31 July 2011

31 July - Saint Ignatius of Loyola

Today is the feast of Saint Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Society of Jesus (c. 1491 - 1556)

His own life reads like one of the romances of which he was so fond in his earlier years, with perils and intrigues, wars, chivalry, jealousy, imprisonment, the Inquisition, even a scorned woman...  no Gothic heroine was so beset with troubles as Ignacio.

He was born Inigo de Onez y Loyola in the family castle, and like other young men of his class, received a good education.  Part of this education was in the household of the Treasurer of the Kingdom of Castile, where he seems to have embraced all the pleasures available to a young man.  He then took up arms, but after several battles through which he emerged unscathed, a cannonball broke one of his legs and put him out of commission for almost a year.  During his painful convelescence, he read (instead of his favorite romances and tales of chivalry) books on the life of Christ and the lives of the saints, and with a lot of time to think, he realized, like Saint Augustine, what his life had been and what it should be.

You can read about the life and trials of Saint Ignatius here at the Catholic Encyclopedia and in the Wikipedia article

Saint Ignatius formulated a set of Spiritual Exercises to help people develop their relationship with God.  These are usually done at month-long retreats, under the guidance of a spiritual director.  Ignatian Spirituality has several pages on the Exercises - what they entail, how they are done, etc.  The Daily Examen is prayerful reflection of God in our lives which can be done anywhere, and is especially good for seeing Him in the 'bad days'.  As you read the steps, notice that you are asking God for direction and guidance, not telling Him what you want (which is how most of our prayers are said).

The Society of Jesus, formally approved in 1540, was established as a teaching order, specifically in the catechizing of children and young people and in converting non-Christians through their missionary efforts.  As stated in the Catholic Encyclopedia: "The early Jesuits were sent by Ignatius first to pagan lands or to Catholic countries; to Protestant countries only at the special request of the pope and to Germany, the cradle-land of the Reformation, at the urgent solicitation of the imperial ambassador.

From the very beginning the missionary labours of the Jesuits among the pagans of India, Japan, China, Canada, Central and South America were as important as their activity in Christian countries. As the object of the society was the propagation and strengthening of the Catholic faith everywhere, the Jesuits naturally endeavored to counteract the spread of Protestantism. They became the main instruments of the Counter-Reformation; the re-conquest of southern and western Germany and Austria for the Church, and the preservation of the Catholic faith in France and other countries were due chiefly to their exertions."

For this they needed to be well-educated and well-trained in theology, philosophy, and the art of debate.  They were quick-thinking men and so very good at overcoming arguments, that their opponents coined the word "jesuitical" as an insult.  John Timbs wrote in "Something for Everybody" (1866): "The Jesuits have rendered great services to education, literature, and the sciences. In so numerous a body as that of their Society, men of various tempers and opinions must be found, some of whom, through a strained casuistry or fanatical zeal, arrived at totally different conclusions from those of the more sober and honest part of the community. 

In the reign of James I., the Jesuit Garnet was tried for having participated in the Gunpowder Plot; and after exhibiting throughout his examination a great aptitude for equivocation, he was condemned .and executed. Hence Jesuitical came to be popularly employed for designing, cunning, prevaricating; and one of our latest lexicographers defines the Society as distinguished for craftiness; "hence a Jesuit is a crafty person, an Intriguer."

Timbs wrote at a time when no-one would have considered the murder of babies to be anything but criminal, but one hundred years later, we have sons of Saint Ignatius, who "through a strained casuistry or fanatical zeal" defend the indefensible, and lead others of even weaker moral fiber to use their arguments as cover for their own evil - most surely a blot on the heroic men of the Society of Jesus who have done so much good work in the world.

Artwork: Peter Paul Rubens, 1620-22. Saint Ignatius of Loyola (detail). Norton Simon Museum.

30 July 2011

30 July - Anniversary

W P Clipart

As of today, I have been blogging for one year now.  Quite a suspenseful year for me, as it seemed that I might have to leave Rudd's Little Acre and take shelter like Saint Alexius under a relative's staircase.  But God has provided otherwise - for now.

Last year, I wrote:

Traditions, superstitions, weather lore... the year is full of them, along with holidays, holy days, and remembrance days.

For instance, one tradition is that the weather on each of the twelve days of Christmas forecasts the weather for the next twelve months.  An alternate tradition uses the period between the 1st and the 12th of January.  There are also the Ember Days, and some single days, such as Saint Swithin's (July 15), which are supposed to accurately predict the coming weather.

But weather isn't the only thing of which our ancestors wanted to have foreknowledge, and so I have added other superstitions and traditions pertinent to the year's celebrations.  My guests will also find recipes to aid in the celebrating, some astronomical data, links to pages of interest, and (because I am opinionated) my opinions.

Please note: This is all very lighthearted.  I enjoy seeing how accurate the predictions are (although it may take some real convolutions of the mind to base August's weather on that of January 8).  I also like to find reasons to celebrate.  If you have a comment or suggestion or something I can add to this list, please feel free to either use the comment box or my email.

So, now what?  It is still very lighthearted - some days lighter than others.  I am not asking anyone to believe in anything that is written here, especially the love charms or any other superstition.  These are things which surrounded, if not governed, the lives of my ancestors and possibly yours as well.  They are meant to be enjoyed as such.

I turned off the comment box earlier in the year - debating whether to put it back on.  The email is still available in my profile, which some people are kind enough to use.

This is an almanac of sorts, so I will recycle my previous posts, probably with a few changes and additions here and there, and add some new posts as they come along.  Of course, the weather prognostications must change.

And maybe if I can learn to operate the camera, I will post photos.  Don't anyone hold their breath.
Some have wondered why I have a picture of Margaret Caroline Rudd on my blog.  I first came across her, when my husband and I ran a business making reproductions of antique furniture.  In "The Cabinetmaker's and Upholsterer's Guide" by George Hepplewhite (yes, Hepplewhite furniture.  That Hepplewhite), I found a picture of a "Rudd's Table", with the description that it took its name from "a once popular character, for whom, it is reported, it was first invented". 

Naturally, I had to find out who this once popular character was.  This being in the days before Easy Scholarship via The Internet, I resorted to the public library, where a perusal of Boswell (who had a nasty fascination for the lady) and a few other tomes of Georgian history revealed the popular character.  She was a forger.  At least, she was put on trial for, and acquitted of, being a forger.  An interesting story, and as there are a few books out now which are dedicated to her, and blog posts with their opinions as well, you won't have to peruse Boswell to find out what happened.

Anyway, I found a picture of her in one of the books, had it blown up and framed, and there she hangs in my library, and now on the blog.  We made reproductions of antique furniture and she made reproductions of money-bearing instruments.  Our efforts were legal; she ended up in Old Bailey.

Sic transit gloria mundi.

29 July 2011

29 July - Saint Martha

"Yea, Lord, I have believed that thou are Christ, the Son of the living God, who are come into this world.John 11:27

Today we celebrate the feast Saint Martha of Bethany, whose profession of faith compares with that of Saint Peter.  As stated in "Feast of St. Martha" on Fisheaters, "St. Peter serves the Church as a man and St. Martha serves as a woman - and we honor and keep the Feasts of each!"

In scripture, she is the sister of Lazarus and Mary, and best known from the passage in Luke 10, where she busies herself preparing dinner for Jesus, while her sister Mary sits at His feet and listens to His Words.  Just a bit upset (who wouldn''t be?) that she's doing all the work while her sister enjoys a conversation with their guest, she asks Jesus to tell her sister to get up and help her, and receives the following answer from him: "Martha, Martha, thou art careful and art troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary.  Mary hath chosen the best part, which shall not be taken away from her."

[Hmmpf.  Old sinner me would have turned off the fire under the soup pot and said, "Fine, when you two get hungry, come on in to the kitchen and fix yourself something.  I could use a bit of leisure time myself!"]

From this, Martha is seen as the active part of the Church, while Mary represents the contemplative side.  Both are necessary.

She is the patron of housewives, cooks, and all those who serve others, especially in hospitality fields - hotel-keepers, service personnel, servants, and housekeepers. She is usually shown with her housewife's keys at her waist and a ladle or a pot of water, which can represent the holy water she used to tame the dragon or a cooking pot.

