30 May 2011

30 May - Memorial Day in the U.S.

Today we honor those who paid the ultimate price for our country.

Thanks for the photo, Ron

Please pause at 15:00 (3:00 pm) and observe a moment of silence in remembrance of our honored dead.

29 May 2011

Rogation Days

Today, the fifth Sunday after Easter, begins Rogation Week; the following three days - Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday before Ascension - are called the Rogation Days, and referred to as the "Minor Rogation".  The name comes from the Latin  rogare, which means "to ask" or "to beseech".   On these three days, it was customary for priest and parishioners to fast and then go in procession, praying first for God's mercy and forgiveness, next for a blessing on the newly planted seed and flowering plants, and finally for a bountiful harvest (sparing them from what the insurance companies refer to as "Acts of God": tornadoes, hurricanes, gales, and floods, along with the banes of farmers: killing frosts, blight, and similar calamities).

With time, these processions included "beating the bounds", in which the perambulations covered the boundaries of the parish.  English pastors were instructed that "In going, [they] shall stop at certain convenient places and admonish the people to give thanks to God, in the beholding of God's benefits, for the increase and abundance of His fruits upon the face of the earth, with the saying Psalm 104, Benedic anima mea..."; occasionally the pastor would add the warning "cursed be he which translateth the bounds and dales of his neighbor".  By walking the bounds in this way, the boundary markers, which may have been moved for one reason or another, could be replaced, and their positions again fixed in the minds of the parishioners.

The prayers always included the Litany of Saints, and psalms and other prayers as time allowed.  Litany is another word of much the same meaning as rogare, for it comes from the Greek litaneia - to supplicate - and with each "have mercy on us", "deliver us", and "we beseech Thee, hear us", we are begging God to avert His wrath from us.

The Rogation Days were removed from the new calendar - with appraisers, surveyors, and property maps, there is not much call for determining the boundaries by walking them.  However, there is much call for prayers asking forgiveness and blessing.

So, on these three days, walk the boundaries of your own property, saying the Litany of the Saints (you can find a copy of it here at EWTN, and remember to add your family's patron saints), or at least asking a blessing and protection for all contained therein.  Do the same with your neighborhood, as you walk the dog.  And don't forget to pray for a good harvest.

You can read more about the Rogation Days at Fisheaters, and find prayers and activities for your family at Catholic Culture.


To ensure a heavy harvest, repeat this charm to the fruit trees each day:

Stand fast, root; bear well, top;
God send us a yowling sop!
Every twig, apple big,
Every bough, apple enow,
Hats full, caps full,
Fill quarter sacks full.

[My only charm is to point to the woodpile and say, "Produce or else!"  It has worked so far.]


29 May - Rhode Island; Stuffies

Rhode Island.  The Smallest State (with the longest name and the shortest motto).  The Ocean State.  Little Rhody.  The Land of the Independent Man.

Today in 1790, Rhode Island, the first of the thirteen colonies to declare independence from Great Britain and the last of the colonies to ratify the Constitution, became the 13th State, officially known as "The State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations" [And despite the silliness of a handful of people who have all the depth of a bumper sticker, that is STILL the official name].

Yes, it is small, 37 miles wide by 48 miles tall, but - to quote Mike Conovan (Pat and Mike, 1952) - "what's there is cherce."

We have a vampire, a mystery tower (Vikings? Aliens?  Benedict Arnold's ancestor?), and a place called "Sin and Flesh Brook" (wouldn't that be a great return address?)

For Lovecraft fans, there is The Shunned House, as well as his grave.  The Devil left his hoof-prints here, revenants hang around here, and the rich and famous built their summer cottages here like the one shown below:

The Breakers, Newport

And the people here are very nice.  I've lived here 25 years.  Another 25, and my neighbors might even accept me.  Or not.  But in the meantime, they're very nice to this West Coast girl.

At least I'm beginning to understand the local dialect.  For one thing, when someone asks if you want to go to the potty, trust me, he's not being a pervert.

STUFFIES (STUFFED QUAHOGS) are a wonderful snack or appetizer, and one of the first things the late Mr. Rudd made for me as an introduction to the cuisine of Rhode Island.  There are as many different recipes as there are people who make them, because it is basically clams, breadcrumbs, and seasonings - and the seasonings are up to the cook.  So you will find recipes that use Italian breadcrumbs or Japanese breadcrumbs or Portuguese bread pieces or Ritz Crackers or saltines.  Some grind the quahog meat, some chop it fine, some just chop it into pieces.  Some add chopped celery or bell peppers.  Some mix in grated Parmesan or shredded Chedder cheese or use them to top the stuffed shell.  Some stir in spicy chorizo (chourico) sausage, or milder kielbasa.  Do as thou wilt.  The recipe below has served us well.

You will need 8 - 10 quahogs.  These are large clams, not the tender little steamers that one grabs from the shell, dips in butter and describes in an arc to one's waiting mouth.  No, quahogs are large and tough - but so good.  The shells are about 4 inches long, which gives you lots of room for the stuffing.

First of all, scrub those clams, whether you got them from the local grocer or off the boat of a quahogger or found them yourself in the surf.  Put them in a pan of cold water and use a scrubbing brush on them, changing the water as necessary.

When clean, put them in a large stockpot with about 1 to 1-1/2  inches of water.  Bring the water to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer until the clams open.  Remove the open clams to a large bowl where they can cool down (and any liquor in them can collect).  Some clams take longer than others to open, but you should be able to tell when the unopened clams 'aren't gonna'.  They are dead, as in 'before you got them home' dead.  Requiscat in pace.  Discard them.

Finely mince (or crush) 1 clove of garlic.  Finely chop 1 medium onion, and 1 green or red bell pepper (or 1/2 of both).  Remove the casings from 1/2 pound of sweet Italian sausage.

When the quahog shells are cool enough to handle, remove the meat from inside, chop it finely, and set aside.  Open the shells and split them apart.  Clean them thoroughly (no soap, please), dry, and set aside.

