30 April 2011

30 April - May Eve

The night before 1 May, known as May Eve, was spent in collecting the branches of 'protective' trees and decorating the entryways of houses and barns.  Sly young Reverend Francis Kilvert wrote in his diary in 1870: "This evening being May eve I ought to have put some birch and witan (mountain ash) over the door to keep out the 'old witch'.  But I was too lazy to go out and get it.  Let us hope the old witch will not come in during the night.  The young witches are welcome."

In some places, groups of young people would gather and stay up all night, at first enjoying the hospitality of various houses with small feasts and dancing, and then, as morning approached, going out to the woods to 'bring in the May' - flowers and tree branches - which were used to decorate themselves and their houses.  Hawthorn (or white-thorn) branches were preferred.

Primroses, scattered before the house door, will keep the fairies from entering the house tonight.
To see a vision of your true love tonight, fill your stocking (knee-highs are best, pantyhose if you must) with yarrow and place it under your pillow.  Then recite the following:

"Good morrow, good yarrow, good morrow to thee;
I hope by the morrow my lover to see,
And that he may be married to me;
The colour of his hair and the clothes he doth wear;
And if he be for me, may his face be turned to me,
And if he be not, dark and surly he may be,
And his back be turned to me."

27 April 2011

27 April - Samuel F B Morse; Telegraph Cake

Traditionally, this is the day to plant French Beans.
Born today in 1791, Samuel Finley Breese Morse, artist and inventor.

As his name is most often coupled with the invention of the telegraph, few people seem to remember that he was also a highly acclaimed artist, and - through his friendship with Louis Daguerre, whose work he promoted - the father of American photography.

That he was the inventor of the modern telegraph is arguable (like the telephone, there were a lot of people inventing the same thing at the same time), but his improvements upon his own and other models successfully produced a superior electromagnetic telegraph, one that can be seen in almost any classic Western (how else will the good guys get word that desperadoes are on their way to raid the town?)

courtesy of ClipArt ETC

His friend and financial backer, Alfred Vail, is credited with developing a system of dots and dashes representing the letters of the alphabet, which could be 'read' by listening, an improvement on the previous use of pencil marks on paper.  The differences between the original (American) Morse code, Gerke's Continental Code, and the current International Morse Code, can be seen in this chart, courtesy of Wikipedia.

In honor of Professor Morse, and all of the inventors and improvers of the electrical telegraph, make a TELEGRAPH CAKE:

Heat oven to 375˚ F.
Grease and flour a 9-inch tube pan
Melt 1 cup of butter
Lightly beat 2 eggs

Sift together 3 cups of flour with 2 teaspoons of baking powder and 2 cups of sugar.  Add 1 cup of dried currants or raisins, 1/2 cup of chopped blanched almonds and 3/4 cup of chopped mixed candied fruit.

In another bowl, mix the melted butter with 1 cup of milk and the beaten eggs.  Add to the flour mixture and stir until well blended.

Pour the batter into the pan and bake for about 45 minutes to 1 hour.

A recipe from 1914 uses less of the ingredients and bakes the cake in a flat pan:

Sift 2 level tsp. baking powder into 1-1/2 c. flour. Add following before stirring: 1 c. granulated sugar, 2 eggs, 6 tbsp. milk, 1/2 c . butter, vanilla. Beat all together until smooth. Bake in long flat pan. Use any icing. —Mrs. Chas. Dudley.
"Cookbook of the Woman's Educational Club (Toledo, Ohio)" [which you can find on Google books]

For this recipe, I'm guessing the oven should be at 375˚, the vanilla 1 teaspoon, and the baking time 50 minutes to 1 hour.

For either cake, the appropriate decoration should be dots and dashes - if you are really clever, sign your name on top using one of the Morse codes.  For the International Code, you can find a translator here at Online Conversion.

_ _  . ..  ...   . ..  .._  _..  _..   (American)

_ _  ._.  ...   ._.  .._  _..  _..   (International)

Easter Wednesday

On the third day after Easter, custom allowed men to beat their wives, supposedly without fear of reprisals [but we all know better].

"Though the mills of God grind slowly, yet they grind exceeding small."

Yes, and so do the mills of wives.  Keep that in mind today.

26 April 2011

Easter Tuesday; All Those Eggs

On the second day after Easter, custom allowed women to beat their husbands.

While this may seem to be a goodly custom which should be revived and maintained, might I suggest to the women that they do not over-indulge.  You see, on the third day after Easter (tomorrow), it is the men's turn, and as you know, payback is a female dog.
So your children colored a couple dozen hard-boiled eggs, and now you are wondering what to do with them.  Well, what you do with the children is your business, but here are a few of my favorite uses for the hard-boiled eggs.

Of course, you know about Deviled Eggs (aka "Stuffed Eggs") and Egg Salad (for sandwiches) and Potato Salad - and if the weather remains warm, make all three, add a few other picnic items (chips, sodas, hot dogs) and go off to the nearest park for an enjoyable afternoon.

An easy favorite is ANGLESEY EGGS, the recipe for which you can find here at Traditional Welsh Recipes.  Cooked leeks and mashed potatoes make the base, which is topped with the halves of 8 hard-boiled eggs, and the whole covered with a cheese sauce and baked.  How easy can you get?
A hot egg-salad for sandwiches would be ENGLISH THIN YELLOW BOYS:
  • Peel and finely chop 6 hard-boiled eggs (and that is finely, not coarsely.  No big chunks of egg, please).
  • Finely mince the following to make 1 tablespoon EACH: onion or shallot, parsley, chervil, tarragon.
  • Toast and butter 8 slices of bread.  Homemade bread or slices from a hefty loaf from the bakery are the best; the usual enriched white or wheat also works.
In a saucepan, melt 2 tablespoons of butter.  Stir in 1 tablespoon EACH of Dijon mustard, Worcestershire sauce (or steak sauce), and white wine vinegar.  Add the chopped eggs, onion, and herbs.  Mix well.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.  Heat through thoroughly.