The Golden Legend determined that she was born of noble parents and that in the persecutions following Our Lord's death and resurrection, she, Mary and Lazarus, Mary (the mother of James the Less), Salome (the mother of James the Greater), their handmaid Sara, Trophimus, Saturninus, Maximin, and others were forced into a rudderless, unseaworthy boat, without oars or sail, and set adrift in the Mediterranean.  The boat, protected by Divine Providence, landed on the shores of what is now southern France, and the companions dispersed to evangelize the territory.  Martha went to Tarascon, where a terrible dragon called Tarasque ravaged the neighborhood of Marseilles.  This she tamed and bound at Aix so that the people could slay him, whereupon the countryside was converted. [The Golden Legend gives a fuller description of the La Tarasque.  Read it if you want to know what dragon doots can do to a field.]

From the middle ages to today, the procession of La Tarasque is held annually in Provence.  "Curiosities of Popular Customs" describes it:

"Even alter the Mystery Play was itself abandoned, a remnant of it lingered on until the middle of the nineteenth century, in the annual procession of La Tarasque celebrated on July 29 not only at Tarascon but also at Beaucaire. The main feature was a huge figure of a dragon, made of wood and canvas, eight feet long, three feet high, and four feet broad in the middle. The head was small, there was no neck, the body, which was covered with scales, was shaped like an enormous egg, and at the nether extremity was a heavy beam of wood for a tail.

Sixteen mummers gaily caparisoned and known as the Knights of la Tarasque were among its attendants. Eight of the knights concealed themselves within the body to represent those who had been devoured, and furnished the motive power, besides lashing the tail to right and left, at imminent risk to the legs of the spectators. The other eight formed the escort, and were followed by drummers and fifers and a long procession of clergy and laity.  The dragon was conducted by a girl in white and blue, the leadingstring being her girdle of blue silk. When the dragon was especially unruly and frolicsome she dashed holy water over it. A continuous rattle of torpedoes and musketry was kept up by those who followed in the dragon's train.
The merrymaking was often emphasized by practical joking of a rude sort which frequently led to violent affrays. It was these scenes of disorder which caused the suppression of the spectacle. But the Tarasque itself is still preserved."

Catholic Culture has several recipes suitable for celebrating Saint Martha's feast day, including some that she might have served Jesus when He visited her house.

If you have a housekeeper or lawn-mowing guy or someone who helps you keep your house and grounds tidy, this would be a good day to say thank-you.  Yes, I know you pay them, but a thank-you goes a long way, trust me.  If you can add a small present, so much the better.  The same goes for hotel and restaurants staffs.  Show courtesy to those who serve you.

28 July 2011

28 July - Beatrix Potter; Roly-Poly Pudding

Astronomy: The Delta Aquarid meteor showers are occurring now.  For those in the northern hemisphere, look south in the predawn sky.  Not a whole lot of activity, maybe 15 - 20 per hour, but at least there is no moon to get in the way (as there will be with the upcoming Perseids).

Once upon a time, there were four little Rabbits, 
and their names were Flopsy, Mopsy, Cotton-tail, and Peter...

Today in 1866, Helen Beatrix Potter was born in South Kensington, England, to barrister Rupert Potter and his wife Helen.  Young Beatrix and her brother Bertram grew up in comfortable circumstances, spending their vacations in Scotland and the Lake District.  As customary for girls of her class, she was educated at home by governesses.

Beatrix and Bertram took an avid interest in natural history and science, collecting and illustrating  specimens for study, and keeping assorted creatures, including mice, rabbits, and a hedgehog, as pets.  Beatrix became very interested in the study of fungi and wrote a paper for presentation to the Linnean Society with her theory of fungus germination.

In her 30's, Beatrix began writing and illustrating the children's books for which she is famous, starting with "The Tale of Peter Rabbit".  These were very successful, and with the money from them, augmented by a legacy from an aunt, she purchased a farm in her beloved Lake Country.  Here she learned and applied the latest techniques of farming and raising livestock, especially the raising and breeding of Herdwick Sheep.  She continued to buy farms and land, not only for her herds and flocks, but to preserve the land for farming and for its natural beauty.  Much of her estate is now owned by the National Trust, an organization which she supported wholeheartedly, and forms part of the Lake District National Park.

An excellent interactive site is The World of Peter Rabbit, which has games and activities, more information on Miss Potter and her world, and recipes that children can make and enjoy.  The Beatrix Potter Society has photos of her taken by her father, and some of her watercolors.  Also, check out the pages on exhibitions and places to visit.

If Peter Rabbit (and his siblings, Flopsy, Mopsy, and Cotton-tail), naughty Tom Kitten, rhyming Squirrel Nutkin, foolish Jemima Puddleduck, the Tailor of Gloucester and Mrs. Tiggywinkle (and a host of others) graced your childhood, celebrate their creator today.

Try a ROLY-POLY PUDDING, which is what Tom Kitten nearly ended up in.

This is a boiled/steamed pudding, which takes a couple of hours.  For a quicker, baked version, see Nanny's Nursery Baked Jam Roly-Poly.  For pictures and directions, see Historical Foods.  The traditional suet dough is made with flour, suet, and enough water or milk to bind.  This recipe adds bread crumbs and an egg.

First, make your dough by combining 1 cup of flour, 2 cups of dry stale bread crumbs, and 1/4 cup of sugar.  Mix in 1 cup of finely ground or shredded suet until well combined [if no suet handy, freeze a couple of sticks of butter and grate or shred them to the required amount].  Mix in the egg and enough milk or water to make a stiff dough.

Roll out the dough on a floured damp cloth into a rectangle about 1/4 inch thick.  Spread it with jam up to 1 inch from the edges.  Moisten the edges with a bit of water.  Starting from a short edge, lightly roll up the pudding (as you would for cinnamon rolls).

My old recipe says to "tie up the rolled pudding and drop into boiling water", which sounds like a recipe for Roly-Poly Soup, so I take the rolled pudding and loosely wrap it in greased waxed paper or parchment, then in a a piece of foil with the ends well secured [you can also use the time-honored method and wrap it in a piece of muslin or cloth, tying the ends securely].  Then I put the pudding package on a small rack in the kettle and pour boiling water about half-way up the package, and let the pudding boil/steam for 2 to 2-1/2 hours, turning the package over after an hour.

When done, remove from the kettle, unwrap onto a dish, and slice into rounds.  Everyone says that these should be served with warm vanilla custard, which I haven't tried yet.  A slice of Roly-Poly with a splash of heavy cream and a cup of tea have so far sufficed.  But the custard sounds good.

27 July 2011

27 July - Saint Pantaleon; Seven Sleepers of Ephesus

Weather: If it rains today, it will rain for forty days.

Today is the feast of Saint Pantaleon, martyr (died c 305).  He was a native of Nicomedia and the son of a Christian mother who raised him in the faith.  His medical skill earned him a place as physician to the emperor Galerius Maximian, and in the pleasures of the court, he became a non-practicing Christian (he was likely one of those who was "spiritual, not religious").

At some point, with the help of a priest, he reverted to the faith of his youth, giving his fortune for the poor and charitably treating them without charge.  Denounced as a Christian, he was nailed to a tree and beheaded.  The Roman Martyrology says "For the faith of Christ he was apprehended by the emperor Maximian, subjected to the torture and burned with torches, during which torments he was comforted by an apparition of our Lord.  He ended his martyrdom by a stroke of the sword."

He is a patron of doctors and midwives, and, as one of the Fourteen Holy Helpers, is invoked against consumption.  A vial of his blood is said to liquefy today.

This is also the feast of the Seven Sleepers of Ephesus (c. 250),  Maximian, Malchus (or Malthus), Martinian, Dionysius, John, Serapion, and Constantine, who were walled up together in the cave where they had taken refuge from the persecutions of Decius.  The story (taken from The Golden Legend) is that two hundred and twenty-nine years later they awoke, thinking that they had only been asleep one night, but like Rip Van Winkle, found that things had changed a bit (for one, Christianity was now the state religion, although a heresy flourished which denied the resurrection of the body).

Malchus was chosen to go into Ephesus to buy food, which he did, not without the usual complications.  After being astonished to see the Cross embellishing gates, walls, and buildings, he tried to buy bread with a coin minted at the time he and his companions fell asleep.  This astonished the vendors, who suspiciously demanded to know where he had found an 'ancient treasure', and when he didn't give a rational answer, put a halter around his neck and led him to the bishop.

In his defense, he led everyone back to the cave, where his companions were waiting.  The Emperor was sent for, and when he arrived, the Seven "demanded of the emperor that he would believe the resurrection of the body, for to that end had they been raised; and then they gave up the ghost".