Strain the broth from the kettle and from the bowl into a large measuring cup or other container through a layer of cheesecloth or a fine-mesh strainer (don't want any grit in the stuffies).

In a large skillet, crumble the sausage and cook until no pink remains (about 5 minutes), breaking up any clumps.  Remove with a slotted spoon to another bowl.

In the same pan, melt 1/2 cup of butter and saute the onions and peppers until soft.  Add the garlic and cook for another 1 - 2 minutes.  Remove from heat.

If your skillet is large enough, then stir in the reserved sausage and quahogs with 1 cup of bread crumbs.  Moisten with the reserved clam broth and mix well. (Otherwise, do all of your mixing in a large bowl).

Heat the oven to 350° F.  Place the clean shells on a baking sheet.  Fill the shells with stuffing mixture.  Sprinkle a little paprika over the stuffed shells and top each with a little pat of butter.  Bake for 20 - 30 minutes until hot and lightly brown on top.  Serve with hot sauce and lemon wedges.

This usually makes about 10 - 12 stuffies, sometimes more.  A friend says that he makes a bunch, wraps them in foil, and freezes them for future midnight snacks (thaw, and bake as above).  I haven't tried that yet.

25 May 2011

25 May - Saint Urban I

Weather: If it rains on Saint Urban's Day, there will be great scarcity of food and wine.


Saint Urban I was the 17th Bishop of Rome, following Pope Callixtus I.  He is found in the Acts of Saint Cecilia as the one who instructed and baptized Cecilia's husband Valerian and his brother, Tiburtius.

While he is said to have been martyred in 230 AD in the persecutions of Alexander Severus, the reign of Alexander (and that of Pope Urban) seems to have been a period of peace for the Christians, nor did the emperor persecute them.  However, the Golden Legend and other writings get around this by attributing the maltreatment of Christians to underlings - in this case, the provost and principal governor of the city of Rome - who would carry out their persecutions under the guise of legally punishable offenses.   The provost first had St. Cecilia killed, and then, when Urban would not give up Cecilia's treasure or sacrifice to the gods, had him executed as well.

Saint Urban's Day was also known as Dies Critieus, or Critical Day, because its weather foretold if the harvest would be good or bad.  A clear, sunny day meant abundance, while rain portended the opposite.

Vintners in parts of Germany and France used to gather today in open and public areas, where a statue of Saint Urban would be placed on a draped and flower-strewn table.  If the day was fine, then the statue was carried through the streets with great rejoicing and toasted with plenty of good wine, for it was believed that the grapes would be good that year; but O Woe! if the day was rainy and cold...  That meant the saint had withdrawn his protection, and the vintage (what there was of it) would be bad.  In their disappointment, the crowd would drag the statue through the mire and christen it with puddle water.

[Let us hope for a fair and beautiful day.  The Widow is fond of a good vintage.]

22 May 2011

22 May - St. Bobo; Daube de Beouf Provencale

Today is the feast of St. Beuvon of Provence - Bobo in English - also known as Bovus.

[As with Saint Troll, I was interested in the name, Bobo being the short form for bourgeois bohemian, a rather snide term usually said with a sniff: "..the sort of place that bobos flock to... the kind of feel-good status symbol that appeals to bobos..."]

Saint Beuvon was certainly not a bobo.  He was a 10th century gentleman skilled in the use of arms - a knight, if you will - who used his skills to combat Saracen pirates raiding along the Provencal coast.  Recall that the Islamic hordes were in control of Spain, north Africa, and Sicily, although by this time, they had been run out of mainland Italy.  From their bases on the Iberian peninsula, and the footholds they managed to acquire in southern France, they ravaged the Cote d'Azur, slaughtering those whom they could not carry off as slaves, stealing whatever treasures they could find, and bringing trade in the area almost to a standstill.

Beuvon is said to have led an armed force against La Garde-Freinet, a castle which had served as the base of operations for the raids on the surrounding countryside from the end of the 8th century.  With help from inside, he seized the castle and defeated the robbers.  Deprived of their stronghold, the raiders were chased out of Provence, and Beuvon is credited with bringing peace to the coast.

After this, he gave up the practice of arms and became a hermit, living in penance and contemplation.  Annually, he would make a pilgrimage to Rome, and it was on one of these pilgrimages in 985 that he fell ill and died in Voghera, a town near Pavia.

He is considered the patron of cattle, probably from a play on his name (Bovus, bovine, get it?), and is invoked against diseases in cattle.

[He might even be a good patron for the bobos]



This is best made with one day for marinating and one day for cooking (and some add a third day after cooking to cool, remove the fat from the surface, and either reheat or serve cold).

This recipe calls for 4 - 6 pounds of bottom round or chuck, rolled up and firmly tied, but you can substitute 3 - 4 pounds of stew beef.

DAY 1 - First make your marinade: In a large pot, put 1 cup of red wine (strong red wine, nothing light here), 2/3 cup of olive oil, 1 onion stuck with 2 cloves, 1 cut-up carrot, 1 teaspoon each of ground pepper, dried oregano, and dried thyme, 1/2 teaspoon of dried rosemary, and 1 bay leaf.  Bring to a boil; reduce heat, and simmer for about 5 minutes.  Remove from heat and cool.  Put the beef and 1 pig's foot (optional) in the marinade.  Either pour on enough red wine to cover the beef, or, if you choose not to, remember to turn the beef a few times while it is marinating.  Let stand in the refrigerator for 12 to 24 hours.

DAY 2 - At this point, some people prefer to remove the beef and strain the marinade before returning both to the pot; others don't.  To the meat and either strained or unstrained marinade, add 1/2 pound of salt pork, 6 - 8 carrots, 6 peeled garlic cloves, and about 2 teaspoons of salt.  If the marinade was strained, add another bay leaf, 1/2 teaspoon of thyme and 1 teaspoon of rosemary.  Cover the pot and simmer on top of the stove for 4 to 6 hours, or bake in a slow oven (300° F) for about 2-1/2 hours or an even slower oven (200° F) for 4 to 6 hours, or until the meat is tender.  Add either 8 Roma tomatoes (peeled, seeded, and chopped) or 2 tablespoons of tomato paste (or both) and about 24 black (pitted) olives.  Cook for another 30 to 35 minutes.

