29 June 2011

29 June - Saints Peter and Paul; Flaked Haddock Newburg

Today we honor Saint Peter, the Prince of the Apostles, and Saint Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles.  Some traditions say that this was the day on which they were martyred in Rome - Saint Paul by beheading, Saint Peter by being crucified upside-down.  Others claim that the feast honors the translation of their relics from the catacombs to their churches - Saint Peter to the Basilica of his name, Saint Paul to the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls.  Whatever the reason, this feast has been around at least since the 4th century.

Because of their status in the hierarchy of saints, they received separate Masses on the same day.  In Rome, the Pope would first celebrate Mass at St. Peter's and then go in state and celebrate Mass at St. Paul's.  This became rather cumbersome, and at some point, Pope Gregory the Great decided that the Masses could be split between two days - Saint Peter on the 29th of June, followed by the Commemoration of Saint Paul on the 30th.  This was not followed in all the liturgies, but at least into the 19th century, Catholic almanacs in the United States noted separate days for this feast. The Octave of Saints Peter and Paul ended on July 6.

Peter was a fisherman, and today is a high festival for fishermen and those who take their living from the waters.  On his feast, or the Sunday following, many places observe the Blessing of the Sea or Blessing of the Boats.  These ceremonies done, it is time for the festivities to begin, including the use of 'good liquor' to christen the boats (and probably to marinate the mariners, as well).

Dinner tonight should include fish to honor St. Peter.  Fish and chips - always good, broiled or pan-fried fillets, poached steaks (and we haven't even got into the different sauces).  Yes, even Tuna Casserole.

Traditionally, the fish associated with St. Peter are the John Dory and the Haddock, as they sport black 'spots' on their sides, known as the 'thumb-marks' or 'fingerprints' of Saint Peter.  These indicate where he held the fish and opened its mouth to find the coin needed to pay the Temple tax.

But that we may not scandalize them, go to the sea, and cast in a hook: and that fish which shall first come up, take: and when thou hast opened its mouth, thou shalt find a stater: take that, and give it to them for me and thee.  Matthew 17:27

Nowadays the tilapia is called "St. Peter's fish", because the above scene took place in the freshwater Sea of Galilee, and both the John Dory and the Haddock are saltwater fish (and the fishing grounds of the Haddock are nowhere near the Sea of Galilee).  Our ancestors didn't bother with such nice distinctions - they saw the thumb-marks of St. Peter and drew their conclusions accordingly.

So dress the table with Gladiolus (the sword flower) to honor Saint Paul and serve an elegant FLAKED HADDOCK NEWBURG

First cook 1-1/2 pounds of haddock fillets: pour about 2 cups of water into a large skillet and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat, add the fish, cover, and simmer gently for about 10 minutes until the fish flakes easily.  Cool and flake.

Separate 2 eggs.  This recipe only uses the yolks; reserve the whites for another use.

In a saucepan, melt 3 tablespoons of butter.  Blend in 1-1/2 tablespoons of flour, 1 teaspoon of salt, 1/2 teaspoon of paprika, 1/4 teaspoon of nutmeg, and a dash of cayenne.

Slowly stir in 3/4 cup of light cream and 1/3 cup of milk; cook over low heat until thickened, stirring constantly.  Gently stir in the flaked fish.

Lightly mix 3 tablespoons of sherry with the 2 egg-yolks.  Add this to the sauce and cook for 2 to 3 minutes longer.  Serve at once on hot toast.

To drink?  Follow Saint Paul's advice and "take a little wine for thy stomach's sake".

Artwork: The Apostles Peter and Paul. Domenikos Theotokopoulos (El Greco) 1587-92. The State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg.