27 August 2011

27 August - "The Most Dreadful Hurry Cane' of 1667

In 1667 (Old Style) (September 6th, New Style), "one of the most severe hurricanes ever to strike Virginia" struck with a vengeance.  "On the 27th of August there arose a hurricane which, for twenty-four hours, blew with unexampled fury. It began at the northeast and gradually moved around the north, until it roared directly from the west. It then veered to the southeast and there spent its force. This terrific wind was accompanied by a heavy rain, but there were no thunder and lightning. 

The great floods in the upper sections of the rivers were distinctly perceptible in the lower in spite of their width, and, to make the rise more destructive, the hurricane, in the beginning and at the end of its career, rolled the waters in the Bay and the mouths of the rivers back into the creeks, causing them to swell to such an unprecedented height that the families of many planters who did not reside in sight of a stream were compelled to seek refuge upon the tops of their houses in order to escape destruction.

Large vessels were swept over bars of sand where, at ordinary tide, a small boat would run aground, and at places where vessels could float at ease at the usual flood, the water was too shallow to keep them off the bottom. A vast quantity of Indian corn, not drowned in the rain which had been falling for forty-five days, was laid flat, the tobacco in the exposed places was torn to shreds, while that which had been cut and stored away was destroyed with the barns in which it had been deposited. 

The fences were either blown down or crushed out of shape by the falling trees, leaving the cattle at liberty to enter and devour the crops as they lay scattered over the fields. It was estimated that ten thousand houses were ruined by the hurricane, this number including, doubtless, barns and stables as well as the cabins of slaves and servants and the residences of planters. It was impossible for all of the crops to have been swept away, since much corn and tobacco were planted in spots more or less sheltered from winds by a heavy growth of forest. According to one calculation made at the time, the amount saved was about one-third only of the expected product according to another, only one-fifth.
Philip Alexander Bruce, Economic History of Virginia in the 17th Century, Volume 1, pp. 395-396 (1896)

Thomas Ludwell, secretary to Governor Sir William Berkeley, wrote to his boss's older brother, Lord Berkeley:
"This poor country is now reduced to a very miserable condition by a continental course of misfortune. On the 27th of August followed the most dreadful Hurry Cane that ever the Colony groaned under. It lasted 24 hours, began at North East and went around northerly till it came to west and so it came to Southeast where it ceased. It was accompanied with a most violent rain but no thunder. The night of it was the most dismal time I ever knew or heard of, for the wind and rain raised so confused a noise, mixed with the continued cracks of falling houses.....The waves were impetuously beaten against the shores and by that violence forced and as it were crowded into all creeks, rivers and bays to that prodigious height that it hazarded the drowning of many people who lived not in sight of the rivers, yet were then forced to climb to the top of their houses to keep themselves above water. The waves carried all the foundations of the Fort at Point Comfort into the river and most of furnished and garrison with it.....but then morning came and the sun risen it would have comforted us after such a night, had it not lighted to us the ruins of our plantations, of which I think not one escaped. The nearest computation is at least 10,000 houses blown down, all the Indian grain laid flat on the ground, all the tobacco in the fields torn to pieces and most of that which was in the houses perished with them. The fences about the corn fields were either blown down or beaten to the ground by trees which fell upon them."

Another report of the hurricane and its effects was published anonymously a decade later in a 1677 London pamphlet called "Strange News from Virginia":
"Sir having this opportunity, I cannot but acquaint you with the relation of a very strange tempest which hath been in these parts (with us called a hurricane) which had began August 27th  and continued with such violence, that it overturned many houses, burying in the ruines much goods and many people, beating to the ground such as were any wayes employed in the fields, blowing many cattle that were near the sea or rivers, into them., whereby unknown numbers have perished, to the great affliction of all people, few having escaped who have not suffered in their persons or estates, much corn was blown away, and great quantities of tobacco have been lost, to the great damage of many, and utter undoing of others. Neither did it end here, but the trees were torn up by the roots, and in many places whole woods blown down so that they cannot go from plantation to plantation. The sea (by the violence of the wind) swelled twelve feet above its usual height drowning the whole country before it, with many of the inhabitants, their cattle and goods, the rest being forced to save themselves in the mountains nearest adjoining, while they were forced to remain many days together in great want."

26 August 2011

26 August - Great Caesar in Britannia

Weather - Tradition says that it always rains today.

Well, tradition is off by a day this year, at least in the Smallest State.  Tomorrow we shall have rain and plenty of it, with high winds to boot, as a really obnoxious windbag named Irene comes for a weekend visit.

Part of the Welcoming Committee
Today, ante diem VII kalendis Septembris, or sometime around now, Julius Caesar paid a visit to the island of the Britons for the first time - and promptly retreated back out to deeper waters.  The welcoming committee - two of whom might have resembled these handsome fellows to the left - wasn't very welcoming.  As Caesar was reasonably annoyed that the Britons sent men to fight against him in Gaul and was coming to put an end to this sort of thing, this lack of hospitality is understandable.  This is his side of the story regarding his first choice of landing-place at Dover:

These matters being arranged, finding the weather favorable for his voyage, he set sail about the third watch, and ordered the horse to march forward to the further port, and there embark and follow him. As this was performed rather tardily by them, he himself reached Britain with the first squadron of ships, about the fourth hour of the day, and there saw the forces of the enemy drawn up in arms on all the hills. The nature of the place was this: the sea was confined by mountains so close to it that a dart could be thrown from their summit upon the shore. 

Considering this by no means a fit place for disembarking, he remained at anchor till the ninth hour, for the other ships to arrive there. Having in the mean time assembled the lieutenants and military tribunes, he told them both what he had learned from Volusenus, and what he wished to be done; and enjoined them (as the principle of military matters, and especially as maritime affairs, which have a precipitate and uncertain action, required) that all things should be performed by them at a nod and at the instant. Having dismissed them, meeting both with wind and tide favorable at the same time, the signal being given and the anchor weighed, he advanced about seven miles from that place, and stationed his fleet over against an open and level shore. Gaius Julius Caesar, Gallic Wars, Book IV, Chapter 23.

For the Romans to land at Dover would be like shooting fish in a barrel, with the Romans being the fish.  Caesar weighed anchor and moved down shore to a more congenial area.  His hosts, anticipating that he was likely a stubborn fellow and might not be put off by his cold welcome, followed his ships overland to his new landing spot and prepared to repulse any further attempts.  In this they were aided by (among other things) the design of the Roman ships, high tide, and one of those gales that occasionally springs up in the Channel.

You can read the account of his first attempt in Book IV and Book V with the second and much more successful attempt at the website for the Roman Britain Organization. (Yes, the page for Book V says Book IV at the top; just ignore that.)

Artwork from Ancient Costumes of Great Britain and Ireland, by Charles Hamilton Smith, 1814.

26 August - For my sister

Another year has gone by, and my youngest sister is another year older today, so herein I wish her a happy birthday and many happy returns of the day.

With the usual cake

and a symbolic number of candles.

Both she and my younger sister will gleefully remind everyone that I am older than they, and always will be... which is true, I will admit, but merely being younger does not stop nature in its course.  So for my sisters, the one whose birthday is today, and the other whose birthday cometh up in a couple of weeks, I offer the following:

[ Men, and other squeamish types, kindly avert your gaze please ]

Do your boobs hang low?
Do they wobble to and fro?
Can you tie them in a knot?
Can you tie them in a bow?
Can you throw them over your shoulder
Like a Continental soldier?
Do your boobs hang low?

With much love from your eldest, and still evil, sister.

24 August 2011

24 August - St. Bartholomew; Fruit Leather

Weather: As on Bartholomew's Day, so the whole autumn.

If Bartelmy's day be fair and clear
Hope for a prosperous autumn that year.

If it rains on Bartholomew's day, it will rain the forty days after.
St. Bartholomew's mantle wipes dry
All the tears that St. Swithin can cry. [St. Bartholomew comes 40 days after St. Swithin]

Thunderstorms after Bartholomew's day are more violent.

If the day be misty, the morning beginning with a hoar frost, the cold weather can soon be expected and a hard winter [and goodbye to the grape harvest and any further tomatoes]

St. Bartholomew
Brings the cold dew.

Saint Bartholomew shortens our afternoons.

Gardening: The sunflower is also called "St. Bartholomew's Star".

Nature: This is a traditional day to hunt quail.

Today is the feast of Saint Bartholomew, Apostle and Martyr, "who preached the Gospel of Christ in India.  He passed thence into the Greater Armenia, where, after converting many to the faith, he was flayed alive by the barbarians, and beheaded by order of king Astyages, and thus he terminated his martyrdom.  His sacred body was first carried to the island of Lipara, then to Benevento, and finally to Rome in the island of the Tiber, where it is venerated by the pious faithful". Roman Martyrology, 1916

Michelangelo, 1541
By virtue of his martyrdom of being flayed alive, he is the patron of those who procure or work with leather - butchers, tanners, shoemakers, bookbinders, etc.  His emblem in the old clog almanacks was a knife, and he is often depicted with it and his flayed skin, as in the painting of The Last Judgment in the Sistine Chapel, above [the face on the flayed skin is supposed to be that of Michelangelo].

In his honor, FRUIT LEATHER would be a good thing to make today.  Basically it is ripe fruit mashed or pureed into a pulp, sweetened if necessary, then spooned onto a flat surface - a plate or cookie sheet (lined with waxed paper or foil if you want your life to be easier) - then placed in the sun or in a slow oven to thicken and dry.  Once that is done you can sprinkle on powdered sugar, cut the whole mass into strips, roll them up, and store them in something airtight.  And eat them.

The easiest recipe I've found is here.  It uses only four cups of fruit at a time, and dries the leather in the oven.

This is an old recipe that has worked for me.  It can be cut in half:
Prepare enough fruit to equal 10 cups.  This means pare, peel, core, de-stem, wash, and cut up fruit as needed.  Cherries just need to be washed, de-stemmed, pitted, and cut in half. 

Put the fruit in a large saucepan with about 1 cup of water; bring it to a boil, stirring occasionally, until the fruit is cooked and very soft.  Use a masher or the side of a spoon to break up the pieces. 

Remove from heat and when cool enough, taste the mixture to see if you will need to add sugar (sometimes yes, sometimes no.  Really ripe fruit tends to have a lot of sugar).  Add sugar a little at a time until it is sweet enough for you.

Pour the mixture, in batches if necessary, into a blender or food processor and puree until smooth.  Or go the really old-fashioned route and use your own arm muscles to mash and stir until it is smooth.

Cover baking sheets with waxed paper, parchment or strong plastic wrap (and we're talking lipped baking sheets here, with about 1/2-inch or higher walls).  Pour some the puree in each and spread it to about the depth of 1/4 inch.  If you don't want one giant piece of leather, pour the puree in small amounts like pancake batter.  Makes a nice snacking and storing size.

You can dry it in a slow oven overnight if you prefer.  I carry the pans outside to the picnic table (which has been moved into the middle of the yard, away from trees and shade), carefully tent them with cheesecloth to keep off bugs and anything else that might drop from the air, and let the sun dry them.  If they still need drying at the end of the day, they can be finished in the slow oven (150° F).  When the top is dry and smooth, the leather is done.  Test by lifting an edge from the lining material.  If it peels off easily, it is done.

Before peeling, dust the tops with powdered sugar.  Slice the leather into more manageable sizes if desired.  Roll up the leather and wrap in waxed paper or plastic wrap.  This will last about a year in the freezer, about four months in the refrigerator, or about a month on the kitchen counter.

Or a day, if there are lots of kids around.

23 August 2011

23 August - Vulcanalia

The ancient Romans celebrated their festival of Vulcanalia (or Volcanalia) today, X Kalends September, to honor the god Vulcan in his attribute of uncontrolled fire.  Storehouses and barns - now holding the newly harvested grains and fruits - were particularly susceptible to fire, especially as the increasingly shorter days meant more work by lamp and candlelight, and the people spent today propitiating the god with sacrifices in order to avert such calamities and all the other mishaps that come from the use of fire.

This was also a day when the Underworld opened and disembodied spirits were allowed to visit the lighted regions.  A heavy defeat of the Roman army on this day in 153 BC led it afterward to be regarded as unlucky; Roman generals would not fight on this day unless compelled.

I'm sure that in AD 79, the festival went on as usual.  However, Vulcan was not to be propitiated... but that is for tomorrow.

22 August 2011

22 August - Saint Columba and the River Ness Monster

First, a gentle caveat here: One of those websites which list events for "This Day In...." states that today is the day that Saint Columba saw what people now call the "Loch Ness Monster".  How that website determined this is not yet known.  I have found (in a cursory search) that a few more websites also declare this - and yes, I could ask them where they found that information, but I'm afraid it would be the same answer I get from people who copy erroneous family-trees and post them to the Internet: "Ima Idiot posted it, and she wouldn't post it on the Internet if it wasn't true!"


However, since the story mentions swimming, August is as good a month as any - and better than most - so why not celebrate today one of the earliest recorded sightings of something mysterious in those northern Scottish waters.

This is the account as written by St. Adomnan, the abbot of Columba's monastery of Iona, about 100 years after the story took place.  It comes from Chapter 28 of the Life of St. Columba (Vita Columbae), as translated by William Reeves, which you can read at CELT: The Corpus of Electronic Texts (and please note that it is the River Ness, not the Loch):


ON another occasion also, when the blessed man was living for some days in the province of the Picts, he was obliged to cross the river Nesa (the Ness); and when he reached the bank of the river, he saw some of the inhabitants burying an unfortunate man, who, according to the account of those who were burying him, was a short time before seized, as he was swimming, and bitten most severely by a monster that lived in the water; his wretched body was, though too late, taken out with a hook, by those who came to his assistance in a boat. The blessed man, on hearing this, was so far from being dismayed, that he directed one of his companions to swim over and row across the coble that was moored at the farther bank. And Lugne Mocumin hearing the command of the excellent man, obeyed without the least delay, taking off all his clothes, except his tunic, and leaping into the water. 

Well, not having quite the same faith as Lugne Mocumin, I would be after suggesting that if the good saint wanted that coble (boat) so bad, HE could go swimming with the man-eating monster!

But the monster, which, so far from being satiated, was only roused for more prey, was lying at the bottom of the stream, and when it felt the water disturbed above by the man swimming, suddenly rushed out, and, giving an awful roar, darted after him, with its mouth wide open, as the man swam in the middle of the stream. Then the blessed man observing this, raised his holy hand, while all the rest, brethren as well as strangers, were stupefied with terror, and, invoking the name of God, formed the saving sign of the cross in the air, and commanded the ferocious monster, saying, ‘Thou shalt go no further, nor touch the man; go back with all speed.’ 

Then at the voice of the saint, the monster was terrified, and fled more quickly than if it had been pulled back with ropes, though it had just got so near to Lugne, as he swam, that there was not more than the length of a spear-staff between the man and the beast. Then the brethren seeing that the monster had gone back, and that their comrade Lugne returned to them in the boat safe and sound, were struck with admiration, and gave glory to God in the blessed man. And even the barbarous heathens, who were present, were forced by the greatness of this miracle, which they themselves had seen, to magnify the God of the Christians.

This has been taken to suggest that whatever occasionally surfaces in Loch Ness has been around for a goodly amount of time.

For today's celebration, I can find nothing that will beat the NESSIE CAKE.  Any recipe for which the first ingredient is a bottle of whisky has to be good.  And I would say that putting together this cake should raise all kinds of monsters, on the Loch, in the River, or in your own kitchen.

19 August 2011

19 August - Saint Louis, Bishop; Saint Sebald

Weather: If it rains on Saint Louis' day, it will rain for eight days.

Gardening: This is a good day for sowing turnips, for kind St. Sebald can cause each seed to produce a fine root.

This is the feast of Saint Louis, Bishop of Toulouse (1274-1297)

He was the second son of Charles II of Anjou, King of Naples, and Mary, the daughter of King Stephen V of Hungary.  His father's uncle was Saint Louis IX of France; on his mother's side, he was related to Saint Elizabeth of Hungary and Saint Isabella of Portugal.

In 1284, during the War of the Sicilian Vespers, Charles II was taken prisoner by King Peter III of Aragon. He was liberated four years later with certain conditions, one of them being that he leave his sons Louis, Robert and Raymond as hostages.  In their seven years of captivity in Aragon, the young princes were instructed by Franciscan friars.  His elder brother Charles Martel died in the same year that Louis was freed, and he immediately renounced his inheritance in favor of his younger brother Robert, whereupon he became, in rapid succession, sub-deacon, deacon, and priest.  He then took vows as a Franciscan (and was solemnly professed four days later), prior to being consecrated Bishop of Toulouse in December of 1296.  His episcopacy was short-lived, as he died the following August of a fever at the age of 23.

Even in that short amount of time, he was revered for his holiness and for the care of the poor in his diocese.  He was canonized in 1317, and his relics removed by the Franciscans to Valencia, of which city he is the patron saint.

He should be the patron saint of those who want things to happen in a hurry.  Not many people can go from layperson to Bishop in a little over a year, or take simple religious vows and be solemnly professed within a week.

This is also the feast of Saint Sebaldus - or Sebald - of Nuremberg, who is invoked against cold weather (we don't need cold weather in the midst of harvest!)  Of this saint we have very little information, including when he lived.  However, the sources I've found refer to the legend that he was a missionary who accompanied Saint Boniface to Germany in the 8th century.  Several miracles are ascribed to him, including turning icicles into logs of wood to warm a poor family perishing from the cold. [Must've been some pretty large icicles!]  He lived mostly in the area of Nuremberg, quite possibly in a hermitage, and his relics are interred in that city, in a church dedicated to him.

The ancient Romans also sent up prayers today to avert the perils of storm or disease from the ripening crop of grapes, as they celebrated the festival of Vinalia Rustica.

Today would be a good day to raise a glass of a noble vintage.

Artwork: Saint Louis Bishop of Toulouse, Antonio Vivarini, c. 1450, Louvre.

18 August 2011

18 August - Saint Helena

Today is the feast of Saint Helena the Empress, born just plain Helena, died around 328 as Flavia Julia Helena Augusta.

Old English legend made her the daughter and heiress of Old King Cole (Coel); Trier in Germany claimed her as one of a noble family there.  It is more likely that she came from humbler surroundings; one biographer referred to her as an innkeeper, but a "good innkeeper".

She married a soldier named Constantius - later a colleague and Caesar ("junior emperor") of the Roman emperor Maximian - and by him became the mother of Constantine.  When their son was a teenager, Constantius divorced Helena in order to make a more politically advantageous match with Maximian's step-daughter, Theodora.  Helena and Constantine went to live at the court of Diocletian, the superior and co-emperor of Maximian (yes, that same Diocletian mentioned in the accounts of so many martyrs), and little more is known of her until after her son was proclaimed emperor in 306 upon the death of his father and defeated his rival Maxentius at Milvian Bridge in 312 (the famous "In Hoc Signo Vinces" episode).

Coin of Empress Helena, courtesy of Classical Numismatic Group, Inc.
She returned to public life as the mother of the emperor, and received all the dignities of an empress, with the title "Augusta" and coins struck with her image, like the one seen above (and check out that headdress!)  It is not known when she converted to Christianity, but almost immediately she started munificent works of charity, including the building of many churches in Rome and in the Holy Land.  At about 80 years of age, she undertook that pilgrimage to Palestine and Jerusalem on which is founded the stories of her miraculous discoveries, the most famous (and the one with which she is most depicted) being the True Cross on which Our Lord was crucified.  With this, she also found the nails which had pierced His Hands and Feet, the inscription "Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews" which had been attached to the Cross, and the "Holy Coat", the seamless garment for which the soldiers cast lots (seen here in a medieval woodcut).

She died soon after, possibly on the way home, and was buried in a mausoleum in Rome.  The tomb falling into disrepair, her sarcophagus was moved to the Vatican, and can be seen in the Museo Pio-Clementino there (although some accounts say that she was buried in the Church of the Holy Apostles in the eastern Roman capital of Constantinople).  The Orthodox Church reveres her and her son as "Equal to the Apostles" for their work in promulgating the Faith, and indeed, it was her work that did so much to revive the interest in - and reverence for - the sacred localities and their associations.

She is the patron of divorced women, converts, and archaeologists (and by extension, perhaps historians?  We dig through mounds of paper rather than dirt, but the aim is the same - the discovery of Truth).

Saint Helena, Giovanni Baptista Cima (Cima da Conegliano), 1495, National Gallery of Art, Washington.

17 August 2011

17 August - Cat Nights; Portunalia

Cat Nights begin today (which is only fair after the Dog Days).  The Old Farmer's Almanac derives it from a belief in witches, and from the yowling of the felines; nineteenth century sources make jokes about their musical abilities, without mentioning witches.  A modern source claims that it is actually another name for the thirty auspicious days known as "Our Lady's Thirty Days" commencing from Assumption and being a time of refreshment for man and beast (and plants) after the miserably hot Dog Days with their threat of pestilence.

Today, or possibly yesterday, is the ancient Roman festival of Portumnalia or Portunalia, honoring Portunus, a god of doors, which, if they are going to be useful, should have locks, so he also became the god of locks and keys.  Lockable doors keep things safe, so he became the god of places of safekeeping, such as storehouses and warehouses, and eventually ports, the safe places for ships, where they can unload their cargoes and store them in the warehouses lining the docks.

Some sources says that it took place on XVI Kalends September (August 17), while others claim that it was celebrated on XVII Kalends September (August 16).  Either day seems like a good day to find a comfortable place on the wharf (near an ice cream shop) and watch the boats plying the waters of your local port.

15 August 2011

15 August - Assumption, herbs, and chocolate

Weather: On St. Mary's day, sunshine brings much good wine.    
Which is especially enjoyed in my backyard on a lazy August day.

If the sun do shine on Mary's day, it is a good token and especially for wind.   
Don't ask.  I don't know to what wind it refers.  Right now, we are watching the tropics for signs of the really big winds (hurricanes); perhaps it means that no damaging winds will occur to ruin the crops.

Today is the feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, when we celebrate the completion of her earthly life and her elevation, both body and soul, to the glories of Heaven, by the power of her Son.

To-day the sacred and living ark of the living God, who conceived her Creator Himself, takes up her abode in the temple of God, not made by hands... To-day the holy dove, the pure and guileless soul, sanctified by the Holy Spirit, putting off the ark of her body, the life-giving receptacle of Our Lord, found rest to the soles of her feet, taking her flight to the spiritual world, and dwelling securely in the sinless country above...  Today the spotless Virgin, untouched by earthly affections, and all heavenly in her thoughts, was not dissolved in earth, but truly entering heaven, dwells in the heavenly tabernacles... To-day the life-giving treasury and abyss of charity (I know not how to trust my lips to speak of it) is hidden in immortal death. She meets it without fear, who conceived death's destroyer, if indeed we may call her holy and vivifying departure by the name of death. For how could she, who brought life to all, be under the dominion of death? But she obeys the law of her own Son, and inherits this chastisement as a daughter of the first Adam, since her Son, who is the life, did not refuse it. As the Mother of the living God, she goes through death to Him. For if God said: "Unless the first man put out his hand to take and taste of the tree of life, he shall live for ever," how shall she, who received the Life Himself, without beginning or end, or finite vicissitudes, not live for ever... [St. John of Damascus, Sermon II on the Dormition of Mary (scroll down for the full reading)]

This is the traditional day for blessing the herbs, which you can find on Fisheaters and on Catholic Culture.

Herbs, to my way of thinking, are a blessing in themselves, especially the herb of grace, Basil.  Not only does it add flavor to cooked dishes, the plants, set out next to tomatoes, protect those beautiful red globes from pests.

Tomatoes and basil together, ready to be picked - sliced tomatoes, still warm from the sun, drizzled with olive oil and a sprinkling of chopped basil, a glass of good wine standing by... How much better can an afternoon be?

An old Belgian custom was to gather nine different kinds of flowers and herbs into a bouquet for the priest to bless today, which would then be carefully saved. At the approach of a bad storm, a few petals would be pulled off and thrown into the fire while the family recited the opening verses of the Gospel of St. John, in an effort to avert disaster.

In Germany, it was also called "Our Lady's cabbage feast", as it was traditional to bring cabbages to church to be blessed; like palms and Good Friday bread, these were thought to protect against storms, sickness, and evil spirits.

For this important feast, there are a lot of activities, prayers, and recipes with which to celebrate, some especially suited for young children.

But wait!  There's more!

On this day in 1502, Columbus encountered cacao beans, a happy encounter for the chocoholics among us.

As written by his son, Ferdinand:  "While the admirals brother was on shore, using his endeavours to learn the nature of the country, it so happened that a canoe eight feet wide and as long as a galley, made all of one piece, and shaped like those which were common among the islands, put in there.  It was loaded with commodities brought from the westwards, and bound towards New Spain.  In the middle of this canoe there was an awning made of palm-tree leaves, not unlike those of the Venetian gondolas, which kept all underneath so close that  neither rain nor sea water could penetrate to wet the goods..."

Among the commodities, "they had such roots and grains as they eat in Hispaniola, and a sort of liquor made of maize like English beer.  They likewise had abundance of cacao nuts, which serve as money in New Spain, and on which they seemed to place great value; for when these were brought on board along with their other goods, I observed that when any of them fell, they all anxiously stooped to gather them up as if they had been of great importance."

When the Europeans finally acquired a taste for chocolate, it was considered more a health and energy drink.  The first recipe for a chocolate-based drink was published in 1631 by a Spanish physician in his treatise on chocolate, and included chili peppers, vanilla beans, almonds, hazelnuts, sugar, anise, and cinnamon "and enough annatto to give some color".  He declared that chocolate was healthy, and made the drinker "Fat and Corpulent, faire and Aimiable" [they had different ideas of what was healthy then].  The Spanish court agreed, and indulged themselves in this delicious way of staying healthy.  Maria Teresa took the taste into France upon her marriage to Louis XIV, while the English got theirs from their newly acquired Caribbean colonies.

You can read a good time-line history of hot chocolate, with historical recipes, here at What's Cooking America, and a history of milk-chocolate here.

So today, let us indulge in chocolate in all its myriad lovely forms [I, myself, am very fond of the really, really DARK stuff, just barely sweet enough to eat], in honor of those who first discovered the heavenly properties of cacao beans, and those who later discovered it from the discoverers.