If you are doing this in three days, allow the meat to cool. and put the pot in the refrigerator for another 12 - 24 hours.  Otherwise: cook 1 pound of macaroni or noodles; drain and set aside.  Skim off excess fat from the pot.  If using one cut of beef, remove meat to a platter and let it sit for a few minutes before slicing.  Slice the salt pork.  Garnish platter with the carrots and garlic cloves and any other vegetables you prefer.  Mix the macaroni with some of the sauce and serve with the meat; pass the rest of the liquid in a sauce-boat.  (If you used stew-beef, remove and cut up the salt pork; return it to the pot and ladle the whole beautiful mess over the noodles, either in one large platter or in individual servings).

DAY 3 (for those who can wait that long) - remove all fat that has risen to the top of the pot.  Either serve the meat cold with its jelly, or reheat the meat and liquid, and serve with noodles as above.

19 May 2011

19 May - Saint Dunstan

Weather: St. Dunstan brings a cold blast

Feast of Saint Dunstan, Archbishop of Canterbury, known more for his legendary exploits (of which more anon) than his very real service to the Church in England.

Dunstan was born of a high family in Glastonbury, a very intelligent lad, with a thirst for knowledge.  He studied theology, philosophy, poetry, history, geometry and astronomy; was skilled in the fine arts - music, painting, and sculpture, and the working of  fine gold and silver; and didn't disdain the more humble work of a blacksmith.  One thing he wasn't, though, was a churchman.  No indeed.  Dunstan was quite the socialite in his younger days, and very likely a little arrogant about his superlative intelligence.  In any case, his popularity at court earned him a few enemies, who managed first to have him banished from the court, and then, as he rode away, caught up with him, beat him up, and tossed him in a stagnant pond.

After this episode, he was persuaded by his relative, the Bishop of Winchester, to enter monastic life - he became a Benedictine, and enthusiastically embarked upon a period of building and reform, not excluding his royal patrons from his reformations. In his later years, he was the most powerful churchman in the land, and again earned a few enemies; exile from England (or running for his life) was not unknown to him.

The Catholic Encyclopedia has a detailed account of Saint Dunstan's life; even shorn of the legends, it is almost legendary.

The above weather superstition supposedly comes from an old tradition that Saint Dunstan, who was a great brewer of beer, sold himself to the Devil on the condition that the Evil One would blight the apple trees, thereby putting a stop to the production of cider (the rival beverage).  That Dunstan was either a brewer, or would put himself in the power of Satan (especially in light of the following legends) seems ludicrous.  However, about this time in the month, there is a cold snap; perhaps the following story from Devon explains it:

"A certain brewer in Bristol, being much disturbed by cider making... decided that if the apple crop might be blighted, it would be the better for the brewers of beer!  So he appealed to the Evil One, who promised that if this brewer would sell his soul to him he would spoil the apple crop, by sending three or more frosts from the 18th to the 23rd May in each year, and the bargain was made." William G. W. Watson, Calendar of Customs...connected with the County of Somerset, p. 181.

Well, I hope (uncharitably) that the brewer is roasting, for his unholy pact has put my own tender plants at risk more than once!

The story of Saint Dunstan pinching the Devil's nose with a pair of hot iron tongs can be found in the medieval Golden Legend:
The legend says the devil was in the shape of a fair woman, but this is more effective.
And on a time as he sat at his work his heart was on Jesu Christ, his mouth occupied with holy prayers, and his hands busy on his work. But the devil, which ever had great envy at him, came to him in an eventide in the likeness of a woman, as he was busy to make a chalice, and with smiling said that she had great things to tell him, and then he bade her say what she would, and then she began to tell him many nice trifles, and no manner virtue therein, and then he supposed that she was a wicked spirit, and anon caught her by the nose with a pair of tongs of iron, burning hot, and then the devil began to roar and cry, and fast drew away, but S. Dunstan held fast till it was far within the night, and then let her go, and the fiend departed with a horrible noise and cry, and said, that all the people might hear: Alas! what shame hath this carle done to me, how may I best quit him again?  But never after the devil had lust to tempt him in that craft.

As Robert Chambers adds: "So, at least, he is reported to have told his neighbors in the morning, when they inquired what those horrible cries were which startled them from their sleep." Robert Chambers, The Book of Days, 1863. page 654

A tale, I know, has gone about
That Dunstan twinged him by the snout
With pincers hotly glowing;
Levying, by fieri facias tweak,
A diabolic screech and squeak,
No tender mercy showing.

But antiquarians the most curious
Reject that vulgar tale as spurious;
His reverence, say they
Instead of giving nose a pull,
Resolved on vengeance just and full
Upon some future day.

This legend of Saint Dunstan, written by Edward G. Flight and illustrated by George Cruikshank, tells - in verse - why the horseshoe became a protection against evil forces.  I have copied some of the relevant verses, but you can (and should) read the whole poem here at Project Gutenberg.

IN days of yore, when saints were plenty
(For each one now, you'd then find twenty,)
In Glaston's fruitful vale,
Saint Dunstan had his dwelling snug
Warm as that inmate of a rug
Named in no polished tale.

The holy man, when not employed
At prayers or meals, to work enjoyed
With anvil, forge, and sledge.
These he provided in his cell
With saintly furniture as well;
So chroniclers allege.

A cheerful saint too, oft would he
Mellow old Time with minstrelsy,—
But such as gave no scandal;
Than his was never harp more famed;
For Dunstan was the blacksmith named
Harmonious by Handel.

Ah, but into this scene now comes the devil...
Now 'tis well known mankind's great foe
Oft lurks and wanders to and fro
In bailiwicks and shires;
Scattering broad-cast his mischief-seeds,
Planting the germs of wicked deeds,
Choking fair shoots with poisonous weeds,
Till goodness nigh expires.