Spread between buttered toast slices and serve very hot.
SKILLET EGGS AND POTATOES  is a good breakfast or brunch dish.
  • Dice enough raw potatoes to make 4 cups (4 - 5 large potatoes or 7-8 medium).  This can be a large dice; we aren't looking for mince here.
  • Peel and cut up 6 hard-boiled eggs into chunks.
  • Mince 1 onion.
In a skillet (with a lid or cover), bring 2 cups of water to a boil.  Add the potatoes and 1-1/2 teaspoons of salt; lower heat to medium, cover the skillet, and cook for about 10 minutes.  Then uncover and cook until the water is evaporated [and keep an eye on it.  For some reason, the water evaporates very quickly when you leave the kitchen].

Now add 1/4 cup of butter, the minced onion, and a dash of ground white pepper [I've ground black pepper over the skillet when that's all I've had].  Cook until lightly browned, stirring occasionally.

Gently stir in the cut-up eggs and 3/4 cup of milk.  Heat through.  Sprinkle chopped parsley on top, if desired.
This recipe for EGG CUTLETS comes from an old Irish cookbook:
  • Boil and mash enough potatoes to equal 3 cups.
  • Peel 3 hard-boiled eggs, and separate: whites in one bowl, yolks in another.  Mash each, and then mix together.
  • Chop enough parsley and chives to equal 1 tablespoon EACH.
  • In separate dishes, lightly beat 2 eggs. One egg will be used in the recipe, the other will be used as a wash.
  • In another dish, put about 2 tablespoons of bread crumbs, more or less, for coating the cutlets.
In a bowl, combine the potatoes, mashed hard-boiled eggs, chives, parsley, and 1/2 teaspoon of ground nutmeg.  Stir in one of the beaten eggs (to bind), then a little flour (about 1 tablespoon) to make it a firm consistency.  Season with salt and pepper if desired.

In a skillet, heat oil or fat for frying [these will be fried on both sides, so it doesn't take a whole lot of oil. I fry them like I do potato bread: in bacon fat, augmented by a little butter if needed].

Shape the mixture into flat cutlets [I manage to get 6-8 cutlets out of this recipe].  Dip each cutlet into the other beaten egg, then into the dish of bread crumbs.

When the oil is hot enough, fry the cutlets until golden on both sides.
Let's see.... that's 23 eggs used, so far.  You still have another dozen?  Use them in EGGS AU GRATIN (another lovely brunch dish):
  • Peel 12 hard-boiled eggs.  Cut each egg in half length-wise.  Arrange the halves in an oblong baking dish, and set aside.
  • Grate or shred Cheddar cheese to equal 1 cup.
  • Melt 2 tablespoons of butter and toss with 1/3 cup of dry bread crumbs and 1/3 cup of grated Parmesan. Set aside.
  • Heat oven to 350° F.
Make the sauce:
  • In a small bowl mix together 1/3 cup of flour, 3/4 teaspoon of salt, and 1/4 teaspoon of pepper.
  • Melt 1/4 cup of butter in a saucepan.  Gradually blend in the flour mixture and cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until mixture is smooth and bubbly.  Remove from heat.
  • Slowly stir in 2 cups of water, 1 cup of milk, and 2 chicken bouillon cubes.  Heat to boiling, stirring constantly.  Boil and stir for 1 minute.  Remove from heat.
  • Add the grated cheese and 1/2 teaspoon of Worcestershire sauce, and stir until the cheese is melted.
Pour the sauce over the eggs.  Sprinkle the bread-crumb mixture over the top.

Bake uncovered for about 20 to 25 minutes, until the mixture bubbles and the crumbs are brown.

Serve hot.

24 April 2011

24 April - St. Mark's Eve

Tomorrow being the feast of Saint Mark, tonight is Saint Mark's Eve, and traditionally a time of divination.

Wishful to see your future lover?  Then you should fast from sunset; between 11 pm and midnight, make and bake a cake containing an eggshell-full of salt, of wheat meal, and of barley meal.  Put the flat cake on a griddle to bake, open one of the house doors, and sit and watch. Your future lover should come in and turn the cake. [Explain to your parents that the prowler they caught going through the kitchen drawers was looking for something to turn the cake with, not for the family silver.  Remind your father that shooting a future in-law is not a good thing.]

This is also the night to stand in the church porch (if your church has one) and, at midnight, see the wraiths of the people in the parish who will die in the coming year [one of whom is probably that same prowler, now looking for the church silver].

To do this, you must stand either in the church porch, or in a place where you can see it, from 11 pm to 1 am.  Do not fall asleep, or you will see yourself in the line that enters the church. (Some traditions say that you must do this for three years in succession, and on the third year, you will see the procession of souls.)

In some places, it is the opposite: the watcher will see the entire congregation pass into the church, but only those that do not come out again are the ones that will die.

But be warned!  If you start watching on St. Mark's Eve, you must continue for the rest of your life.  On your last watch, you will be unable to stay awake; by that, you will know that you will die within the year.