This is a glorious day, all around!

11 August 2011

11 August - Perseids

Weather: Dog Days end [not noticeably]

Astronomy: Now welcome back the Perseid meteor shower, which this year, unfortunately, will be drowned out by the full moon - both of them peak on the same day.  Earthsky lists ways to minimize the moon's impact on your viewing (find yourself a Moon Shadow).

While you can start watching after midnight, the best viewing will be when Perseus is at its highest point in the sky, in the small hours before dawn.  This page shows you what the constellation looks like, and where the radiant point is.  Set up your lounge chair to face north, set your alarm clock for 0-dark-thirty, and enjoy the most spectacular of the meteor showers.

And if the kids have never heard the story of Perseus (or even if they have), point out the constellations of Cassiopeia and Cepheus (two of the easiest constellations to find in the night sky), Andromeda and Pegasus, and even Cetus, the sea monster.  If you really want to impress them with your knowledge of the celestial sky, check out the constellation pages of the American Association of Amateur Astronomers.

Good viewing!

10 August 2011

10 August - Saint Lawrence of Rome

Weather: If on St. Lawrence's day the weather be fine, a fair autumn and good wine may be hoped for.  And it is shaping up to be a fine day today!  Warm, but fine.

Today is the feast of Saint Lawrence of Rome, deacon and martyr (died c. 258)

When last we saw Lawrence, on the 6th of August, he was following his patron, Pope Sixtus, as the latter was being led off to prison and execution under the edict of the emperor Valerian.  Sixtus told the young deacon that he would truly follow in three days, and consigned to him the treasures of the church.  At the mention of treasure, the ears of the neighboring soldiery perked up, and word was taken to the emperor that Lawrence had hidden a great store of gold and precious items.

Meanwhile, Lawrence did as he was bidden, and used the money to relieve the sufferings of the poor (something he was well versed at doing, as a deacon).  He was arrested and brought before the emperor, who demanded the treasure of him.  Lawrence asked for a little time to gather the treasure and bring to the palace, and was granted three days.  On the third day, there stood Lawrence with all the poor of Rome, proclaiming that these were the treasures of the church.

This did not sit well with the emperor, for whom precious gems did not come in the guise of the crippled and the blind, destitute widows and filthy beggars.  When he was convinced that Lawrence would not disgorge the wealth entrusted to him, nor apostatize, he had the deacon scourged and scorched with red-hot plates. Losing patience with the cocky young man, he condemned him to be roasted on a gridiron.

"And then said Decius: Bring hither a bed of iron, that Laurence contumax may lie thereon.  And the ministers despoiled him, and laid him stretched out upon a gridiron of iron, and laid burning coals under and held him with forks of iron.  Then said Laurence to Valerianus: Learn, thou cursed wretch, that thy coals give to me refreshing of coldness, and make ready to thee torment perdurable, and our Lord knoweth that I, being accused, have not forsaken him, and when I was demanded I confessed him Christ, and I being roasted give thankings unto God.  And after this he said with a glad cheer unto Decius: Thou cursed wretch, thou has roasted that one side, turn that other, and eat." The Golden Legend

Or in modern parlance: "Bite me."

And so saying, he thanked God, and died.

Medieval legend said that he was born in Aragon, a cousin of Saint Vincent of Saragossa, and that the two of them were ordained as deacons.  He has been called "the courteous Spaniard" because, it was related, when the bones of Saint Stephen were taken for burial to the sarcophagus of Saint Lawrence, the skeleton of the barbecued saint moved over to the left, giving the place of honor on the right to the stoned saint.

He is a patron of cooks (for obvious reasons) and the poor, and could easily be the patron of the snarky.  A barbecue in his honor would be appropriate, although in some countries, that would be considered in very poor taste and the feast is totally vegetarian.

However be it, in your feasting, remember the treasures of the church and give alms for their relief.

Grant to us, we beseech, O omnipotent God, to quench the flames of our vices, Thou who didst grant to blessed Lawrence Thy martyr the power to overcome the fires of his torments.  Through Christ our Lord, Thy Son, Who liveth and reigneth with Thee in the unity of the Holy Ghost, O God, world without end.

Artwork: "Martyrdom of Saint Lawrence" by Titian, c. 1548.  Church of the Jesuits, Venice.

08 August 2011

8 August - Saint Cyriacus; Fourteen Holy Helpers

Today is the feast of the Translation of Saint Cyriacus, deacon and martyr, who was executed in Rome circa 303.  While his natalis is the 16th of March, this day commemorated the translation of his relics to the Church of Saint Mary in Via Lata in Rome.  He must have been one of the earliest of the martyrs under Diocletian, for the emperor's "Edict Against The Christians" was published in February 303.

From the old Roman Martyrology (1947):
At Rome, the holy martyrs Cyriacus, deacon, Largus, and Smaragdus, with twenty others, who suffered on the 16th of March, in the persecution of Diocletian and Maximian.  Their bodies were buried on the Salarian road by the priest John, but were on this day translated by pope St. Marcellus to the estate of Lucina, on the Ostian way.  Afterwards they were brought to Rome, and placed in the Church of St. Mary in Via Lata.

His medieval legend relates that he exorcised a demon from the daughter of Diocletian (for which the emperor seems not to have been overly grateful, at least not to the point of abating the persecution) and another demon from the daughter of the King of Persia.  After that, he returned to Rome to find that Diocletian was dead (311, unless this refers to his abdication in 305) and Maximian emperor in his place.  Refusing to worship the Roman gods, Cyriacus had molten pitch poured over him, before he and his companions were beheaded.