And so he came upon Dunstan's forge and heard the singing; being a big ol' meanie, he decided to ruin the musical interlude:

Thought Nick, I'll make his harp a fool;
I'll push him from his music-stool;
Then, skulking near the saint
The vilest jars Nick loudly sounded
Of brayings, neighings, screams compounded;
How the musician's ears were wounded
Not Hogarth e'en could paint.

This, of course, makes Dunstan very angry, which delights the Devil even more, and, with a few more jibes, he goes away laughing and promising to return for another singing bout.  Meanwhile, Dunstan remembers an old saying about iron's power over the Fiend and sets about creating a horseshoe for his returning guest.  And when Old Scratch returns:

Oh! 'twas worth coin to see him seize
That ugly leg, and 'twixt his knees
Firmly the pastern grasp.
The shoe he tried on, burning hot
His tools all handy he had got
Hammer, and nails, and rasp.

This startled the Devil no end (as well it might), but it wasn't until the first horseshoe nail was hammered in that he understood what was going on and screeched for mercy.  Mercy was not forthcoming from Dunstan - he continued hammering away until the horseshoe was firmly affixed to the cloven hoof.  Nor would he let the Evil One flee until he had signed a contract:

To all good folk in Christendom to whom this instrument shall come the Devil sendeth greeting: Know ye that for himself and heirs said Devil covenants and declares, that never at morn or evening prayers, at chapel, church, or meeting; never where concords of sweet sound sacred or social flow around or harmony is woo'd; nor where the Horse-Shoe meets his sight, on land or sea, by day or night, on lowly sill or lofty pinnacle, on bowsprit, helm, mast, boom, or binnacle - said Devil will intrude.

The Devil signs the paper, and so...

Now, since the wicked fiend's at large
Skippers, and housekeepers, I charge
You all to heed my warning:
Over your threshold, on your mast
Be sure the horse-shoe's well nailed fast
Protecting and adorning.

17 May 2011

17 May - Syttende Mai in Norway; Lefse

Today, Norway, and Norwegians everywhere, celebrate the signing of the Constitution of Norway in 1814.

As part of the Treaty of Kiel in January 1814, Norway was detached from Denmark and given to Sweden. Possibly with an eye to circumventing the treaty, the Danish Crown Prince Christian Frederick, with the help of prominent Norwegians, founded a Norwegian independence movement. A constituent assembly was called, and met in April to work out a national constitution, which was accepted on the 16th of May and signed on the following day.  Norway proclaimed its status as an independent nation and elected Christian Frederick as its king.

As you might guess, this did not go over well with the Swedish government. A short war that same summer between the two countries ended the question, more as a stalemate than a victory for either side, for while the Norwegians managed to hold their own for a time against a larger force and the inevitability of that larger force winning, the war was costly for both sides (especially when added to their debts in the Napoleonic Wars), and both sides decided to sit down and talk.

The result was that Norway was united with Sweden, but with its own constitution and its own parliament.  Christian Frederick abdicated and the Norwegian parliament elected (rather than accepted) Charles XIII of Sweden as their king, thus maintaining their view that the monarch ruled by the will of the people.  This union between Norway and Sweden lasted until 1905, when Norway again became a sovereign nation.

The celebrations of the day are patriotic without being militaristic.  The parades are colorful processions of children representing their various schools accompanied by the school marching bands; adults wear ribbons in the national colors of red, blue, and white; many participants wear the bunda or traditional costumes of their area.

As explained on the Visit Norway website: "Parades, concerts, talks, and general merrymaking are the order of the day."

For your own celebration, make LEFSE, the Norwegian flatbread:

You will need a ricer for this.

Peel 4-5 potatoes, cut them into small cubes, and cook in salted water until tender. Drain and return to the cooking pan or a bowl.  Get out the ricer, and rice the potatoes until you have 4 cups of riced potatoes.

In a bowl, mix the riced potatoes with 2-1/2 tablespoons of light cream and 2-1/2 tablespoons of lard or butter.  Chill mixture for 1 hour.

In another bowl, sift flour to equal 2 cups.  Stir 1-1/2 tablespoons of sugar and 1 teaspoon of salt into the flour.  Add this to the chilled potato mixture and blend well.

Take about 1/3 cup of the dough and form it into 2 balls.  Continue with the rest of the dough.  Chill again for 1 hour.

Lightly flour your board.  Roll out each ball into a very thin (paper-thin, says the recipe) round, about 5 inches in diameter.  [There are lefse rolling pins available, for an authentic look]

Cook on a heated griddle over low heat until griddle side is a very light tan [these are thin, so it won't take long].  Turn and cook on the other side.

Use the lefse as you would a wrap: roll up slices of boiled ham or roast beef, chicken or seafood salad, boiled brats or hot dogs, or as seen here, with slices of rakfisk (fermented trout), red onion, and a bit of sour cream [I'll substitute smoked salmon for the rakfisk].  There are more ideas here at Mrs. Olson's Lefse Recipes.

Norge alltid!

16 May 2011

16 May - Saint Brendan the Voyager

Today is the feast of the 6th-century Irish saint, Brendan of Clonfert, founder of monasteries and churches, and the Sees of Ardfert and Annaghdown.

However, he is best known for his seven-year voyage in search of the Land of Promise, the Paradise on Earth, a tale of wonders to match that of Sinbad and Odysseus. To give some idea of the story that thrilled medieval minds, here is the legendary voyage as condensed by Robert Chambers in his entry for May 16:

"Of all the saintly legends, this of Brendan seems to have been the most popular and widely diffused.  It is found in manuscript in all the languages of Western Europe, as well as in the mediaeval Latin of the monkish chroniclers, and several editions of it were printed in the earlier period of typography.

According to the legend, Brendan, incited by a report he had heard from another abbot, named Bennt, determined to make a voyage of discovery, in search of an island supposed to contain the identical paradise of Adam and Eve.  So, having procured a good ship, and victualled it for seven years, he was about to start with twelve monks, his selected companions, when two more earnestly entreated that they might be allowed to accompany him.  Brendan replied, 'Ye may sail with me, but one of you shall go to perdition ere ye return.'  In spite, however, of this warning, the two monks entered the ship.