Another warning is found in the poem, The Vigil of St. Mark, by James Montgomery, in which the beautiful Ella convinces her lover Edmund to watch that night. 
"'Tis now," replied the village Belle, 
"St. Mark's mysterious Eve; 
And all that old traditions tell 
I tremblingly believe :—

How, when the midnight signal tolls, 
Along the churchyard-green 
A mournful train of sentenced souls 
In winding-sheets are seen: 

The ghosts of all whom Death shall doom 
Within the coming year, 
In pale procession walk the gloom 
Amid the silence drear.

If Edmund, bold in conscious might, 
By love severely tried, 
Can brave the terrors of to-night,  
Ella will be his bride." 

Edmund does so, and at midnight... 

Then, glaring through the ghastly gloom, 
Along the churchyard-green,  
The destined victims of the tomb 
In winding-sheets were seen. 

In that pale moment Edmund stood, 
Sick with severe surprise!  
While creeping horror drank his blood,  
And fix'd his flinty eyes.

But worse is to come... 

That moment streaming through a cloud 
The sudden moon display'd,  
Robed in a melancholy shroud, 
The image of a maid.

Her dusky veil aside she threw, 
And show'd a face most fair: 
 - To clasp his Ella - Edmund flew 
And clipt the empty air.

"Ha! who art thou!" His cheek grew pale 
A well-known voice replied, 
"Ella, the lily of the vale; 
Ella, thy destin'd bride." 

To win his neck her airy arms 
The pallid phantom spread; 
Recoiling from her blasted charms, 
Th' affrighted lover fled.

As well he might! 

To shun the visionary maid, 
His speed outstript the wind; 
But, - though unseen to move, - the shade 
Was evermore behind.

O'er many a mountain, moor, and vale, 
On that tremendous night, 
The ghost of Ella, wild and pale, 
Pursued her lover's flight.

But when the dawn began to gleam, 
Ere yet the morning shone, 
She vanish'd like a nightmare-dream, 
And Edmund stood alone.

After wandering around for three days, Edmund finally reaches his home, to be met with a funeral...

"'Tis she! 'tis she!" - he burst away; 
And bending o'er the spot 
Where all that once was Ella lay, 
He all beside forgot.

A maniac now, in dumb despair, 
With love-bewilder'd mien, 
He wanders, weeps, and watches there, 
Among the hillocks green.

And every Eve of pale St. Mark, 
As village hinds relate, 
He walks with Ella in the dark, 
And reads the rolls of Fate.

On a happier note, another tradition says that those who watched would see the people destined to wed in the coming year walking out of church side-by-side.  If you see yourself as one of them, count the number of bridesmaids in your procession, which will indicate the number of months you will wait until your wedding day.

However, if you see a coffin covered with a white cloth carried into the church, you will die unwed.

To see your future, pluck three tufts of grass from a churchyard and place them under your pillow. Repeat the following: 

"Let me know my fate, whether it be weal or woe; 
whether my rank's to be high or low; 
whether to be single or be a bride, 
and the destiny my star doth provide." 

The answer will appear in your dreams tonight.

Easter; Resurrection Cobbler

Piero della Francesca, c1463


He is risen, indeed!

Alleluia!  Alleluia!

A blessed Easter to all!

Weather:  Rain on Easter either means a good harvest, or very little hay.

A warm Christmas, a cold Easter
A green Christmas, a white Easter
Christmas in snow, Easter in wind
[Doesn't look like Easter has a chance of being warm and sunny!] 

If there is enough rain on Easter Sunday to wet a pocket handkerchief, there will be a good crop year.

If it rains on Easter Sunday, it will rain on seven Sundays in succession.

If the wind blows a certain way on Easter Sunday, it will blow that way for six weeks.

If the sun shines on Easter, it will shine on Whit-Sunday [Pentecost, 50 days after Easter]

When there is an early Easter, there is an early Spring.  When there is a late Easter, there is a late Spring.

The sun is said to dance as it rises today, but you have to get up early to see it.

Climb to the highest point of land near you [in the Smallest State, that's not very high] and watch the sun rise on Easter morning to ensure that your undertakings for the year will prosper.

To be beautiful all year long, rise at dawn, sneak out of the house, and - without uttering a single word - go down to the nearest river and bathe in the water.  No river nearby?  Then use the dew of Easter morning to bathe your face.

It was once a tradition to give presents of gloves today, as found in the old nursery rhyme:

Roses are red, violets are blue
Sugar is sweet, and so are you.
These are the words you bade me to say
For a pair of new gloves on Easter day.

[Gloves were customarily given as gifts on important occasions such as weddings and funerals, and were considered suitable presents between lovers.]

Unless you wear something new on Easter Sunday, you will be unlucky throughout the year.

It is unlucky to lie in bed late on Easter morning.

An easy dessert (although not as easy as chocolate eggs and bunnies) is RESURRECTION COBBLER (the crust rises to the top from below the fruit).

Heat oven to 350° F.
You will need about 2 cups of fruit, either fresh or canned: peaches are always good, as are apples, plums, cherries, any of the berries - straw-, rasp-, blue-, black-.  If using canned fruit, drain the fruit.

The amount of the second cup of sugar will depend on whether you are using fresh or canned fruit.  With fresh fruit, use the entire 1 cup; with canned fruit, reduce the sugar to between 1/2 and 3/4 of a cup.

Melt a stick of butter (1/2 cup) in a 10-inch baking dish [easiest done in the microwave, or in your oven as it preheats].

In a bowl, mix together 1 cup of flour, 1 cup of sugar, and 1 teaspoon of baking powder.  Stir in 1/2 cup of milk and mix thoroughly.  Spoon the mixture over the melted butter [the mixture is rather dense.  When I spoon it over the butter, it falls in, creating little islands of mixture.  Oh well, it doesn't seem to hurt anything]. Set aside.