25 July 2011

25 July - Saint Christopher

Buxheim Saint Christopher, 1423, woodcut

In the old calendar, this is the feast of Saint Christopher, Martyr.  For a while, he was one of the most well-known of saints; as the patron of travelers, many people (even those who didn't believe in saints) had a St. Christopher statue on their dashboard or his image on their key-chain.

He was one of the Fourteen Holy Helpers and besides protecting travelers, he was invoked against plague and sudden, unprovided death (read the list of his patronages at Saints.SQPN).

This version of the story of Saint Christopher is taken from Sacred and Legendary Art, Volume II, by Mrs. Anna Jameson (1879):

"Christopher was of the land of Canaan, and the name by which he was there known was Offero. He was a man of colossal stature, and of a terrible aspect, and, being proud of his vast bulk and strength, he was resolved that he would serve no other than the greatest and the most powerful monarch that existed. So he travelled far and wide to seek this greatest of kings; and at length he came to the court of a certain monarch who was said to exceed in power and riches all the kings of the earth, and he offered to serve him. And the king, seeing his great height and strength, — for, surely, since the giant of Gath there had been none like to him, — entertained him with joy.

Now it happened one day, as Christopher stood by the king in his court, there came a minstrel who sang before the king, and in his story there was frequent mention of the Devil, and every time the king heard the name of the evil spirit he crossed himself. Christopher inquired the reason of this gesture, but the king did not answer. Then said Christopher, "If thou tellest me not, I leave thee!" So the king told him: "I make that sign to preserve me from the power of Satan, for I fear lest he overcome me and slay me." Then said Christopher, "If thou fearest Satan, then thou art not the most powerful prince in the world; thou hast deceived me. I will go seek this Satan, and him will I serve; for he is mightier than thou art." 

So he departed, and he travelled far and wide; and as he crossed a desert plain, he beheld a great crowd of armed men, and at their head marched a terrible and frightful being, with the air of a conqueror: and he stopped Christopher on his path, saying, " Man, where goest thou?" And Christopher answered, "I go to seek Satan, because he is the greatest prince in the world, and him would I serve." Then the other replied, "I am he: seek no farther." Then Christopher bowed down before him, and entered his service; and they travelled on together.

Now, when they had journeyed a long, long way, they came to a place where four roads met, and there was a cross by the wayside. When the Evil One saw the cross he was seized with fear, and trembled violently; and he turned back, and made a great circuit to avoid it. When Christopher saw this he was astonished, and inquired, " Why hast thou done so ?" and the Devil answered not. Then said Christopher, "If thou tellest me not, I leave thee." So, being thus constrained, the fiend replied, " Upon that cross died Jesus Christ; and when I behold it I must tremble and fly, for I fear him." Then Christopher was more and more astonished; and he said, "How, then! this Jesus, whom thou fearest, must be more potent than thou art! I will go seek him, and him will I serve!" 

So he left the Devil, and travelled far and wide, seeking Christ; and, having sought him for many days, he came to the cell of a holy hermit, and desired of him that he would show him Christ. Then the hermit began to instruct him diligently, and said, "This king whom thou seekest is, indeed, the great king of heaven and earth; but if thou wouldst serve him, he will impose many and hard duties on thee. Thou must fast often." And Christopher said, "I will not fast; for, surely, if I were to fast my strength would leave me." "And thou must pray!" added the hermit. Said Christopher, " I know nothing of prayers, and I will not be bound to such a service." 

Then said the hermit, "Knowest thou a certain river, stony and wide and deep, and often swelled by the rains, and wherein many people perish who attempt to pass over ?" And he answered, " I know it." Then said the hermit, " Since thou wilt neither fast nor pray, go to that river, and use thy strength to aid and to save those who struggle with the stream, and those who are about to perish. It may be that this good work shall prove acceptable to Jesus Christ, whom thou desirest to serve; and that he may manifest himself to thee!" To which Christopher replied joyfully, "This I can do. It is a service that pleaseth me well!" 

So he went as the hermit had directed, and he dwelt by the side of the river; and, having rooted up a palm-tree from the forest, — so strong he was and tall, — he used it for a staff to support and guide his steps, and he aided those who were about to sink, and the weak he carried on his shoulders across the stream; and by day and by night he was always ready for his task, and failed not, and was never wearied of helping those who needed help.

So the thing that he did pleased our Lord, who looked down upon him out of heaven, and said within himself, "Behold this strong man, who knoweth not yet the way to worship me, yet hath found the way to serve me!"

    Now, when Christopher had spent many days in this toil, it came to pass one night, as he rested himself in a hut he had built of boughs, he heard a voice which called to him from the shore: it was the plaintive voice of a child, and it seemed to say, " Christopher, come forth and carry me over !" And he rose forthwith and looked out, but saw nothing; then he lay down again; but the voice called to him in the same words, a second and a third time; and the third time he sought round about with a lantern; and at length he beheld a little child sitting on the bank, who entreated him, saying, " Christopher, carry me over this night." And Christopher lifted the child on his strong shoulders, and took his staff and entered the stream. 

      And the waters rose higher and higher, and the waves roared, and the winds blew; and the infant on his shoulders became heavier, and still heavier, till it seemed to him that he must sink under the excessive weight, and he began to fear; but nevertheless, taking courage, and staying his tottering steps with his palm-staff, he at length reached the opposite bank; and when he had laid the child down, safely and gently, he looked upon him with astonishment, and he said, "Who art thou, child, that hath placed me in such extreme peril? Had I carried the whole world on my shoulders, the burden had not been heavier!" And the child replied, " Wonder not, Christopher, for thou hast not only borne the world, but him who made the world, upon thy shoulders. Me wouldst thou serve in this thy work of charity; and, behold, I have accepted thy service: and in testimony that I have accepted thy service and thee, plant thy staff in the ground, and it shall put forth leaves and fruit." Christopher did so, and the dry staff flourished as a palm-tree in the season, and was covered with clusters of dates, — but the miraculous child had vanished.

     Then Christopher fell on his face, and confessed and worshipped Christ."

After that, Christopher went to Lycia where, as stated in the Roman Martyrology, "being scourged with iron rods, cast into the flames, from which he was saved by the power of Christ, and finally transfixed with arrows and beheaded, he completed his martyrdom."  Before he died, however, he prayed that those who looked upon his image, trusting in God the Redeemer, should not suffer from tempest, earthquake, or fire.

25 July - Saint James; Coquillos Santiago

Weather:  As the weather is today, so it will be on Christmas Day.
on the other hand
If St. James' day is clear, then Christmas will be cold and frosty [that's a pretty good bet, either way]

On St. James' day, the weather before noon foretells the winter before Christmas, and after noon foretells the time after Christmas.  If the sun shines, there will be cold weather; if it rains, there will be warm and moist weather; if it is between the two, it will be neither too warm nor too cold.

Gardening:  Apples are blessed today.

"An old rule of the Husbandman:  When it is fair three Sundays after St. James his day, it betokeneth that corn shall be very good; but if it rain then the corn withereth."

This is the feast of Saint James the Greater, Apostle and Martyr, who was executed by Herod Agrippa in AD 44.  He and his brother John (the Evangelist) were sons of Zebedee and Salome, a fishing family on the shores of the Lake of Galilee.  Our Lord nicknamed the brothers Boanerges, 'the sons of thunder'.

He, John, and Peter formed the inner circle of the followers of Jesus.  They alone witnessed the Transfiguration, and accompanied Him to the Garden of Gethsemane (they fell asleep).

Spanish tradition says that James preached in Spain, where he is known as El Senor Santiago,  before returning to Jerusalem where he was martyred; his body was miraculously returned to Spain, eventually resting at Compostela, which became the site of the third largest shrine in all Christendom.

He is the patron of Spain, of horsemen, and of a whole lot of other places and occupations, which you can find at Saints.SQPN.  

Read more here about the pilgrimage to St. James, historically and present day, and check out this interactive website of the Catedral de Santiago.
An old tradition says that whoever eats oysters on St. James' day will never want money.  By an act of parliament, the sale of oysters was prohibited in England until the 25th of July, and one theory suggests that the tradition had its origin in the expense of these bivalves, for the first ones available for sale would be the most expensive, and only affordable by those who had money enough to afford them.

But it is scallop shells, not oyster shells, which are connected with Saint James.  The scallop shell was the badge of a pilgrim who had traveled to Compostela.

