12 June 2011

Pentecost - Whitsunday; Whitpot

A dry Whitsun and fine brings a good corn harvest
- and -
 Whitsunday bright and clear, will bring a fertile year

- on the other hand -

If Whitsunday bring rain, expect many a plague
- and -
 Rain on Pentecost forebodes evil.

Still, there is hope, for a Whitsun rain is a blessing for wine [which will come in handy when dealing with plagues and evil]

Strawberries at Whitsun time, indicate good wine. [Hoorah!]

Duccio de Buoninsegna, 1308-11, Museo dell'Opera del Duomo, Siena

Today is Pentecost, the annual commemoration of the day when the Holy Spirit descended on the Apostles gathered in the Upper Room, and 3,000 were baptized, as recorded in the 2nd chapter of The Acts of the Apostles:

1 And when the days of the Pentecost were accomplished, they were all together in one place: 2 And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a mighty wind coming: and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. 3 And there appeared to them parted tongues, as it were of fire: and it sat upon every one of them. 4 And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost: and they began to speak with divers tongues, according as the Holy Ghost gave them to speak. 5 Now there were dwelling at Jerusalem, Jews, devout men, out of every nation under heaven. 6 And when this was noised abroad, the multitude came together, and were confounded in mind, because that every man heard them speak in his own tongue. 
12 And they were all astonished, and wondered, saying one to another: What meaneth this? 13 But others mocking, said: These men are full of new wine. 14 But Peter standing up with the eleven, lifted up his voice, and spoke to them: Ye men of Judea, and all you that dwell in Jerusalem, be this known to you and with your ears receive my words. 15 For these are not drunk, as you suppose, seeing it is but the third hour of the day: 16 But this is that which was spoken of by the prophet Joel: 17 And it shall come to pass, in the last days, (saith the Lord), I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh: and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy: and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams. 18 And upon my servants indeed and upon my handmaids will I pour out in those days of my spirit: and they shall prophesy. 19 And I will shew wonders in the heaven above, and signs on the earth beneath: blood and fire, and vapour of smoke. 20 The sun shall be turned into darkness and the moon into blood, before the great and manifest day of the Lord to come. 21 And it shalt come to pass, that whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. 

37 Now when they had heard these things, they had compunction in their heart and said to Peter and to the rest of the apostles: What shall we do, men and brethren? 38 But Peter said to them: Do penance: and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ, for the remission of your sins. And you shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. 39 For the promise is to you and to your children and to all that are far off, whomsoever the Lord our God shall call. 40 And with very many other words did he testify and exhort them, saying: Save yourselves from this perverse generation. 41 They therefore that received his word were baptized: and there were added in that day about three thousand souls.  

Pentecost, which means 'the fiftieth day' occurs 50 days after Easter, and ten days after the Ascension of Our Lord.

Whitsunday, by which Pentecost was known in England, may have taken its name from the practice of those newly baptized at Easter and during Pascaltide wearing their white garments or albs, although the original "White Sunday", when this custom took place, was the first Sunday after Easter.  Other sources suggest that the proper word is Witsonday, commemorating the Holy Spirit's enlightenment of man's 'wit' or understanding.

Whitsuntide, which included the preceding Saturday (Whitsun Eve) and the following Monday (Whit Monday) and Tuesday (Whit Tuesday), was considered a holiday time, when sports, games, and jollity predominated and servile work was forbidden.  Men's clubs processed to the church for special services, followed by a huge feast and dancing, while children would form into small bands and parade around to sing before houses, hoping to receive a little money or food with which to regale themselves afterward. The same amusements of May-Day prevailed, including dancing and gamboling around flower-decorated poles, and as it was considered lucky to be married during Whitsuntide, romantic attachments which might have begun in the May revels found their logical conclusion here.

This is the time of the Whitsun-ale, a high festival which also served to collect money for repairs to the church or to ease the parish rates.  Something of a picnic feast, in which every person brought what victuals they could, was set up in a large barn or out-of-doors.  The ale, which had been brewed especially strong, was sold by the churchwardens to those who came to eat, drink, and enjoy themselves and the profits kept for the uses above or as alms for the poor.

For the dancing afterward, two people would be chosen as the "Lord" and "Lady" of the ale, while others took the parts of courtiers, including a treasurer or purse-bearer, and jester, everyone dressing for their parts to the best of their ability.  Certain silly rules were in place, and those who broke the rules paid a monetary forfeit.  An additional charge for the honor of attending the court of the Lord and Lady, wherein the jester kept everyone in merriment with ribald jests and cleared the way for the dancing, helped to fill the treasurer's money box, and the profits thus accumulated were used for the benefit of the parish.

One superstition is that, as on Easter morning, the sun danced the instant it arose, and a prayer to God at that moment was sure to be granted.

Another, once prevalent in Ireland, is that, before morning, the wraiths of those who drowned at sea ride over the waves on white horses to hold their revels on the sands.  Don't stand around waiting for them, however, for if they find someone, they will capture him and take him back with them to the vasty deep.

In Wales, people were expected to be up early on Whit Monday between 3:00 and 4:00 in the morning.  Young men and boys (who are always ready for this sort of thing) went around the village, waking people up with as much noise as they could manage.  Sluggards had bunches of nettles tied to their door-latches, and were liable to spend some time in the village stocks.


The traditional cuisine for today includes WHITPOT, a kind of pudding, which as its name suggests, is white or light in color.  You can find a 1796 receipt for it here [you'll have to decide how much rose-water and nutmeg to use, and what constitutes a slow oven].

A contributor to Good Housekeeping magazine for May 1, 1886 offered ingredient amounts, but not much more in the way of directions:

"Whit-pot.—Two quarts milk, one cup of Indian meal, two-thirds of a cup of molasses, two eggs and a pinch of salt. Put the milk on to boil, leaving out enough to stir the meal as a thickening. Then put it all together on the milk when hot, but not boiling. Rub the molasses and eggs together and add to the milk. Allow it all to come to the boiling point and take it up carefully."

This one is easier, and serves 3-4; it was adapted from a recipe found in The Old Farmer's Almanac Colonial Cookbook:

Wet 2-1/2 tablespoons of corn meal (white if you can find it, yellow otherwise) with 2 tablespoons of cold milk.  Let it stand while you scald 2 cups of milk.  Put the hot milk in the top part of a double boiler, and add the cornmeal, 1/2 cup of sugar, 1/2 teaspoon of salt and 1/4 teaspoon of nutmeg.  Cover the pot and cook for about 20-30 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the mixture is slightly thickened.

Beat 1 egg lightly and mix it with 1/4 cup of cold milk.  Slowly stir this into the cornmeal mixture.

Remove from heat and serve in individual bowls.  The original recipe says to top each bowl with a dot of butter.