The Golden Legend adds a little moral end to the story: "And Carpasius [the judge who condemned Cyriacus] gat the house of S. Ciriacus, and in despite of christian men he made a bath in the same place where Ciriacus baptized, and there bathed, and made banquets in eating and drinking.  And suddenly he with nineteen fellows died there, and therefore the bath was closed up.  And the paynims began to dread and honour christian men."
As San Ciriaco, he is a very popular saint, especially in the Italian immigrant communities, whose ancestors brought his cult with them.  Read "When San Ciriaco went to Boston" for one such story.

He is one of the Fourteen Holy Helpers (of which more anon), and is invoked against temptation at the time of death, and against eye diseases.

In honor of Saint Cyriacus, there are two things (at least) that you can do:
1. Make an optometry appointment to have your eyes checked, and keep it.

2. If you have old prescription or reading glasses or sunglasses that are in pretty good shape (and this includes children's glasses), donate them to the Lions Club Eyeglass Recycling Program.  And while you are at it, consider giving a donation to them or to other groups who provide eye surgery and sight-saving medication to the less fortunate.

In the old calendar, today was the feast of the Fourteen Holy Helpers.  These were saints who as a group were invoked against the ravages of the Great Pestilence (also known as the Black Death) beginning in the 14th century.  Victims of the bubonic plague experienced high fever, headaches, vomiting, and the appearance of buboes, pus-filled swellings found in the armpits and on the groin. Although many didn't, there was always a chance that they might recover.  For the victims of the pneumonic plague, which attacked the respiratory system, there was no chance of recovery.  To the fever, headaches, and nausea was added wracking cough, bloody phlegm, and rapidly developing pneumonia, which could kill in as little as two days.

Such mortality was unprecedented within living memory.  People dropped in their tracks, while others fled to what they hoped were bastions of safety.  So many died at once, that there wasn't time to give the last rites or to bury the bodies in consecrated ground with the usual funeral ceremonies.  The clergy were not exempt, further reducing the availability of final confession and Extreme Unction for the dying.  Domestic animals also died, whether from sickness or lack of care, causing further hardship to the survivors.

In their fear, people turned to the saints whose patronages covered one or more of the symptoms or results of the plague.

The usual Helpers are listed here, with their individual feast days and their areas of protection:
Saint Blaise - February 3 - invoked against illnesses of the throat, and for the protection of domestic animals.
Saint George - April 23 - invoked against plague and skin diseases, and for the protection of domestic animals.
Saint Acacius (or Agathius) - May 8 - invoked against headaches
Saint Erasmus (or Elmo) - June 2 - invoked against stomach problems
Saint Vitus - June 15 - invoked against epilepsy and oversleeping, and for the protection of domestic animals.
Saint Margaret of Antioch - July 20 - invoked against kidney disease, and for the dying.
Saint Christopher - July 25 - invoked against pestilence and sudden death, and for the protection of travelers.
Saint Pantaleon - July 27 - invoked against consumption (lung ailments), patron of physicians.
Saint Cyriacus - August 8 - invoked against eye problems, demonic possession, and temptation on the deathbed.
Saint Giles - September 1 - invoked against the plague, madness, and nightmares, and for a good confession before death.
Saint Eustace - September 20 - invoked in difficult situations.
Saint Denis (Dionysius) - October 9 - invoked against headache.
Saint Katherine of Alexandria - November 25 - invoked against diseases of the tongue and sudden and unprovided death.
Saint Barbara - December 4 - invoked against fever and sudden death.

Catholic Culture has an article on the Fourteen Holy Helpers, and a litany for private devotion.

07 August 2011

7 August - Squirrels; Brunswick Stew

According to The Old Farmer's Almanac for tomorrow: "Gray squirrels have their second litter now."

Hmmm.  Well, if the Mamas are sitting on their nests waiting for the stork to arrive, those fuzzy-tailed varmints outside attacking the bird feeders must be the males of the population, having some kind of "Guys Night Out".

Oh well.  I don't mind.  I like to listen to their chatter.

For those who are not so fond of the Feeder Thieves, I here give a recipe for BRUNSWICK STEW, of which the main ingredient is Squirrel:

Clean and draw 3 squirrels and soak them in cold salted water to cover for about 3 hours.
Boil enough potatoes to equal 2-3 cups when diced.

Bring 4-5 quarts of salted water to boiling.  Add the squirrel and 1/4 to 1/2 pound of chopped bacon.  Lower heat and cook until meat is tender enough to fall from the bones.  Remove squirrels from the pot, remove bones from the squirrels, return meat to the pot.  Add 1-2 cups of Lima beans (fresh, canned, or frozen) and the same of peeled and chopped tomatoes (a 1-pound can is sufficient).  Cook until beans are done.

Meanwhile, dice boiled potatoes.  Dice carrots and celery to equal 1-2 cups each.  Grate enough cabbage to equal 1/2 cup.  Cut enough corn kernels from ears to equal 1-1/2 cups with the milk scrapings (or use canned corn). Chop 1 onion.

Add the corn, potatoes, carrots, celery, cabbage, onion, and 2-3 tablespoons of butter to the pot.  Season with 1 teaspoon of salt and 1/2 teaspoon of pepper.  Simmer and stir until ingredients are melded and the consistency of mush, about 30 minutes.  Serve hot.