In honor of Saint James, have COQUILLOS SANTIAGO, better known as COQUILLES ST. JACQUES.

If you cannot find scallop shells in the cookery aisle, you can find them online.  For six servings, you will need 1 pound of fresh or frozen (and thawed) scallops.

Preheat oven to 400° F. and butter 6 scallop shells.

Wash and slice 1 pound of mushrooms and sprinkle them with the juice of 1 lemon.  In a saucepan, cook the mushrooms in 2 tablespoons of butter until golden brown.  Cut the scallops into quarters and add them to the mushrooms with 1 cup of dry white wine, 1 bay leaf, 1/4 teaspoon of ground thyme, 1/2 teaspoon of salt and 1/8 teaspoon of pepper.  Simmer, covered, for 5 minutes and drain, reserving 1 cup of the broth.

Make a white sauce by melting 3 tablespoons of butter in a saucepan and stirring in 3 tablespoons of flour.  Add the reserved broth and 1 cup of light cream, and stir over medium heat until it boils; boil and stir for 1 minute.  Remove from heat.

Add the scallops and mushrooms; spoon into the scallop shells.  In a small skillet over medium-low heat, melt 3-4 tablespoons of butter and stir in 1 cup of soft breadcrumbs.  Stir until crumbs are evenly crisp and golden brown.  Top the scallop mixture with buttered breadcrumbs, and bake for 10 minutes or until browned.
Saint James, protect us!

24 July 2011

24 July - Pioneer Day in Utah


Pioneer Day - the Days of '47 - commemorates the first Mormon (Latter Day Saints) trek across the western plains to the place where they hoped to establish 'a new Zion' and their arrival at Salt Lake Valley on July 24, 1847.  It is an official state holiday for Utah, with huge celebrations, especially in Salt Lake City.  Check out the Calendar on the Days of '47 website for a list of concerts, parades, and festivals (and the rodeo!) which will take place all week.

The Latter Day Saints (founded in 1829 by Joseph Smith, Jr.) had purchased the town of Commerce in western Illinois in 1839 and renamed it 'Nauvoo' - meaning Beautiful.  After years of persecutions and being expelled from communities where they had settled, Nauvoo was to be their Zion, a utopia of the righteous, where they could worship in peace.  Unfortunately, the peace did not last.  Increasing hostility led Smith to consider moving his people to an area further west where they could be free of government interference, and after Smith's murder in 1844, Brigham Young formulated the plans for the move west.

In February 1846, a group of about 14,000 Latter Day Saints started on the 1,300 mile long trail through Iowa, Nebraska, and Wyoming to the Great Basin (at that time a possession of Mexico).  Their plan was to leave some of the company at various places along the trail to develop farm/supply stations for subsequent bands of emigrants.  Unfortunately, heavy rains turned the roads into quagmires, and the largest part of the group was forced into Winter Quarters near Omaha, Nebraska during the winter of 1846-1847.  Setting out again in April of 1847 with a vanguard of 143 men, 3 women, and 2 children, Young saw the Salt Lake valley on July 24 and said "This is the right place."

For more on the Mormon Trail (which became an extensively traveled and well maintained emigrant highway between Salt Lake City and points east) see the Wikipedia article.  The Mormon Pioneer National Historic Trail is operated by the National Park System which has auto tours approximating the historic route with suggested sites to visit.   This page on the Mormon Trail discusses the methods of travel and the way the Mormons made it easier each year to travel to and from Salt Lake City.
Food for an emigrant journey west had to be carefully planned, as the pioneers couldn't just pull off the trail to the nearest fast-food joint, and trading posts were not only few and far between, but could be expensive as well.  In 1859, Randolph Marcy advised in his book "The Prairie Traveler":

The allowance of provisions for each grown person, to make the journey from the Missouri River to California, should suffice for 110 days. The following is deemed requisite, viz.: 150 Ibs. of flour, or its equivalent in hard bread; 25 Ibs. of bacon or pork, and enough fresh beef to be driven on the hoof to make up the meat component of the ration; 15 Ibs. of coffee, and 25 Ibs. of sugar; also a quantity of saleratus or yeast powders for making bread, and salt and pepper.

These are the chief articles of subsistence necessary for the trip, and they should be used with economy, reserving a good portion for the western half of the journey. Heretofore many of the California emigrants have improvidently exhausted their stocks of provisions before reaching their journey's end, and have, in many cases, been obliged to pay the most exorbitant prices in making up the deficiency. 

Heritage Gateways, the official website of the Mormon Trail Re-enactment, has an extensive amount of information about both the 1847 trek and the 1997 re-enactment, including biographies, maps, and the mundane things: food, amusements, life on the trail, etc.   Their Food section has recipes and directions for many of the meals which kept the pioneers alive and going on their way West.  Try the Jerky Stew in their honor.

24 July - Saint Christina and Christina Mirabilis

Today, from medieval times at least, is the feast of Saint Christina of Bolsena, 3rd century Virgin and Martyr.  As related in the old Roman Martyrologies:
"Believing in Christ and breaking up her father's gold and silver idols to give them to the poor, she was cruelly scourged by his command, subject to other most severe torments, and thrown with a heavy stone into the lake, for which she was drawn out by an angel [I'm not sure I'd thank that angel].  Then under another judge, who succeeded her father, she bore courageously still more bitter tortures.  Finally after she had been shut up by the governor Julian in a burning furnace for five days without any injury, and after being cured of the sting of serpents, she ended her martyrdom by having her tongue cut out and being pierced with arrows."

That is the short version.  The longer version, courtesy of The Golden Legend is this:
1. After she was scourged by her father and before she was thrown in the lake with a millstone around her neck, her body torn by iron hooks, "her tender members made to be all tobroken and departed from other", and she was laid out on a rack under which a fire was kindled (it didn't harm her).  Christina didn't show total resignation in all this; she picked up a piece of her torn flesh and threw it in her father's face, recommending him to eat it.  Her father then died and his place was taken by a cruel pagan judge.

2. Still refusing to worship the pagan gods, she was thrown in a tub full of burning pitch and oil (it didn't harm her).  She was then led naked and with shaven head through the streets to the temple of Apollo, which fell down at her word.  The judge then died and his place was taken by the governor.

3. Still refusing to worship the pagan gods [you'd think they would have caught on by now], she was put in a raging furnace for five days (it didn't harm her), survived poisonous serpents and vipers introduced into her prison cell (they didn't touch her), and had her breasts cut off.  Finally, the governor ordered that her tongue be cut out (she not only continued to speak, but threw the tongue at him, putting out one of his eyes), and then shot with arrows, after which she died.

She is the patroness of archers (from the arrows), mariners (from her dip in the lake) and millers (also from her dip in the lake, using a millstone as a flotation device).

Then we have a person referred to as "Saint" Christina, or "Blessed" Christina, or "Christina Mirabilis", aka "Christina the Astonishing".  There has never been a formal beatification or canonization, but it doesn't matter.  She has taken the public imagination, and the public has declared her a saint.

[Caveat: The Widow has been labeled irreverent, which is actually quite true, so if you have a particular devotion to Christina the Astonishing, please read no further. Thank you.]

So we have here Christina, born about 1150 in Belgium, an orphan with two sisters, who, at a young age, suffered a seizure and was presumed dead.  In the midst of her funeral, she sat up in her coffin (which must have startled the mourners no end); not content with that, she flew to the ceiling of the church, saying (in perfect charity) that she couldn't stand the stench of human sin filling the congregation.

Coaxed to come down from her perch, she told everyone that she had been to purgatory (where she had seen several familiar faces), hell (where she had seen several familiar faces) and heaven, where Our Lord looked at her with a 'favorable' eye and told her that she would be with Him (i.e. no purgatory or hell for her).  She had a choice, though.  She could stay in Heaven with Him now, or she could return to earth to a life of penance and prayer for the sinners in Purgatory.  She would be required to suffer great torments, which would not only help the Holy Souls, but also serve to convert the sinners around her as well.

Well, you don't get to be a saint in the calendar merely by dying of an epileptic fit.  She chose to come back.

Thereafter, she continued to earn the title "the Astonishing" by various acts ("strange incidents" says Saints.sqpn).  She is said to have flown to the tops of trees, perching on small branches (again to get away from the stink of sin in people), and took a Ferris wheel ride over a mill wheel, but came out unbroken.  Like her name saint, she sat in ovens, but the fire did not burn her (although she screamed in torment).  She stood in frozen waters for days on end - nope, not even a hint of frostbite.  Dogs bit her and thorns tore her flesh, but she emerged without scars.  Chains could not hold her, a broken leg could not stop her.