In a saucepan, heat the 2 cups of fruit with 1 cup of sugar [less if using canned fruit].  Pour this over the dough.

Bake for about 30 minutes, until crust (which will rise to the top) is golden brown.  Good warm or cold.

23 April 2011

23 April - Saint George

Raphael, Saint George Struggling with the Dragon, c1503-05, Louvre

Today is the feast of the titular saint of England, Saint George, soldier and martyr (beheaded c304).

And that is pretty much all we really know about him.  The stories which grew up around this Christian soldier made him the Champion of Chivalry, the Perfect Knight, the leader and protector of all those who swore to emulate him in their conduct.

You will find the well-known story of Saint George and the Dragon in the medieval Golden Legend:
S. George was a knight and born in Cappadocia. On a time he came in to the province of Libya, to a city which is said Silene. And by this city was a stagne or a pond like a sea, wherein was a dragon which envenomed all the country. And on a time the people were assembled for to slay him, and when they saw him they fled. And when he came nigh the city he venomed the people with his breath, and therefore the people of the city gave to him every day two sheep for to feed him, because he should do no harm to the people, and when the sheep failed there was taken a man and a sheep.

The victims were chosen by lot, and as happens, one day the lot fell to the king's daughter.  She was out waiting to be the entree for the dragon's dinner, when Saint George rode by. 

Thus as they spake together the dragon appeared and came running to them, and S. George was upon his horse, and drew out his sword and garnished him with the sign of the cross, and rode hardily against the dragon which came towards him, and smote him with his spear and hurt him sore and threw him to the ground. And after said to the maid: Deliver to me your girdle, and bind it about the neck of the dragon and be not afeard. 

When she had done so the dragon followed her as it had been a meek beast and debonair. Then she led him into the city, and the people fled by mountains and valleys, and said: Alas! alas! we shall be all dead. Then S. George said to them: Ne doubt ye no thing, without more, believe ye in God, Jesu Christ, and do ye to be baptized and I shall slay the dragon. Then the king was baptized and all his people, and S. George slew the dragon and smote off his head, and commanded that he should be thrown in the fields, and they took four carts with oxen that drew him out of the city.

As one of the Fourteen Holy Helpers, he protected animals and was invoked against plague, leprosy and other skin diseases, and venereal disease. Twelve countries, twenty-seven states and cities, and twenty-three occupations claim him as their patron. See Saints.SQPN.com for the list of his patronages.
The farmer was advised to turn his cattle out into the fields for the season today, and believed that "When on St. George, rye will hide a crow, a good harvest may be expected".

It was customary for the fashionable to wear a blue coat today.

To honor Saint George and our English cousins, wear something blue, eat good roast beef and Yorkshire pudding (or fish and chips, or bangers and mash) and drink one of the many fine ales that the English have spent centuries perfecting.  A few glasses of that and (trust me) you too can slay all the dragons you see!

Holy Saturday

Holy Saturday tends to be overlooked between the triumph and grief of Good Friday and the triumph and exultation of Easter, but this emptiest day of the year was understood by our medieval ancestors to be the time referred to in the Creed: "He descended into hell".  Here He released the souls of the righteous, from Adam to the recently arrived Good Thief.

And Saint Austin saith: Anon as Jesu Christ had rendered the spirit, the soul that was united to his Godhead was quick and living in the deepness of hell descended.  And when he was at deepest of the darkness, like as a robber shining and terrible to the tyrants of hell, they beheld him and began to demand and enquire: "Who is he that is so strong, so terrible, so clear and so shining? The world, which is to us subject, sent to us never such one dead, ne he sent to us never such gifts into hell. Who is he then that is so constant that is entered into the furthest end of our parts, and he doubteth not only of our torments, but yet he hath unbound them of their bonds whom we held and kept? ..."

After these cruel words of them of hell, at the commandment of our Lord all the locks, all the bars and shuttings been broken, and to-frushed.  And lo! the people of saints that come kneeling tofore him in crying with piteous voice, saying: "Our Redeemer! Thou art come for to redeem the world, we have abided thee every day; thou art descended into hell for us, and leave us not, but that we be with thee when thou shalt return to thy brethren.  Lord sweet God, show that thou hast despoiled hell, and bind the author of death with his bonds, render to the world now gladness, and quench the pains; and for thy pity unbind the caitiffs from servitude whiles thou art here, and assoil the sinners when thou descendest into hell, them of thy party." This said Saint Austin.

The apocryphal Gospel of Nicodemus goes into more detail.  After the patriarchs and prophets remind each other of their words concerning the Son of God, Jesus arrives at the gates of Hell:
Duccio di Buoninsegna. The Descent Into Hell. c1308
And, behold, suddenly Hades trembled, and the gates of death and the bolts were shattered, and the iron bars were broken and fell to the ground, and everything was laid open. And Satan remained in the midst, and stood confounded and downcast, bound with fetters on his feet. And, behold, the Lord Jesus Christ, coming in the brightness of light from on high, compassionate, great, and lowly, carrying a chain in His hand, bound Satan by the neck; and again tying his hands behind him, dashed him on his back into Tartarus, and placed His holy foot on his throat, saying: Through all ages you have done many evils; you have not in any wise rested. Today I deliver you to everlasting fire. And Hades being suddenly summoned, He commanded him, and said: Take this most wicked and impious one, and have him in your keeping even to that day in which I shall command you. And he, as soon as he received him, was plunged under the feet of the Lord along with him into the depth of the abyss.