And, forthwith sailing, they were on the morrow out of sight of any land, and, after forty days and forty nights, they saw an island and sailed thitherward, and saw a great rock of stone appear above the water ; and three days they sailed about it, ere they could get into the place.  But at last they found a little haven, and there they went on land.  And then suddenly came a fair hound, and fell down at the feet of St Brendan, and made him welcome in its manner.  Then he told the brethren, 'Be of good cheer, for our Lord hath sent to us this messenger to lead us into some good place.'  And the hound brought them to a fair hall, where they found tables spread with good meat and drink.  St Brendan said grace, and he and his brethren sat down, and ate and drank of such as they found.  And there were beds ready for them, wherein they took their rest.

On the morrow they returned to their ship, and sailed a long time ere they could find any land, till at length they saw a fair island, full of green pasture, wherein were the whitest and greatest sheep ever they saw, for every sheep was as big as an ox.  And soon after there came to them a goodly old man, who welcomed them, and said, 'This is the Island of Sheep, and here is never cold weather, but ever summer; and that causes the sheep to be so big and so white.'  Then this old man took his leave, and bade them sail forth right east, and, within a short time, they should come into a place, the Paradise of Birds, where they should keep their Easter-tide.

And they sailed forth, and came soon after to land, but because of little depth in some places, and in some places great rocks, they went upon an island, weening themselves to be safe, and made thereon a fire to dress their dinner; but St Brendan abode still in the ship.  And when the fire was right hot, and the meat nigh sodden, then this island began to move, whereof the monks were afraid, and fled anon to the ship, and left their fire and meat behind them, and marvelled sore of the moving.  And St Brendan comforted them, and said that it was a great fish named Jascon, which laboured night and day to put its tail in its mouth, but for greatness it could not.

St. Brendan celebrates Easter on the back of the great fish.  From Honorius Philoponus, Nova typis transacta navigatio novi orbis Indiae Occidentalis, 1621

After three days' sailing, they saw a fair land full of flowers, herbs, and trees; whereof they thanked God of His good grace, and anon they went on land.  And when they had gone some distance they found a well, and thereby stood a tree, full of boughs, and on every bough sat a bird; and they sat so thick on the tree, that not a leaf could be seen, the number of them was so great; and they sang so merrily, that it was a heavenly noise to hear.  And then, anon, one of the birds flew from the tree to St Brendan, and, with flickering of its wings, made a full merry noise like a fiddle, a joyful melody.  And then St Brendan commanded the bird to tell him why they sat so thick on the tree, and sang so merrily.  And then the bird said, 'Sometime we were angels in heaven; but when our master Lucifer fell for his high pride, we fell for our offences, some hither and some lower, after the nature of their trespass; and because our trespass is but little, therefore our Lord hath set us here, out of all pain, to serve Him on this tree in the best manner that we can."

The bird, moreover, said to the saint: 'It is twelve months past that ye departed from your abbey, and in the seventh year hereafter ye shall see the place that ye desire to come to; and all these seven years ye shall keep your Easter here with us every year, and at the end of the seventh year ye shall come to the land of behest!' And this was on Easter-day that the bird said these words to St Brendan.  And then all the birds began to sing even-song so merrily, that it was a heavenly noise to hear; and after supper St Brendan and his fellows went to bed and slept well, and on the morrow rose betimes, and then these birds began matins, prime, and hours, and all such service as Christian men use to sing.

Brendan remained with the birds till Trinity Sunday, and then returning to Sheep Island, he took in a supply of provisions, and sailed again into the wide ocean. After many perils, he discovered an island, on which was a monastery of twenty-four monks; with them Brendan spent Christmas, and on Twelfth-day again made sail.

On Palm Sunday they reached Sheep Island, and were received by the old man, who brought them to a fair hall, and served them. And on Holy Thursday, after supper, he washed their feet and kissed them, like as our Lord did to His disciples; and there they abode till Easter Saturday evening, and then departed and sailed to the place where the great fish lay; and anon they saw their caldron upon the fish's back, which they had left there twelve months before; and there they kept the service of the Resurrection on the fish's back; and after sailed the same morning to the island where was the tree of birds, and there they dwelt from Easter till Trinity Sunday, as they did the year before, in full great joy and mirth.

Thus they sailed, from island to island, for seven years; spending Christmas at the monastery. Palm Sunday at the Sheep Island, Easter Sunday on the fish's back, and Easter Monday with the birds.

The prescribed wandering for seven years having been fulfilled, they were allowed to visit the promised land. After sailing for many days in darkness—

'The mist passed away, and they saw the fairest country that a man might see--clear and bright, a heavenly sight to behold. All the trees were loaded with fruit, and the herbage with flowers. It was always day, and temperate, neither hot nor cold; and they saw a river which they durst not cross.  Then came a man who welcomed them, saying, "Be ye now joyful, for this is the land ye have sought.  So lade your ship with fruit, and depart hastily, for ye may no longer abide here. Ye shall return to your own country, and soon after die. And this river that you see here parteth the world asunder, for on that side of the water may no man come that is in this life."

Then St Brendan and his monks took of the fruit, and also great plenty of precious stones, and sailed home into Ireland, where their brethren received them with great joy, giving thanks to God, who had kept them all those seven years from many perils, and at last brought them home in safety. To whom be glory and honour, world without end. Amen.'  
Robert Chambers, The Book of Days: A Miscellany of Popular Antiquities, 1863.

To read The Voyage of Saint Brendan the Abbot in English (or Latin), with all of the perils they encountered as they wandered between the great fish and the islands of monks, birds, and sheep, go to the External Links of Wikipedia's page on St. Brendan.  The English version can be downloaded as a pdf.

15 May 2011

US Armed Forces Day

On the third Sunday in May, we honor our defense forces.

[Well, at least I do.  And I'm not alone here, no matter how many leftovers from the '60s turn up their old noses and sniff.]

So here's to you, men and women of the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force, Coast Guard, Reserves, and National Guard.  From the first recruit in the War for Independence to the last recruit who just put up his hand yesterday, and everyone in between who has taken up arms to defend our country:

Thank you for your sacrifice and service.