My favorite, though is the method wherein she would receive alms in the way of food.  If she determined that the almsgiver was sinful, she would eat the food and immediately have stomach pains (in reparation for his sins, she said), thus pointing out to everyone in the street that the pious alms were given by impious hands.  [Imagine trying to do an act of charity and instead being held up to public view as a sinner.  Any further acts would be toward someone who would receive more charitably.]

She died on the 24th or 25th  of July 1224 "of natural causes", and this time stayed dead.  I'm not sure that the people in her neighborhood didn't breathe a sigh of relief.

As it says at Catholic Exchange, "It is not for us to judge others."  Perhaps not.  She probably thought she was doing great good for the Holy Souls with her antics.  She likely would have done just as much good by praying for them, without all the hoopla.  Then again, you don't get a title like "The Astonishing" and a whole bunch of people praising you for being a 'fool for Christ', by merely praying.

You can find a fuller account, with several poems and the author's own artwork here.  The author seems to be more interested in Christina Mirabilis as a Person Who Annoyed the Clergy and Who Gave Absolution [like a priest] to A Penitent, but if you ignore the undertones, it is an interesting read.

22 July 2011

22 July - St. Mary Magdalene; Madeleines

Today is the feast of Saint Mary Magdalene, the sinful woman out of whom our Lord expelled seven demons, the sister of Martha and Lazarus, and the first (after His Mother) to see the Savior after He had risen from the dead.  Because she took the good news of the Risen Lord to the remaining eleven disciples, she has been called "the Apostle to the Apostles".

Read the entries at Catholic Encyclopedia and at Fisheaters for extensive articles on this popular saint and her importance as the example of the profound moral beauty of repentance.  The extremely long entry for the Magdalen in the Golden Legend gives her (and Lazarus and Martha) a noble parentage and a lot of Holy Land real estate, which they divided between them - Mary receiving the castle of Magdala, Martha, the castle at Bethany, and Lazarus, a great part of Jerusalem.  Their great wealth was given to the Apostles after Our Lord's Ascension, and at some point after the stoning of Saint Stephen, they were put in a rudderless boat which miraculously landed in Marseilles.  The story continues with several miracles accredited to Mary.

Her usual attribute in art is an alabaster jar, as seen in the image here, from the narratives of Luke 7:36-50 and John 12:3-8 when she anointed Our Lord's feet with an ointment of spikenard.  In depictions of the Crucifixion, she is usually shown as a young woman with unbound hair streaming over her shoulders as she embraces the Cross in a frenzy of grief.


Roses begin to fade today [although with the weather we are having now, I'd say they were burnt to a crisp]
Love charm:

To dream of your future husband, dip a sprig of rosemary in a mixture of wine, rum, gin, vinegar, and water [how much of each is your guess].  Take three sips of this mixture and stagger off to bed.  Your future husband should appear to you in a dream. [I'll just bet!  And try explaining to your mother that you've raided her liquor cabinet in a worthy cause.]

In honor of Saint Mary, have MADELEINES at tea today.  These are small, shell-shaped cakes, baked in a madeleine pan.  This recipe makes about 40.

Butter the madeleine pans (and do be thorough; you don't want the cakes to stick to the pan).  Some people also flour the pans.

Clarify 2 sticks of butter (1 cup) and allow to cool (instructions for clarifying butter).  You will need 3/4 cup of clarified butter for this recipe.

Grate lemon rind to equal 1/2 teaspoon.

Preheat oven to 450° F.
Note: if you do not have a double boiler, use a flat-bottomed bowl for the egg mixture and suspend it over a saucepan of hot water.  Do not let the water boil or touch the bottom of the bowl.

Heat a couple of inches of water in the bottom part of a double boiler over low heat to hot, but not boiling.  In the top part of the double boiler, blend together 2 eggs, 3/4 cup of sugar and the the grated lemon rind.  Put over the hot water and heat for 5 to 10 minutes, or until the egg mixture is lukewarm (about 100°).  Remove from heat and beat with an electric mixer at high speed until light and fluffy and tripled in volume. Stir in 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla.

Sift or sprinkle 1 cup of flour, about 1/2 cup at a time, over the egg mixture and gently fold in with a rubber spatula or whisk.  Fold in the clarified butter. (You don't want to beat down the volume, so stir these ingredients in only until mixed.)

Fill madeleine pans 2/3 full with batter.  Bake 7 to 8 minutes or until golden brown.  Let them stand for a couple of minutes before removing from the pans.  Butter the pans again, fill, and bake. Repeat until there is no batter remaining.

20 July 2011

20 July - Saint Margaret

Weather: If St. Margaret's Day be dry, God will give us a fine autumn.

from a 15th c. illuminated manuscript

Today is the feast of Saint Margaret of Antioch, virgin and martyr (early 4th century).

She was a young woman of good family who, to the dismay of her pagan father, was baptized a Christian.  The local prefect, falling in love with her beauty, tried to make her either his wife or his mistress, but she repulsed his advances and professed her faith and love for Christ alone.  For this, she was subjected to various torments in an effort to make her apostatize, but she held firm, and was eventually beheaded.

Saint Margaret was one of the most popular female saints in the medieval calendar, joining Saint Catherine of Alexandria and Saint Barbara as one of the female Auxiliary Saints or Fourteen Holy Helpers.  With Saint Catherine and Saint Michael, she appeared to the young Joan of Arc, sending that young woman on her own saintly quest.

(You can read more about the Fourteen Holy Helpers, including a litany for their intercession at Catholic Culture.)

Saint Margaret was invoked by women in childbirth and by those suffering from gallstones, kidney problems, and other painful afflictions that we pray will pass without much discomfort.  One reason for this patronage comes from the part of her story (which the Golden Legend, with a straight face, considers apocryphal) that she was swallowed by the devil in the form of a dragon, but by making the Sign of the Cross, or by virtue of a Cross which she carried with her, the dragon was forced to disgorge her and flee.  For this reason, Margaret is often depicted standing in or near a dragon.

The other reason comes from the prayer she said before her execution.  This is the version found in the Golden Legend: "And that got, she prayed to our Lord, saying: Father Almighty, I yield to thee thankings that thou hast suffered me to come to this glory, beseeching thee to pardon them that pursue me. And I beseech thee, good Lord, that of thy abundant grace, thou wilt grant unto all them that write my passion, read it or hear, and to them that remember me, that they may deserve to have plain remission and forgiveness of all their sins. And also, good Lord, if any woman with child travailing in any place, call on me that thou wilt keep her from peril, and that the child may be delivered from her belly without any hurt of his members. And when she had finished her prayer there was a voice heard from heaven saying, that her prayers were heard and granted, and that the gates of heaven were open and abode for her, and bade her come into the country of everlasting rest."

And what more appropriate to celebrate the day than with a MARGARITA:
Rub the rim of a champagne glass or cocktail glass with a piece of lime and dip it in a dish of salt.
Mix together the juice of 1 lime, 1/2 ounce of Triple Sec, and 1 to 1-1/2 ounces of tequila with cracked ice.  Shake and strain into the glass.

There is also a cocktail called the GREEN DRAGON:
Mix together the juice of 1/4 of a lemon, 1/2 ounce of Kummel (a caraway-flavored liqueur), 1/2 ounce of Creme de Menthe, 1-1/2 ounces of dry gin, and 4 dashes of orange bitters with cracked ice.  Shake well and strain into a cocktail glass.

(Although this last one might cause you to see green dragons... Tread carefully.)

16 July 2011

16 July - Mission San Diego

Mission San Diego de Acala in 1848.  Source

Today in 1769, Father Junipero Serra celebrated Mass at a site chosen for the first mission church in Alta California.  It looked like a promising place, situated on the banks of a river with a Yuman village nearby, overlooking the bay which the explorer Vizcaino had named San Diego de Acala in 1602 in honor of Saint Didacus.

A promising start, and it went downhill from there.  The soil was thin, the water necessary for crops was either too much or not enough, the local Indians were understandably leery of these people who had arrived in a weakened condition and the illnesses they could be bringing, and the soldiers at the nearby presidio, while affording some protection for the mission, caused innumerable problems with their treatment of the natives.  The supplies needed to maintain both mission and garrison until they could be self-sufficient were not forthcoming, and it looked as if the settlement would have to be abandoned.