Then the Lord Jesus, the Saviour of all, affectionate and most mild, saluting Adam kindly, said to him: Peace be to you, Adam, with your children, through immeasurable ages of ages! Amen. Then father Adam, falling forward at the feet of the Lord, and being raised erect, kissed His hands, and shed many tears, saying, testifying to all: Behold the hands which fashioned me! And he said to the Lord: You have come, O King of glory, delivering men, and bringing them into Your everlasting kingdom. Then also our mother Eve in like manner fell forward at the feet of our Lord, and was raised erect, and kissed His hands, and poured forth tears in abundance, and said, testifying to all: Behold the hands which made me!

Then all the saints, adoring Him, cried out, saying: Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! The Lord God has shone upon us— amen— through all ages. Alleluia for ever and ever! Praise, honour, power, glory! Because You have come from on high to visit us. Singing Alleluia continually, and rejoicing together concerning His glory, they ran together under the hands of the Lord. Then the Saviour, inquiring thoroughly about all, seized Hades, immediately threw some down into Tartarus, and led some with Him to the upper world.


The Lord Mayor with the Sheriffs of London used to go through the streets today, collecting charity for the people in the city prisons.  Consider continuing this tradition with a donation to a prison ministry.
The Easter vigil is tonight.  Two years ago, my sponsor (brave woman!) stood up before God and the Church and vouched for me.

Thanks, Molly.

22 April 2011

Good Friday; Hot Cross Buns

Matthias Grunewald, The Small Crucifixion, National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C., c.1511-20

Astronomy: the Lyrid meteor shower peaks tonight through tomorrow morning.
Weather: The sun never shines on Good Friday.
In whatever direction wind blows on Good Friday, it will blow for forty days.
Rain on Good Friday foretells a fruitful year.
If it rains on Good Friday, rains will be without value all summer, that is, they will be too hard, or will come at the wrong time, or for some other reason be valueless.
Rain on the Friday before Easter Sunday is a sign of good luck
Good Friday, our most solemn day, alternatingly heart-breaking  and heart-uplifting.

Once again, I will be joining fellow parishioners in the Good Friday Stations of the Cross, as we walk the four-tenths of a mile between the two churches on Main Street, taking my turn to carry the cross (trust me, it is not made of Styrofoam or balsa-wood).

Meanwhile, here are the traditions for the day:

For some, this is a good day to plant potatoes, beans, and peas, and all sorts of garden seeds.  Sow flower seeds at noon and they will come up double.  This is also a good day for grafting trees.
on the other hand
For some, iron should never be put in the ground today or disaster will follow.  No grave-digging, no plowing or hoeing.  And while we are on the subject, no sewing, or the semptress is in danger of being hit by lightning.  Laundering anything brings bad luck.

It is said to be especially unlucky to begin any new undertaking on Good Friday.

[I sometimes wonder if a few of these superstitions were put about by people who wanted a day off from their usual chores.]

Bread baked today will never go moldy.
Eating bread baked today will cure all illness.

Which leads us to:

One a penny, buns!
Two a penny, buns!
One a penny, two a penny,
Hot cross buns!
If you have no daughters, give them to your sons,
One a penny, two a penny,
Hot cross buns!

Like other breads baked today, hot cross buns are said never to go moldy.  Several whole buns might be saved until next Good Friday in the cupboard to protect the house from fire.  Eating a bun or swallowing scrapings from it, mixed in a glass of water, were thought to cure any illness.

A piece of the bun saved and worn on a neck-chain protected the wearer from lightning, shipwreck, and whooping-cough.

Of course, I wouldn't know.  They are so delicious, warm from the oven with the icing just melting, that none have ever survived to be saved for the rest of the year.  If your bakery does not sell them, try this recipe:

This is a yeast bread.

Preheat oven to 450° F.
Separate 3 eggs.  Reserve the whites for another use.  Lightly beat the yolks.
Melt 3 to 4 tablespoons of butter.

Heat 1/4 cup of water to between 105°F to 115°F.  Sprinkle 1 package of active dry yeast into the water.  Let it stand a few minutes and then stir until dissolved.

Scald 1 cup of milk.  In a bowl, put 1/2 cup of sugar, 1 teaspoon of salt, and 1/2 cup of shortening.  Pour the scalded milk over them; cool to lukewarm.  Add the yeast and 2 cups of flour and beat well.  Let it rise until light (aka 'resting') about half an hour.

In another bowl, mix 2-1/2 cups of flour with 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon.  To the rested dough, add the egg yolks and the flour mixture. Stir in 1/2 cup of currants or raisins.  Turn out onto a lightly floured board and knead for about 8 minutes.  Put into a large greased bowl, brush the top of the dough with melted butter, cover and let rise until doubled, about 1 to 1-1/2 hours.

Grease a baking pan. Shape the dough into 18 - 24 small round buns and place close together (about 1/2 inch apart) in the pan.  Cover and let rise until doubled.

Now then, you can either cut a cross into the top of each bun with a sharp knife or razor blade, or wait and make the cross with a bit of frosting.

Bake for about 15 minutes, brush tops with melted butter, and bake for another 5 minutes.  Remove from pan and cool on a rack.

If you wish to make the cross with frosting, mix together 1 cup of powdered sugar with 3 tablespoons of milk or water and 1/2 teaspoon of lemon extract.  When smooth, spoon onto buns in a cross pattern.

