hand, and use them rather than oranges.  Also, I am not very handy when it comes to sprinkling lemon juice, especially among separate dishes (one dish always gets more than its share); a spritzer is my friend here.  And while I am much better at sprinkling sugar on anything (about 5 decades of experience), I also place the sugar bowl within reach of those who don't think I have been lavish enough in my application.

How to remove the seeds without making a mess?  Go Here, and learn.  Of course, if your inner three-year-old likes to be one with your food, the fruit has excellent staining power, and will turn lips, face, fingers, hands, and clothes a beautiful red that is not easy to eradicate.  Trust me.