15 May - Ides of May

Ovid in his fasti says that today is a festival of Mercury, and he writes the amusing prayer of a local merchant.  It starts off pious enough, and then descends to something less, as so many prayers do:

Wash away all the lies of the past,’ he says,
‘Wash away all the perjured words of a day that’s gone.
If I’ve called on you as witness, and falsely invoked
Jove’s great power, hoping he wouldn’t hear:
If I’ve knowingly taken the names of gods and goddesses,
In vain: let the swift southerlies steal my sinful words,
And leave the day clear for me, [so far so good, and then...] for further perjuries,
And let the gods above fail to notice I’ve uttered any.
Just grant me my profit, give me joy of the profit I’ve made:
And make sure I’ll have the pleasure of cheating a buyer.’

Ovid stopped short.  What about:

O Lord, forgive my hasty temper and unkind words and help me to find a charitable way to tell That Woman that she is a female dog...

O Lord, forgive me for stealing from my employers by wasting time on the Internet during working hours, but there is a comments war going on at my favorite forum and You really don't expect me to miss that, do You?... It's a Catholic forum, if that helps.

O Lord, help me to be more charitable... and there is no way I'm volunteering to drive that old woman to church, because then she'll want to stop for coffee, or do a little shopping, or go to the park because it is such a lovely day.  What am I, a chauffeur?

O Lord, the priest says that carrying on an affair with a married person is a sin, and of course he is right, but this isn't an affair because we're in love... and besides, everyone says that I am so joyful, so that must be a good witness for the Faith, right?

O Lord, I'm really sorry that my business has gone down the drain and I had to let go of my employees, but its not my fault, it's the economy and those d---d politicians from the opposite party, but it's okay because I have been very clever in moving company funds into my personal accounts over the years so I will still be able to give some money to the Church, only not right now, because who knows when the economy will come back up and I have four properties to pay for, and my kid has been accepted to Yale, and tuition there doesn't come cheap, Y'know? And thank You for Your many blessings.

OMG! I mean, O Lord, the priest says that I'm taking Your Name in vain, and I'm sorry if you think so, but OMG! is just a phrase we use online and texting - You know what texting is? - and even when I actually say OH MY GOD! I'm not really referring to You, it's like saying NO WAY! and GET OUT! so will You please tell the priest to get off my case?

And so on....

14 May 2011

14 May - Jamestowne; Gooseberry Foole

On this day in 1607, 104 men in three ships landed on Jamestown Island, and - in accordance with their instructions to settle in Virginia, find gold, and find a passage to the Orient - established a fort and the first permanent English settlement in North America.  Not that the founders knew it would be permanent.  For at least the next 20 years, the new settlement was in constant danger of being wiped out by starvation, sickness, and local irate indigenous people.

You can read a history of the settlement with a timeline at Preservation Virginia's Historic Jamestowne pages; check out the lists of early settlers and their occupations - there were a lot more gentlemen than there were laborers (I'm descended from one of the Second Supply).

Well, they were a brave bunch of hardy souls.  I remember seeing the re-creation of the Susan Constant and declaring that I wouldn't even cross the James River in it, let alone the Atlantic.  And it is the largest of the three ships.

Celebrate the tenacity of these earliest colonizers with a GOOSEBERRY  FOOLE.

This recipe comes, courtesy of Project Gutenberg, from "The Compleat Cook Expertly Prescribing The Most Ready Wayes, Whether Italian, Spanish Or French, for Dressing Of Flesh And Fish, Ordering Of Sauces Or Making Of Pastry" and after a title like that, you'd expect a really grand author's name, but no - the author is a mere "W.M."

Take your Gooseberries, and put them in a Silver or Earthen Pot, and set it in a Skillet of boyling Water, and when they are coddled enough strain them, then make them hot again, when they are scalding hot, beat them very well with a good piece of fresh butter, Rose-water and Sugar, and put in the youlke of two or three Eggs; you may put Rose-water into them, and so stir it altogether, and serve it to the Table when it is cold.

Or you can go the modern route:

Remove the stem and blossom ends of 1 quart of gooseberries.  Wash them.  Combine berries, 1 cup of sugar and 1 cup of water in a saucepan.  Cook over low heat until the berries are tender, stirring occasionally.  Taste for sweetness and add more sugar if needed [do not skip this part.  You don't want to find out later that your gooseberries turned out to be more tart than you expected].

Strain the berries, and save 2 -3 berries per serving for a garnish.  Put the rest in a blender and make a puree, or just mash them with a fork.  Cool.

Whip 2 cups of heavy cream to soft peak stage.  Gently fold the whipped cream into the fruit puree.  Spoon or pipe the mixture into stemmed glasses, garnish with the remaining berries. Chill before serving.

11 May 2011

11 May - Ice Saints; Saint Mamertus

Now cometh the Ice Saints - the Eisheiligen - of whom it is said:

Saint Mamertus, Saint Pancras, and Saint Servatus
Never pass without a frost.

Now there is great wailing and gnashing of teeth among those who - beguiled by the warm temperatures heretofore - have planted their tomatoes, only to see the temperatures drop and their proud plants droop and die.

About this time in May, the benign weather we have been enjoying turns cold [at least it does here in the Smallest State]. The saints whose feast days fall during that time are called the "Ice Saints" or the "Chilly Saints", and prudent gardeners believe that nothing is safe from frost until these days have passed.

The tradition seems to have been confined to northern and middle Europe, especially the areas in and around France, Germany, and later, Sweden.  Most often, the number is three, as named in the couplet above, but some places also add Saint Boniface and Saint Sophia (as "Cold Sophie") to the original trio.

So, if you've already set out your tender plants, protect them.  If you've put away your sweaters, get them out again.  Stow the barbecue for a few days and return to hearty, winter-type fare.  As this is mostly a Germanic tradition, this would be a good time to eat wurst und schnitzel, maybe a little kraut, and drink bier und schnapps (and make voopie mit beautiful frauleins, according to Baron Sam von Schpamm).  Five days of schnapps, and Kalt Sophie won't seem so kalt!
Today is the feast of Saint Mamertus (died c. 477), Archbishop of Vienne in France.  He introduced the Minor Rogations, days of fasting and prayer imploring God's mercy and protection, and a good harvest.  Of his dispute with Pope Hilarius, please read the entry in the Catholic Encyclopedia.