21 April 2011

Maundy Thursday

This is Holy Thursday, more traditionally known as Maundy Thursday, from the first word of John 13:34,

Mandatum novum do vibis ut diligatis invicem sicut dilexi vos ut et vos diligatis invicem 
In hoc cognoscent omnes quia mei discipuli estis si dilectionem habueritis ad invicem

"A new commandment I give unto you: That you love one another, as I have loved you, that you also love one another.  By this shall all men know that you are my disciples, if you have love one for another." [John 13:34, 35]

Today, or more especially tonight, the Church celebrates the institution of the Holy Eucharist at Our Lord's last supper with His disciples before His death and resurrection.  In emulation of Him, and in obedience to His commandment, the priest will wash the feet of twelve men at tonight's Mass. As Jesus was taken from the midst of his disciples, the Consecrated Host will be taken to the Altar of Repose.  While the candles are extinguished and the lights dimmed, we will stay in adoration, leaving to continue our vigil elsewhere.

An old tradition was for those in positions of authority - rulers, nobles, heads of religious houses, etc - to wash with great ceremony the feet of poor people, the number of the washed sometimes being the liturgical twelve, but often determined by the age of the person performing the ablutions.  After the foot-washing and drying, there would be further gifts in the form of clothing, food, drink, and purses of money to each.

A modern way to continue this custom is to write an extra check for the collection plate equal to one's years, or to donate cans and packages of food to the St. Vincent de Paul Society or local soup kitchen - again, equal to one's age.  It doesn't take much, and the blessings are immense.
In Germany, this is known as Grundonnerstag - Green Thursday.  Why is anybody's guess, and there are lots of guesses out there.   However, it is customary to have green vegetables today, most especially a green salad.  An old superstition says that those who refuse to eat a green salad today are in danger of becoming a donkey [parents are the same the world over when it comes to making children eat healthy food, and I can just hear a good mutti or vati repeating that admonition as they place a plate of green salad before their kinder].

Of course, in the good old days, with few exceptions fresh greens were still a month or two in the future, so eating a plate of green salad or any green vegetable (by this time quite old) would likely be a form of penance.

Much better writers than I explain the ceremonies and customs of the day at Fisheaters and Catholic Culture.  Catholic Culture also has activities and suggestions for celebrations in the home, including recipes for a Seder meal.

20 April 2011

Holy Wednesday

The official name for today is "Wednesday of Holy Week"; the unofficial, but traditional, name is "Spy Wednesday", in which we recall the first act in the betrayal of Our Lord.

Then went one of the twelve, who was called Judas Iscariot, to the chief priests, And said to them: What will you give me, and I will deliver him unto you? But they appointed him thirty pieces of silver. And from thenceforth he sought opportunity to betray him. [Matthew 26:14-16]

And Judas Iscariot, one of the twelve, went to the chief priests, to betray him to them.  Who hearing it were glad; and they promised him they would give him money. And he sought how he might conveniently betray him. [Mark 14:10,11]

And the chief priests and the scribes sought how they might put Jesus to death: but they feared the people. And Satan entered into Judas, who was surnamed Iscariot, one of the twelve. And he went, and discoursed with the chief priests and the magistrates, how he might betray him to them. And they were glad, and covenanted to give him money. And he promised. And he sought opportunity to betray him in the absence of the multitude. [Luke 22:2-6]

Today we revile all those who would betray their friends and neighbors for money or security, happy in our belief that we would never do such a thing.  We watch depictions of the Salem Witch Trials, or the Nazi take-over of Europe, and preen ourselves that we would never denounce anyone to the authorities - not us, because we are so much more enlightened than our ancestors.

On the other hand, consider this:

The woman - living on welfare or on a career fast-track - who has an abortion, because "I can't afford to have a child." That baby's life was betrayed for money.

The woman who refuses to face the fact that her husband or boyfriend is abusing her children, because if she does, she and the children will have to find somewhere else to live and "I can't afford that".  Those children have been betrayed for money.

The businessman who equates moral law with government law and enriches himself by stealing funds from invested retirement accounts through bubble schemes, because there is no law against it. Those retirees, who will never see a penny of their justly earned retirement fund and are facing a bleak old age, have been betrayed for money.

The son or daughter who determines that Mom/Dad have lived long enough; if they live much longer, the medical bills will swallow up anything that their children are hoping to inherit; they are going to die anyway, so why not put them down now. That parent has been betrayed for money.

All of the above, and more besides, can be excused with seemingly altruistic motives, just as apologists have been excusing Judas' betrayal for years; but make no mistake.  Judas betrayed his Lord through a love of money, and it is the love of money which causes us - especially the 'enlightened' ones - to acts of betrayal as well.
Miserere mei Deus secundum magnam misericordiam tuam
Et secundum multitudinem miserationum tuarum dele iniquitatem meam
Amplius lava me ab iniquitate mea et a peccato meo munda me
Quoniam iniquitatem meam ego cognosco et peccatum meum contra me est semper

Have mercy on me, O God, according to Thy great mercy.
And according to Thy tender mercies blot out my iniquity.
Wash me yet more from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin.
For I know my iniquity and my sin is always before me.

20 April - Attack Rabbits

On this day in 1979, President Jimmy Carter was attacked by a swimming rabbit on a canoe trip in Plains, Georgia.

[Okay, so the rabbit was being pursued by hounds, and was obviously quite frightened, and was making for the only dry thing in the middle of the water (the president's boat).  "Frightened, hunted rabbit" doesn't make headlines.   "ATTACK RABBIT!!!!" does.]

 If only his Secret Service agents had the Holy Hand-Grenade of Antioch with them.

"O Lord, bless this Thy hand grenade, that with it Thou mayst blow Thine enemies to tiny bits, in Thy mercy."


17 April 2011

Palm Sunday

Weather: If the sun shines clear today, there will be a great store of fair weather and abundance of food.
All glory, laud and honor,
To Thee, Redeemer, King,
To Whom the lips of children
Made sweet hosannas ring.