Supplies arrived to keep the mission going, but the other problems remained.  In 1774, Father Jaime, in charge during Father Serra's absence, moved Mission San Diego inland about six miles.  There the natives seemed more receptive, the land looked easier to work, the water situation could be regulated, and the soldiers, close enough for emergencies, were too far away to be a daily nuisance. Surviving uprisings, earthquakes, and land which remained poor, the mission provided spiritual comfort and training in agricultural and domestic arts to the native population until 1834 when all of the missions were secularized by order of the Mexican government.

You can find a short history of the mission at the Mission Basilica San Diego de Acala website, and photos here.  A visual tour is available here at A Virtual Tour of the California Missions.

Saint Didacus of Alcala (c1400 - 1463) was born of humble parents near Seville in Spain.  He evinced a desire for the spiritual life and studied scripture and devotional exercises with a local hermit before joining the Franciscans as a lay brother at Arrizafa, near Cordoba.

His success as a missionary to the Canary Islands led to his being chosen as the guardian of the Franciscan community on Fuerteventura, a responsibility unusual for lay brothers.  In 1450, he went to Rome to attend the canonization of Bernardine of Siena, and stayed at the monastery of Santa Maria in Aracoeli, where he took charge of the infirmary.  Several miracles, including despaired-of cures, were credited to him there and at the infirmary of the University of Alcala, where he served until his death in 1463.  His feast day is November 12 (November 13 in the traditional calendar).

For those interested in the California Missions, there are several good books, some of which are listed on the Virtual Tour of the California Missions site or can be ordered through the Mission San Diego giftshop.

My personal favorites are found at Bellerophon Books, like the two seen here: Saints of the California Missions (right) and California Missions: The Earliest Series of Views Made in 1856 (above).  The second named is based on the travel journal and drawings of Henry Miller, who wrote of Mission San Diego: "...I went to the Mission, which lies in an easterly direction from here, about six miles distant, on the end of a fine valley full of pasture... The mission buildings have lost their ancient appearance, having been renovated by the government, and serve now as the quarters of United States troops."

Of the town of San Diego, he had this to say: "This town is only three miles from the boundary line and had a considerable trade formerly.  It has about 2,500 inhabitants, who seem to get poorer every day... On the 21st of September I left this town, offering no attractions, well contented to leave behind me the dreary bay, without shipping, and the sluggish natives and Mexicans, living in contented misery."  However, he added, "At some future time San Diego cannot fail to become a place of great importance..." and in spite of the 'dreary' bay and 'contented misery', it has.

15 July 2011

15 July - Saint Swithin; Apple Cake

Weather: If, on St. Swithin's day, it proves fair, a temperate winter will follow; but if rainy, stormy or windy, then the contrary.

If it rains even a few drops, it is said that St. Swithin is christening the apples, and the early sorts can be picked.

If St. Swithun weeps, the proverb says,
The weather will be foul for forty days.

[and the most well known:]
Saint Swithin's day, if thou dost rain, for forty days it will remain;
Saint Swithin's day, if thou be fair, for forty days 'twill rain no more [or 'nae mair' if you must have a perfect rhyme]
Of all the weather-marking saints in the calendar, Saint Swithin (or Swithun) is arguably the most popular, at least in the English-speaking countries.  Most people have come across the last rhyme above at least once, and some of them even know the legend behind it. Swithin, himself, is pretty much lost.

Swithin lived in 9th century Saxon England, a young man of good family who was educated in Winchester, where he became a monk, then a priest, then a dean.  He was appointed confessor to King Egbert, who made him responsible for the education of the heir, Prince Ethelwolf.  In return, Ethelwolf had him chosen Bishop of Winchester, and granted a tenth of the land of England to the church, for which prayers were said for the king in all churches every Wednesday.

Bishop Swithin died on the 2nd of July, 862, and was buried in the churchyard at Winchester.  The feast today memorializes the translation of his relics.

The legend is that the humble Bishop, not wishing to be buried in the minster, as was the custom for bishops, desired to be buried in the open churchyard where the rain of Heaven could fall upon him, and so he was.  But his sanctity leading to miracles leading to canonization, the monks determined that his relics deserved a noble shrine within the cathedral, and made plans to move his body.  However, the saint disapproved, and on the day chosen for the translation of his relics, and for forty days after, he caused a heavy rain to fall, and the monks, taking the hint, left his body in the churchyard.

At some point, Saint Swithin must have relented (another legend says that a heavenly vision was the agency), for his relics were moved to a shrine inside the cathedral, which became a place of pilgrimage until it was destroyed and the relics scattered by order of Henry VIII.

A few sprigs of Wych elm placed in vases indoors today are said to prevent a curse from St. Swithin, although why he would curse anyone is a mystery.  Perhaps it is meant to mitigate the excessive rain (or excessive drought), so that we receive enough and no more.

Meanwhile, if St. Swithin christens the apples, make something festive, like APPLE CAKE.

Peel and slice 2 pounds of tart apples.
Preheat oven to 350° F.
Grease and lightly flour a 9" x 13" pan.

In a large bowl, mix together 2 cups of flour with 4 teaspoons of baking powder.

In another bowl, beat 4 eggs well.  Stir in 1-1/2 cups of sugar and 1 cup of oil.  Add to flour mixture and mix well.

Toss the apples with 1 teaspoon of cinnamon.  Fold apples into dough.  Pour into the baking pan and bake for 45-50 minutes, or until done.

11 July 2011

11 July - Saint Benedict; Honey Cake

Weather: If it rains on Saint Benedict's Day, it will rain for forty days.

In the new calendar, this is the feast of Saint Benedict, the same whom I wrote about on the 21st of March.  In medieval calendars, this was a commemoration of the translation of his relics as found in OSB. Saints of the Order of Saint Benedict:

Translation of St. Benedict. Fleury (St. BenĂ´it sur Loire) and many other monasteries commemorate on 11 July the Translation of the relics of Saints Benedict and Scholastica about the year 652, in the reign of King Clovis II. During the Norman invasion the remains were hidden in different places and for a long time reposed in the church of St. Anian at Orleans, until they were finally carried back to Fleury. On 20 March 1107 they were placed in an eleborate shrine in the presence of King Louis VI and of bishops John II of Orleans and Humbald of Auxerre. When the commendatory abbot Aventin apostatized in 1561, he appropriated the costly reliquary but left the contents with Prior Foubert. The relics were placed in a silver shrine in 1653. Several other monasteries claim to possess relics of St. Benedict-- notably Monte Cassino and Metten. The relics of St. Scholastica were at one time preserved in Mans. 179.

Well, he's a great enough saint to be spread over a couple of days.

At this time of year, bees are working their hardest to turn nectar into honey.  Saint Benedict is said to be a patron of beekeepers (which I take leave to doubt) and today is a good reminder to ask a Blessing on the Bees.

Herein the Widow was going to rant about people who believe everything they find on the Internet and pass it along, but she has changed her mind.  There is nothing but one page (the above link) which claims that Benedict is the patron of apiarists, and a bunch of pages copying it, every one of them  accepting it without question (much like the oft-repeated "pineapple is a symbol of hospitality" myth.  Try tracing that one back to its source.  Let me know if you do.)

Well, today is too nice a day for a rant.  I will assuage my conscience by saying that the bees need all the help they can get, so today is as good a day as any, and probably better than most, to ask a blessing on the bees and the beekeepers.

Meanwhile, here is a recipe by Mrs. W. P. Trotter for HONEY CAKE which I found in Mountain Makin's in the Smokies, a cookbook which you can find here at the Great Smoky Mountains Association.  It uses sour milk, something that I am always surprised to find in my refrigerator.

"1/2 cup shortening
1 cup honey
1 egg, well beaten
1/2 cup sour milk
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

Cream shortening.  Add honey and egg.  Sift flour; measure and sift with baking powder, salt [note: the ingredients didn't list salt, and I've never used it with this recipe] and cinnamon.  Add milk with first mixture.  Mix thoroughly.  Pour into shallow, well-oiled pan*.  Bake in moderate oven (375°) 50 minutes."

*I use an 8" x 8" x 2" square baking pan.

10 July 2011

10 July - Seven Holy Brothers

Weather: As the weather is on the feast of the Seven Brothers, so will it be for the next seven weeks.