10 May 2011

3 May - Invention of the Holy Cross

Gardening: It is traditional to plant kidney-beans today

Today in the traditional calendar is the feast of the Invention, or Finding, of the Holy Cross, also known as Inventio Crucis and Holy-Rood Day.

Cima da Conegliano, 1495, National Gallery of Art, Washington DC

"Invention" in this instance refers to the act of discovery, of 'finding out', rather than to the act of creating something which had not existed before.  The story of the discovery of the True Cross by Saint Helena is well-known - how the eighty-year-old empress traveled to the Holy Land, searching for the Cross on which Our Lord was crucified; how she took counsel of the locals, whose memories, handed down from their fathers, led her to the very place of the crucifixion; how she found three crosses and determined the True Cross when its touch healed a chronically ill woman.

But this was only part of the story which excited the medieval imagination, for the Cross had its beginnings in the time of Adam.

It was said that when Adam was in his last illness, Seth (his third son) went to the gates of Paradise and received from the Archangel Michael a branch from the Tree from which Adam had eaten and brought sin into the world (or, alternately, seeds from the Tree of Mercy).  Finding his father dead upon his return, Seth planted the branch on Adam's grave (or the seeds under his tongue), which grew and flourished into a tree.

It became so beautiful a tree, that Solomon had it cut down and carried to his palace.  Upon her arrival at Solomon's court, the Queen of Sheba worshiped the tree, saying that the Savior of the world would be hanged thereon, "by whom the realm of the Jews shall be defaced and cease."  Another version said that Solomon used the timber to make a bridge; the Queen of Sheba, recognizing the wood from which the Cross would be made, refused to walk on it, but kilted her skirts and forded the river.  Not pleased with the idea of his kingdom coming to an end, Solomon had the tree buried deep in the ground, but it surfaced centuries later when the temple ministers dug a pit for a place to bathe their sacrificial animals.  The tree floated in the water and, like the Pool of Bethesda, invalids gathered around it, for when an angel descended to trouble the water, the first man to enter came out healed and whole.  It was from this timber that the Cross of Our Lord was made.  And so the Golden Legend declares:"the cross by which we be saved came of the tree by which we were damned."

09 May 2011

2 May - Saint Helen's Day

In northern England and Scotland, this day is dedicated to Saint Helen, the finder of the True Cross - and I must say, that came as a surprise to me.  Saint Helena is my patron and her festival day is in August.  But that's okay.  I don't mind celebrating my saint more than once.

As it is, there are two other days in the calendar which commemorate her heroic virtue - The Triumph of the Holy Cross in September, and tomorrow's feast of the Invention of the Holy Cross.  More of that anon.

The May Day custom of placing green branches over the doorways and windows continues today with the gathering of rowan branches.  Rowan, also called Witch-wood or Witch-Bane, was considered efficacious in protection against witches and evil in general.  Twigs from the branches (sometimes formed into crosses) were placed over the entryways to the household's buildings, as well as carried in one's pocket, as a protection against evil spirits.  Two pieces of rowan wood, formed into a cross and tied with red thread, would protect the bearer from ghosts and witches if worn between the outer garment and its lining.

Be that as it may, rowans are lovely trees with beautiful red-orange berries much favored by birds, especially the waxwings.  In North America, the trees are also known as Dogberry or Mountain Ash.  They do best in cold climates [of which the Smallest State can claim its share] and grow very quickly, with no need for extraordinary care, except, possibly from deer.  Bambi and his gang enjoy the leaves, to the detriment of the young tree. 

If you are planting trees in your yard this year, consider the rowan.  If nothing else, it is a delight to the eye and provides protection and food for the birds.

01 May 2011

1 May - May Day; May Wine Bowl (Maibowle)

It's May! It's May! The lusty month of May!

Now the bright morning-star, day's harbinger,
Comes dancing from the east, and leads with her
The flowery May, who from her green lap throws
The yellow cowslip and the pale primrose.
Hail, bounteous May, that dost inspire
Mirth and youth and warm desire!
Woods and groves are of thy dressing,
Hill and dale doth boast thy blessing.
Thus we salute thee with our early song,
And welcome thee, and wish thee long.
John Milton, Song: On a May Morning, 1632

Throughout most, if not all, of Europe, from ancient times, this day has been greeted with celebration and mirth in honor of the renewed fertility of the earth and its creatures.  In northern Europe, this was considered the first day of summer, and mock battles between the young Lord Summer and Old Man Winter were held, with (of course) young Summer winning.

The most notable custom of the day was 'bringing in the May'.  As described by John Brand: "It was anciently the custom for all ranks of people to go out a-Maying early on the first of May.  Bourne tells us that in his time, in the villages in the North of England, the juvenile part of both sexes were wont to rise a little after midnight on the morning of that day, and walk to some neighbouring wood, accompanied with music and the blowing of horns, where they broke down branches from the trees and adorned them with nosegays and crowns of flowers.  This done, they returned homewards with their booty about the time of sunrise, and made their doors and windows triumph in the flowery spoil."  John Brand, Observations on the Popular Antiquities of Great Britain, 1849, p. 212 [Available on Google Books]

From his own observations of the royal court, the author (arguably Chaucer) of "The Court of Love" wrote:
"... 'Welcome this May season' quoth he;
'And honor to the Lord of Love must be,
That hath this feast so solemn and so high'...

"And forth went all the court, both most and least,
To fetch the floures fresh and branch and bloom;
And namely hawthorn brought both page and groom,
With freshe garlands party blue and white,
And then rejoiced in their great delight."

French courtiers celebrating the May festivities were pictured by the Limbourg brothers in the Tres Riches Heures (above).