Thou art the King of Israel,
Thou David’s royal Son,
Who in the Lord’s Name comest,
The King and Bless├Ęd One.

(You can listen to the tune here at CyberHymnal)

Today we commemorate the triumphant entry of Our Lord into Jerusalem, when the people acclaimed him, waving palm branches and strewing flowers in his path.
Rejoice greatly, O daughter or Zion, shout for joy, O daughter of Jerusalem: 
Behold, thy king will come to thee, the just and saviour. (Zechariah 9:9)

It is traditional for parishioners to receive consecrated palm fronds today, which are carried in procession into the church, and then taken home. 

Our ancestors entered in to the spirit of the day, by lining the streets as a wooden form of Jesus sitting on a donkey was drawn in procession.  Before this effigy, they threw down their palm branches, retrieving them after, as they believed the ridden-over fronds to be charms against storms and lighting.

In northern countries where palms are not numerous or common, branches of other trees - willow, boxwood, yew, and olive - were used.

Today begins Holy Week, which will end next Saturday. 
An old Welsh tradition is to walk the boundaries of your property today.  Doing so will keep thieves away. [However, let us not place temptation in the path of our fellow man. Continue to use stout locks and other paraphernalia which discourages law-breaking].

This is also called Fig Sunday, from the practice of eating figs and fig puddings today. [A fig pudding, for those who wish to make one, is like a plum pudding with the addition of chopped dried figs.]
John M. Neale, the translator of the above hymn into English, also noted another verse, which he says was sung until the 17th century.
Be Thou, O Lord, the Rider,
And we the little ass,
That to God’s holy city
Together we may pass.

Certainly appropriate to me, for I have a tendency to asinine behavior on occasion.

03 April 2011

Fourth Sunday in Lent; Simnel Cake

The Fourth Sunday in Lent has come down to us with several different names, all indicative of joy and celebration, such as:

Mid-Lent Sunday:  Self-explanatory. We are halfway through Lent.
Laetare Sunday: from the Introit Laetare Jerusalem (Rejoice, Jerusalem).  This and Refreshment Sunday (Dominica Refectionis) reflect the muted joy which, like a work break,  encourages and strengthens us in the midst of our penitential season.  Flowers and rose-colored vestments are part of this day.

Laetare Jerusalem: et conventum facite omnes qui diligitis eam: 
gaudete cum laetitia, qui in tristitia fuistis: 
ut exsultetis, et satiemini ab uberibus consolationis vestrae. 
(Psalm) Laetatus sum in his, quae dicta sunt mihi: in domum Domini ibimus. Gloria Patri. 


Rejoice, O Jerusalem: and come together all you that love her: rejoice with joy, you that have been in sorrow: that  you may exult, and be filled from the breasts of your consolation. (Psalm) I rejoiced at the things that were said to me: we shall go into the house of the Lord. Glory be to the Father.
Bread Sunday (Dominica di Panibus), from the Gospel today of the miracle of the loaves and the feeding of the 5000.
Rose Sunday (Dominica Rosae): from the golden rose or flower carried by the Pope in procession and blessed today.  The Catholic Encyclopedia discusses at some length the meaning and history of the golden rose:
"A precious and sacred ornament made of pure gold by skilled artificers, which the popes have been accustomed for centuries to bless each year, and occasionally confer upon illustrious churches and sanctuaries as a token of special reverence and devotion, upon Catholic kings or queens, princes or princesses, renowned generals or other distinguished personages, upon governments or cities conspicuous for their Catholic spirit and loyalty to the Holy See, as a mark of esteem and paternal affection."

[Three of these roses were given to Henry VIII.   So much for loyalty.]
Mothering Sunday:  Originally, the faithful visited and brought offerings to the mother church (the cathedral) of the diocese today.   This gradually fell out of use and became a day for family gatherings; servants, apprentices, and others who had left the maternal roof returned home carrying food and presents for their mothers (this was called "Going a-Mothering").

"And all the country in an upturn going out visiting.  Girls and boys going home to see their mother and taking them cakes, brothers and sisters of middle age going to see each other." Rev. Robert Kilvert, Diary, 19 March 1871.

Veal seems to have been the entree of choice today [perhaps in reference to the Prodigal Son's Return?]
Bragget Sunday: for a warm spiced ale called bragget (or braggot) which was served today.

From British Popular Customs, Present and Past, p. 117:
"In Nares' Glossary (Halliwell and Wright, 1859, vol. i. p. 102) the following receipt for making bragget is given from the Haven of Health, chap. 239, p. 268:
Take three or four galons of good ale, or more as you please, two dayes or three after it is densed, and put it into a pot by itselfe; then draw forth a pottle thereof, and put to it a quart of good English honey, and set them over the fire in a vessell, and let them boyle faire and softly, and alwayes as any froth ariseth skumme it away, and so clarifie it, and when it is well clarified, take it off the fire and let it coole, and put thereto of pepper a pennyworth, cloves, mace, ginger, nutmegs, cinamon, of each two pennyworth, beaten to powder, stir them well together, and set them over the fire to boyle againe awhile, then bring milke warme, put it to the reste, and stirre alltogether, and let it stand two or three daies, and put barme upon it, and drink it at your pleasure." T. F. Thiselton Dyer, British Popular Customs, Present and Past (1900).
Simnel Sunday, because the large Simnel Cakes, a favorite present for Mum, were made and enjoyed today.

"I'll to thee a simnell bring,
'Gainst thou go'st a mothering;
So that when she blesseth thee,
Half the blessing thou'lt give me."
                             Robert Herrick. To Dianeme. A Ceremony in Gloucester.