If it rains on July 10th, it will rain for seven weeks.

Today is the feast of the Seven Holy Brothers, martyrs (2nd century).  In the medieval Golden Legend, their names were Januarius, Felix, Philip, Silvanus, Alexander, Vital, and Marcial, the sons of Saint Felicitas of Rome.  They were condemned for their faith and suffered various torments, exhorted by their mother to stand fast as believers in Jesus Christ.  Having watched the execution of each son, from the eldest to the youngest, strengthening their resolve to the last, she also suffered martyrdom.

Similar is the story of St. Symphorosa and her seven sons, whose feast is July 18.  Both legends may have been influenced by the story of the Seven Holy Maccabees (feast: August 1), related in 2 Maccabees, Chapter 7.  This is the month of 'sevens', for the feast of the Seven Sleepers of Ephesus is on July 27.

If you are barbecuing today, or on any of the above days, honor all these sevens by including the Old World custom associated with the New World Pennsylvania-Germans: the "Seven Sweets and Seven Sours".

The 'sweets' can include fruits like spiced peaches, gingered pears, spiced apple rings, sweet pickles, pickled or candied watermelon rind, apple butter, honey, jams and jellies, and other sweet conserves.

The 'sours' can be represented by various tangy pickles - onions, cucumber, carrot, yellow bean, green tomato, etc. - and relishes - chowchow, corn relish, and mixed vegetable relish, as well as the usual cucumber relish.

For more sweets and sours, and recipes to make them, see Oddity Recipes of the Pennsylvania Dutch, and Alan's Kitchen

To get you started, here is a well-tried (and well-received) recipe for BREAD AND BUTTER PICKLES:

This makes 6 pints or 3 quarts (I used quart jars.  It was easier.)

First, sterilize your jars, lids, and lid rings.

Wash (do not pare) and thinly slice into rounds enough cucumbers to equal one gallon (16 cups).  Yes, that's a lot of pickles.  Approximately 32 pickling cukes.

Peel and thinly slice 8 medium onions into rounds.

Wash 2 red or green bell peppers and slice into thin strips.

Put the vegetables in a large bowl, and sprinkle with 1/2 cup of coarse salt (like kosher salt). Pour 1 cup of water over the vegetable, then cover with a layer of about 1 quart of crushed ice [the first time I tried this recipe, I didn't have crushed ice, so I used the ice cubes from four ice-cube trays. It worked fine.  Crushed ice is easier, though].  Put a plate on top of the ice and something on the plate as a weight, like a large can of crushed tomatoes.  Let it stand for 3 hours, then drain.

In a large pot (stainless steel, glass, ceramic, or enamelware), combine 2-1/2 cups of sugar, 2-1/2 cups of white vinegar, 1 tablespoon of mustard seed, 1/2 teaspoon of tumeric, and 1/2 teaspoon of whole cloves.  Bring this mixture to a boil.  Add the vegetables and heat JUST to the boiling point.  Do Not Boil.  Remove pot from heat.

Fill the jars to overflowing.  Wipe the rims carefully, top with a lid, and screw the band on tightly.  Let the jars cool, then check the seal of the lid by pressing on the top.  If it pops up and down, it isn't sealed.  Tighten the band again and put the jar in the refrigerator.  If the seal is good, put the jars away in the pantry.

Then wait a couple of weeks before serving, to allow the flavors to meld.

07 July 2011

7 July - Clam Boil

Weather: Rain today means rain for the next four weeks.

A CLAM BOIL is hardly elegant, but nobody cares.  It is easily done, takes about half an hour to fix (after you've cleaned the clams), and serving is very informal (one guy lays down several layers of newspaper on his picnic table and then pours the drained contents of the pot(s) down the middle of the table for his guests to grab, spear, and eat. The kids love it, of course).  So tie on your bibs, tuck large serviettes into your shirt collars, and dig in.

I have a large steamer (the lower part has a spigot for pouring off all that lovely clam broth into individual cups), and I prefer to boil the other ingredients in one large pot and the clams in the steamer.  But here is the recipe for one large kettle.  It serves 4, so add and subtract as you see fit.

First, clean your clams.  It is best to do this overnight, giving the little darlings time to get all that grit and sand out of their system.  Scrub all of the clam-shells with a stiff brush.  Put the clams in a large kettle with enough salty water to cover (1/3 cup of salt for every gallon of water).  Sprinkle cornmeal over the clams (1/4 cup of cornmeal for every quart of clams).  Let them soak for at least 3 hours or overnight in the refrigerator.

Now, for the main event:
4 yams (or more) in their jackets
4 largish white potatoes, or 8 small white potatoes or new potatoes (or more) in their jackets
8 boiling onions (or more), peeled
8 ears of corn, husked, cleaned, and cut in half (or thirds, if they are long enough)
1 pound of hot dogs or frankfurters
1 pound (or more) of spicy, smoked sausage such as chourico (chorizo) or andouille, cut into 2-inch pieces
4 - 6 quarts of clams

In a large kettle, heat to boiling enough water to cover the yams.  Add the yams, cover and boil for about 10 minutes (if I'm using large white potatoes, I'll add them now as well).

Add the onions (and the small white or new potatoes, if using) to the boiling water or on top of the yams, cover, and boil for 10 minutes.

Add the corn and the meat on top; cover and boil for 5 minutes.

Add the clams on top; cover and boil for about 6 - 8 minutes.  (Don't overcook them)

When most (hopefully all) of the clams have opened, remove everything from the pot and serve (I pile all the clams in a large, shallow dish, and all of the other ingredients in another large, shallow dish).  Strain the broth and give each person a cup of broth and a cup or small dish of melted butter.  Serve with lots of good bread - brown bread is preferred.

To eat, grab the clam from its shell, give it a swish in the clam broth, dip it in the melted butter, and then "drop with the hand and arm, describing a majestic curve through the air, into the watering mouth."

What's that?  We're not supposed to eat shellfish in a month without an "R"?......  trust me, Rhode Islanders can put an 'R' anywhere.  Just ask them to pronounce "Bermuda".  All months have an 'R'.

Truthfully, however, the "no R" ban has to do with the excessive algae growth connected with the summer months.  The collected toxins are poisonous.  Buy your shellfish from a reputable dealer, and you should be all right.  If you are going to hunt your own, however, check with your state for warnings about red tides and shellfishing closures.

06 July 2011

6 July - St. Godelieve

Weather: The weather on St. Godelieve's day foretells the weather of the next six weeks.

If it rains on St. Godelieve, it will rain for forty days.

If it rains on St. Godelieve, the Lord is blessing the vegetable gardens [that one I like]
Poor Saint Godelieve! (Or Godelina as she is found in the Catholic Encyclopedia)

Dear Agony Aunt:  I need your advice on how to help my sister, Lieve.  She was always such a good girl, and I really thought she was going to become a nun - in fact, that is what she wanted, even though a lot of the guys wanted to marry her.  She was always going around and helping the poor, so much so that even Dad, who's no slouch when it comes to charity, got a bit testy with her for using funds he'd earmarked for something else.

One of the guys who wanted to marry her was a real creep, you know?  He could put on a good act of being a nice guy, but we could tell.  You see, he's one of those boys who always got what he wanted, when he wanted it.  His mother (and she is TOXIC) never said no to him - the most she would do, when he was being a brat was to say "Oh, Bertolf, you know it makes Mama sad when you act like that."  Puke!  And if one of us told our parents that Berty was a bully and they complained to her, she'd start yelling about how dare they accuse her pwecious, he might be high-spirited, etc., and there were libel laws, etc., and if there was any trouble it's because we girls were leading him on, etc..

You can see where this is going.  All the guys wanted to marry Lieve, so naturally Berty wanted what everyone else wanted.  He started coming around, and 'acting' like a gentleman  - everyone thought that he'd outgrown his 'high-spirits'.  Even Lieve was impressed by the way he treated her. And because his family belongs to the same country club as Dad's boss, he got Dad's boss to weigh in as well.  Anyway, Lieve married Berty a week after she graduated high school.

We didn't hear from her for a long time.  Berty's mom likes to spend a lot of time at this ranch she bought - she likes wide open spaces where there aren't a lot of people around - so naturally Berty and Lieve went with her.  There was no phone service out there and no email - we tried Lieve's cell phone, but it kept saying 'not in service'.  I wrote to her several times, but never got an answer back.