Of course, there are always the gloomy Gus's who find celebrations, whether pagan or popish, to be abominations; Stubbs, in his Anatomie of Abuses (1585) warned against the practice of bringing in the May: "...they go some to the woods and groves, some to the hills and mountains, some to one place, some to another, where they spend all the night in pastimes, and in the morning they return, bringing with them birch, boughs, and branches of trees to deck their assemblies withall.  I have heard it credibly reported... by men of great gravity, credit, and reputation, that of forty, threescore, or a hundred maids going to the wood over-night, there have scarcely the third part of them returned home again undefiled."

[Well, at least we know what the 'pastimes' were.] 
So, gather in the May, fill your house with flowers (Lilies-of-the-Valley are especially lucky), and celebrate with a MAY WINE BOWL.

You will need a large glass jar with a lid, or a large bowl with a cover, for this.

Chill 3 bottles of white wine, such as Rhine or Moselle, and 1 bottle of champagne.

Maiwein comes from Germany.  Woodruff, the herb which gives the 'Maibowle' its distinctive taste, may be hard to find, unless your herb garden is well forward, or you have been growing herbs inside in a window box.  Dried woodruff may be used (some recipes prefer it), and if you do, put it in a teabag or cheesecloth bag so that it can be removed easily.  The small amount used here is not harmful; however, those afraid that any contact with the herb may have undesirable consequences are advised to leave it out.  The punch won't have the taste of a real Maibowle, but considering the rest of the ingredients, I don't think anyone will notice.

In a large glass jar or bowl, combine 3 sprigs of fresh woodruff (or 1 ounce dried, in a bag), 1/2 cup of very fine granulated sugar or confectioner's sugar, 1/2 cup of brandy, and 1 bottle of chilled white wine.  Cover and let stand for several hours or overnight (some people prefer to remove the woodruff after half an hour).  When ready to serve, remove the woodruff (if you haven't already), place a large lump of ice in the punch-bowl, and pour the mixture over the ice.  Stir in the remaining 2 bottles of wine and the champagne.

If you have strawberries, float about a cup of them in the bowl for a garnish [we won't have any for another month, but frozen work just fine].

Lusty month of May, indeed!
Weather: Hoar frost on May 1st indicates a good harvest.

If it rains on Philip's and Jacob's day, a fertile year may be expected. [However, the feast of Saints Philip and James has been moved to 3 May, so that we may honor Saint Joseph the Worker today.  Perhaps if it rains on both days, we'll have a super harvest!]

Traditions and superstitions:
If you go in swimming on the first morning of May before the sun is up, you will not have any contagious disease during that year.

To become beautiful, wash your face in dew before sunrise on May Day.

If you wash your face with May dew gathered at daybreak, you will have a good complexion throughout the year.

Rolling naked in May Dew will protect you from skin diseases [ahem! but not from the police! If you are going to roll around in the grass, choose a spot where you won't be observed, and watch out for ticks.]

Sniffing May dew (gathered at daybreak) is a cure for vertigo.

If you remove your flannels on the first day of May, you will not take cold [only if you live in Florida and points south]

If you give away fire or light of any kind [and that includes flicking your Bic to light someone's cigarette], you will bring ill luck upon your house.

It was once believed that witches had great power to bewitch cattle (and through them, the butter) on May Eve and May Day:

To ensure good butter and freedom from witches, herbs gathered on May Day should be boiled with some hairs from the cow's tail and preserved in a covered vessel [and kept in the barn, I imagine.  These aren't herbs with which you will be cooking].

Washing your cattle with May Dew will preserve them from witches.

Cattle should be slightly singed with lighted straw on May Eve or May Day to keep away evil spirits.

Cattle should be bled on May Day, and the blood dried and burned.

Seems to me that the only evil influences to which cattle were susceptible were from the people trying to protect them.
You may see the initial(s) of your true love, if you strew the hearth with white ashes, and place a snail on them.  Watch to see what letter(s) he traces.

If you wish to see who will be the first to be married, gather your friends around a bowl of syllabub (somewhat akin to whipped cream) into which a wedding ring has been dropped.  Each person in turn must take a ladle and fish around the bowl (one good stir each) for the ring.  The first to find it will be the first to be married.


Astronomy for May:
Flower Moon on the 17th.

Eta Aquarid Meteor Shower on the 5th, 6th, and 7th.  EarthSky says that the peak will be pre-dawn of May 6th.
Weather for May:
According to the 12 Days of Christmas: Brilliant sunshine in the morning; overcast and chilly in the afternoon.
According to the first 12 days of January: Sunny, blue skies, and warm.
According to the Ember Days: Started out overcast (but warm), then sunny (and warm), then overcast again with high winds (but still warm)

Weather Lore:
Ember Days:
May 26: Foretells the weather of July
May 28: Foretells the weather of August
May 29: Foretells the weather of September

A swarm of bees in May is worth a load of hay.

May is half winter and half summer.
In the middle of May comes the tail of winter.  Quite often true.  I've known a frost to come along just after I planted my tomatoes.

A cold May is kindly, and fills the barns finely.  That is as maybe, but I'm more worried about my tomatoes!

A dripping May brings a good crop of hay.
A dry May always brings a good crop of wheat.

If May be cold and wet, September will be warm and dry (and vice versa).

Thunder in May signifies scarcity of food and great hunger that year.

The more thunder in May, the less in August and September.

Hoarfrost on May 1st indicates a good harvest.

If you go swimming on the first morning of May before the sun is up, you will not have any contagious disease during the year.

If you remove your flannels on the first day of May, you will not take cold [however, see May 10 below]

If it rains on Philip's and Jacob's day, a fertile year may be expected (traditional: May 1; new calendar: May 3)

If it rains on the 8th of May, it foretells a wet harvest.

It is dangerous to take off your winter clothing until the 10th of May.

May 11, 12, 13: St. Mamertius, St. Pancras, and St. Servatus do not pass without a frost.

May 11 - 15: The Ice Saints: St. Mamertius, St. Pancras, St. Servatus, St. Boniface, Cold Sophie.

May 17-19: St. Dunstan brings a cold blast to blight the apples.