Simnels were rich cakes made with expensive ingredients: crusts of fine flour and saffron surrounding an interior full of candied fruit and peel, currants, raisins, and spices.  As with a plum pudding, they were made up very stiff, tied up in a cloth, and boiled, after which they were brushed over with an egg wash and then baked.

  " When ready for sale the crust is as hard as if made of wood, a circumstance which has given rise to various stories of the manner in which they have at times been treated by persons to whom they were sent as presents, and who had never seen one before, one ordering his simnel to be boiled to soften it, and a lady taking hers for a footstool." Robert Chambers, The Book of Days: A Miscellany of Popular Antiquities (1863) p. 336


Fisheaters has a recipe for a very rich Simnel Cake on their page for the 4th Sunday in Lent, or you can try the one below.  Neither one needs to be boiled before baking.

Preheat oven to 325° F.
Butter and flour a 9-inch springform pan.
Separate 1 egg (only the yolk will be used here; save the white for another recipe)

Thoroughly blend together 1/3 cup of butter with 6 to 7 ounces of almond paste and the egg yolk, and set aside.

Cream 3/4 cup of butter with 1 cup of flour. Set aside.

Beat 3 eggs until light and lemon-colored.  Beat in 1/2 cup of sugar and a dash of salt.  Combine egg/sugar mixture with flour mixture.  Stir in 1 cup of dried currants and 1/3 cup of chopped mixed candied peel.

Pour half of the cake mixture into the springform pan.  Top with a layer of the almond-paste mixture, (reserving the rest to be piped around the top later). Add the remaining cake batter.

Bake for about 1 hour.

Remove from oven (do not turn off oven).  With a pastry tube, pipe the remaining almond-paste mixture around the edge of the top of the cake (yes, you can pipe it into 11 rounded forms to represent the 11 true disciples. This old recipe doesn't stipulate that, and from the drawing above, neither did the original cakes). Return the cake to the oven for 15 minutes to brown the top.  Remove from oven and cool.

And serve it up, rejoicing.

01 April 2011

1 April - All Fools' Day

Weather: If it thunders on All Fools' Day, it brings good crops of corn and hay.

If the first three days are foggy, rain will make the lanes boggy.

If it rains on the first day of April, there will be rain for fifteen successive days.
"The first of April, when it is an almost universal custom throughout Christendom to play more or less amiably asinine tricks upon one's neighbor.  Of the origin of this custom nothing positive is known." William S. Walsh, Curiosities of Popular Customs (1898), p. 62.

Well, we know it has been celebrated for at least 300 years, for Walsh goes on to relate the machinations of Dean Swift (the author of Gulliver's Travels) and two of his friends, who sat up late on the 31st of March, 1713, "contriving a lie for the morrow".  They decided to spread a rumor, via their servants, that a man recently hanged had come to life again and was even now at a local hostelry.  Human nature being what it is, "mine host would have his hands full with an influx of curious visitors. Next day, however, Swift records that his colleagues did not come up to their agreement, and thus the scheme had failed."

A favorite prank was sending the gullible on "sleeveless" errands: to the shopkeeper for "pigeons milk" or "hens teeth", or to the bookseller for "A History of Eve's Grandmother", or, like Dean Swift's failed joke, to see something extraordinary.  Others are still played to this day, like "Mister, your shoe is untied" ("buckles are undone" in the days of buckles), or "Mom, there's something on your face" ("it's your nose, ha ha ha!").  With the coming of the telephone, shopkeepers who carried tobacco in tins often heard the old chestnut, "Do you have Prince Albert in a can?  You do?  Well, let him out!" and maniacal laughter as the pranksters hung up.

The media cannot resist either, and so you are likely to see any number of hoax stories today: "The World Has Come to an End (details at 11)" and the like.

Just remember that pranks and jokes can only be played until noon today; after that, the prankster becomes the April Fool:
April Fool's gone past
You're the biggest fool at last;
When April Fool come again,
You'll be the biggest fool then.


Astronomy for April:
Pink Moon on the 17th.

Lyrid Meteor Shower, late night-early morning, on the 22nd-23rd.  A waning gibbous moon will drown out much of it, but EarthSky says to watch anyway.
Weather for April:
Based on the 12 Days of Christmas:  Bright, sunny, cold.
Based on the first 12 days of January:  Bright, clear, with a few clouds, and warm.
Based on the Ember Days:  Cloudy, overcast, rainy.
[I don't think April can make up its mind what to be.]

Weather Lore:
Rain in April will bring a good May.

In April, each drop counts for a thousand.

A wet April makes a dry June.

A cold April will fill the barn.
on the other hand
Warm April, great blessing.

Cold April gives bread and wine [at least in France.  In Spain, however, "A cold April, much bread and little wine".  I prefer a French April.]

When April blows his horn, it's good for both hay and corn.

Moist April, clear June,
Cloudy April, dewy May.

Fogs in April foretell a failure of the wheat-crop next year [at least in Alabama]

Thunderstorm in April is the end of hoar-frost.
It's not April without a frosty crown.
'Til April's dead, change not a thread [don't put your winter woolies away just yet]

Snow in April is manure. [I'm not quite sure what that means.  Manure as fertilizer, or manure as B.S.  After a long winter of too much snow, I'm inclined to think the latter.]

If it thunders on All Fools' Day, it brings good crops of corn and hay.

It it rains on the first day of April, there will be rain for fifteen successive days.

If the first three days are foggy, rain in June will make the lanes boggy.

When on St. George [the 23rd] rye will hide a crow, a good harvest may be expected.