Then one night she showed up out of the blue.  Merciful God! She looked terrible!  Her body was emaciated, she had half-healed bruises and sores, her hair was starting to fall out.  She hadn't been married one night before Berty started beating her (and other things too, but I had to leave the room while she told my parents).  He destroyed her cell phone and made sure there was no way she could get a message to anyone.  She never knew that I had written because he destroyed my letters before she saw them. He spread a bunch of vicious lies about her, so that nobody would sympathize with her or help her, and then told her that nobody cared about her, not even her family.  And when he had to leave on one of his business trips, his mother locked her in her room and occasionally remembered to feed her.

How she managed to escape without getting caught, I'll never know.  Anyway, Dad called the authorities and swore out a complaint.  Berty was hauled in, but managed to talk his way out of it.  Oh, he put on a good act, tearfully begging Lieve's pardon, promising amendment, blaming some obscure medical condition.  He was taking drugs for it now, he would go to the anger management classes, everything would be okay if she would forgive him and come home, he'd never lay a hand on her again... As for Toxic Mommy Dearest, well, she was old and forgetful at times, she really loves Lieve, but sometimes she just doesn't know what day it is, she didn't realize that Lieve had somehow got locked in the room, 'how foolish of you, darling'... Puke!

And everyone fell for it!  Lieve likes to quote the Bible about a woman being subject to her husband, and my parents thought that spoiled brat Berty was finally growing up.  Anyway, they went back to the ranch, looking like the most loving couple in the world.  I managed to get another cell phone for my sister and told her to hide it from Berty - she started to say something about not having any secrets from her husband, but I made her promise.

That was a year ago.  Things aren't much better.  They aren't as bad as before, but Berty seems to go off his medication a lot.  However, he always comes back crying and begging her pardon, and she seems to agree with him that she must be aggravating, otherwise he wouldn't hit her...  And Toxic Mom is still there, doing the most hurtful things, but Lieve says that it is just onset of dementia according to Berty.  Oh, and that she deserves to be 'chastised' because she is not a good wife, but that Berty said today (before he left on one of his business trips) that he was very sorry for his treatment of her, there must be something wrong with the dosage he's been taking, and he wants to try marriage counseling.

What can I do?  They are destroying my sister.  I can't let them do that to her.  What can I do?
Dear Agony Aunt: Never mind.  Word came today that my sister died in her sleep.  I don't believe it, but Toxic Mom's doctor signed off on the certificate, so there will be no autopsy.  Well, at last she is free of Berty.
I hope that's her mother-in-law she's standing on
Godelieve (c1049 - 1070) was a pious woman of good family who was married at a young age to Bertolf of Ghistelles.  He and his mother physically and psychologically abused her, his mother going so far as to lock Godelieve in a small cell and feeding her barely enough to keep her alive.  Godelieve managed to escape and returned to her family, who brought the forces of Church and State against Bertolf, until he repented of his actions and promised to treat his wife better. 

Once back in his own lands, however, he again abused his wife.  Finally, he told her that he believed he had been bewitched, and that if she would meet with a sorceress secretly in the woods that night, the spell would be removed.  He then rode away.  That night, two servants in the employ of Bertolf's mother led Godelieve out into the woods, where they strangled her, and then, to make sure that life was extinct, put her body in a nearby pond.  They then took her body back to the castle and put it back in her bed, to look as though she had died in the night of natural causes.

Miracles followed, including the restoration of sight to the blind-from-birth daughter of Bertolf's second marriage, who established a Benedictine abbey at Gistel dedicated to St. Godelieve.

You can read the 11th century Life of Saint Godelieve by Drogo of Sint-Winoksbergen here.
This is good day to make a donation to women's shelters and programs which help abused women.  Finished reading your magazines?  They might be appreciated at the shelters.  Money is always good.  Gift cards to local grocery, pharmacy, and big box stores, phone cards, bus passes as well. OTC medicine for children, housekeeping supplies, socks and underwear... even coupons for these items can be used.  Our state's resource center for women has a webpage with suggestions for donations.  I'm sure your local resource center does also (and if not, go the old-fashioned route and call them).

And prayer!  Don't forget prayers - our greatest weapon against evil.

Love Charm: On the sixth morning of July, go into the garden and pick a full-blown crimson rose.  At night, put it under your pillow.  Before going to sleep, you must repeat these lines:
In my dreams I hope to see
The lad who is to marry me.
In your dreams, you should see your future husband.

[Let's hope he isn't Berty.]

04 July 2011

4 July - St. Martin Bullion; St. Isabel of Portugal

Weather: If Bullion's Day be dry, there will be an early harvest.

If the deer rise up dry and lie down dry on Bullion's day, there will be a good harvest.

If it rains on the Translation of Martin, it will rain for 40 days.

If it rains on the fourth of July, there will be no grapes that year.

Today, medieval calendars celebrated the Ordination and Translation of Saint Martin as Bishop of Tours.  This is the same cloak-dividing saint of "St. Martin's Little Summer", whose feast day is November 11.  By most accounts, the 'Bullion' part of his name comes from the French "le bouilliant (the boiling), differentiating his 'hot' feast day in the summer from the colder one in late autumn.

"God made me a queen so that I may serve others"

In the New Calendar, this is the feast of Saint Elizabeth of Portugal, Queen and Widow (1271-1336).  In the Old Calendar, her feast is celebrated on July 8, so as not to interfere with the Octave of Saints Peter and Paul.

Isabel was the daughter of Pedro III of Aragon, a pious child who was married at a young age to King Diniz of Portugal.  Her husband, known as 'the troubadour king', was exemplary in his work for his kingdom, but his court was one of licentious and corrupt behavior, a sad trial to the new queen.  As with so many marriages, royal or otherwise, there were problems and misunderstandings between husband and wife, sustained by jealous courtiers to whom Isabel's piety was a conviction of their own wickedness.

She continued her religious practices, spending much time relieving the sick and the poor, building orphanages, hospitals, churches, and the Convent of Poor Clares at Coimbra.  When her grown son, Affonso, took arms in rebellion against his father, she rode between the armies and effected a reconciliation between the two men.  After her husband's death, she chose to retire to the convent at Coimbra as a Franciscan tertiary, but was called out again to make peace, this time between Affonso and his son-in-law, the King of Castile.  This negotiation took a heavy toll on her, and she died at Coimbra, where she is buried.  She was canonized in 1625, and is, as you might guess, a patroness of difficult marriages (among other things of which you can see the list here).

For an extensive and detailed (and very good) article on this exemplary medieval woman, please read "Elizabeth of Portugal: For in Her is a Spirit, Intelligent, Holy, Unique".

The Feast of the Holy Spirit (Festo do Espirito Santo) is celebrated in places with extensive Portuguese and Acorean populations, and owes it's popularity to Saint Isabel.  She and her husband had a special reverence for the Holy Spirit, building a church and creating a "Confraternity of the Holy Spirit" at the time of its dedication.

In emulation of the saint's devotion, Portuguese and Acoreans hold a special festival in the spring and summer months to honor the Holy Spirit.  The details of the celebrations differ - when it is held, how is the house 'altar' decorated, what is carried in the procession, etc., but in essentials, they are much the same.  Read here for an explanation of the feast as it is celebrated in Newport (click on 'Activities' and scroll down to "Holy Ghost Feast").

Members of the parish are chosen to sponsor the seven Domingas (Saturdays) leading up to the Feast, and host, in turn, a representation of the Holy Trinity or a crown, which is placed on a decorated home altar, awaiting the arrival of guests.  The Dominga sponsor fixes a lighted crown to his house as a sign that his family is the host for that week. Throughout the week, family and fellow parishioners gather to say the Rosary and pray to the Holy Spirit, followed by light refreshments. Some sponsors host a large party at the end of their week, and everyone turns out for the evening's festivities, of which food, music, and dancing make an especial part.  At the end of the week, the Holy Trinity and accoutrements are transferred to the next Dominga sponsor.  The eighth week is held at the house of the Mordomo.

On the Saturday of the eighth week, the representations are taken to the church hall, where devotions are followed by a large party.  After Mass on Sunday, the Dominga families, accompanied by bands, go in procession to the church hall, where a feast, open to all comers, is served.

There are a lot of recipes online for "Holy Ghost Soup" the highlight of the eating portion of this festival for many people.  Even better is to find a place at the festival table (and when they say 'open to all' they mean it) and enjoy a traditional bowl of a bread slice covered with broth and topped with meat and mint.  Heavenly!