If you can't catch sufficient squirrels, you can substitute a 4 - 5 pound cut-up stewing chicken.  Cook it and the bacon in enough water to cover until the chicken is tender.  Remove the chicken, allow to cool, and cut the meat into bite-size pieces (discard the bones and skin).  Return the meat to the kettle and add your other ingredients (you may need to add more water as well).


According to my husband, my mother-in-law, as a young wife, made Fried Squirrel one night for dinner.  Maybe she got hold of a tough one and didn't parboil it first, but for some reason, this entree foiled all attempts to eat it.  First her husband tried to cut it, then he tried gnawing it off the bone like a chicken leg.  When that didn't work, he tossed it to the dog, who worried for a few minutes, and then took it outside and buried it.  After that, squirrel never showed up on the table again. ("And if you're wise," said my husband, "you won't mention cooking squirrel to her."  I didn't.)

06 August 2011

6 August - Transfiguration; Saint Sixtus

Weather: As the weather is on Transfiguration, so it will be the rest of the year.

Today is the Feast of the Transfiguration of Our Lord, commemorating the day when Christ ascended Mount Tabor with His disciples Peter, James, and John, and there showed himself as both God and Man, the Messiah recognized by the Law (Moses) and the Prophets (Elijah).

And after six days Jesus taketh unto him Peter and James, and John his brother, and bringeth them up into a high mountain apart.  And he was transfigured before them.  And his face did shine as the sun; and his garments became white as snow.  And behold there appeared to them Moses and Elias talking with him.  And Peter answering, said to Jesus: Lord, it is good for us to be here: if thou wilt, let us make here three tabernacles, one for thee, and one for Moses, and one for Elias.  And as he was yet speaking, behold a bright cloud overshadowed them.  And lo, a voice out of the cloud, saying: This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased: hear ye him.  Matthew 17:1-5

You can find the same account in Mark 9:1-8 and Luke 9-28-36.

While it has been celebrated in both the eastern and western churches from an early day, it was not universally celebrated until after 1456, when Pope Callistus III decreed that it should be kept in commemoration of raising of the Siege of Belgrade and the repulsion of the Ottoman armies by the Hungarians under General Janos Hunyadi.

Grapes in their many forms are the symbol today.  Traditionally, the Pope would press a bunch of ripe grapes into the chalice at Mass, and raisins and grapes are blessed today.

Prior to the universal establishment of this day as the Feast of the Transfiguration, today was the feast of Saint Sixtus II, Pope and martyr, who was beheaded c. 258 in Rome during the persecution of Emperor Valerian.  Four deacons died with him in the cemetery where the faithful had met to avoid discovery; two more died that same day.

He is perhaps best known from the story of Saint Lawrence, whose feast will be celebrated on the 10th.  According to this, Deacon Lawrence met Sixtus as the Pope was being led away to the Mamertine prison, and said, "Father, whither goest thou without thy son?"  Sixtus replied that Lawrence would follow him in three days, but before that, the deacon was to distribute the treasures of the church.  It was while Sixtus was being led away to execution that Lawrence said in front of everyone that he had distributed the treasures, thus leading the soldiers to believe that he had gold and precious objects hidden away.  But more of that anon.

05 August 2011

5 August - Saint Afra of Augsburg

Today is the feast of the martyr Saint Afra of Augsburg, or, as it was called when she lived there in the late third century, Augusta Vindelicorum, an important outpost on the Roman frontier.

Originally, she was known to have suffered for her faith in the persecutions of Diocletion and was beheaded in Augsburg in the early 4th century.  Later depictions embellished the story a bit, making her a former prostitute and changing her execution to being burnt alive.

Her entry in the Roman Martyrology is short and succinct: "At Augsburg, the birthday of St. Afra, martyr.  After being converted from Paganism by the instructions of bishop St. Narcissus, and being baptized with all her household, she was delivered to the flames for the confession of Christ."

Curiosities of Popular Customs (1898), borrowing from Reverend Alban Butler's Lives of the Saints amplifies the story (although not as much as Father Butler):
"Afra, St., patroness of Augsburg, Germany. Her feast on August 5 is especially honored in this her native city.  Legend asserts that she was originally a courtesan, who with her three handmaidens, Digna, Eunomia, and Eutropia, led a dissolute life during the reign of Diocletian.  A priest named Narcissus, fleeing from persecution, took shelter in her house in ignorance of its character. He converted and baptized her and her companions, and she aided him to escape.  For this offence she was imprisoned, and when she confessed the faith she was burnt alive, August 7, 304.  All the members of her household also suffered martyrdom on the same day.  But for some reason St. Afra and her companions are commemorated on August 5.  Her relics are supposed to have been discovered in 955 by St. Ulfric.  They now repose in the church of SS. Ulfric and Afra in Augsburg."

Whatever the truth of it (and it should be remembered that medieval hagiographers were not as interested in writing facts as they were in edifying their readers), her words at her trial are a reminder that no matter what men say about our sins and our worthiness to follow Christ, Our Lord's boundless mercy is greater than any sin of ours, and the true penitent will find grace.

From the Lives of the Saints:
" The judge, by name Gaius, who knew who she was, said: “Sacrifice to the gods; it is better to live than to die in torments.”
Afra replied: “I was a great sinner before I knew God; but I will not add new crimes, nor do what you command me.”

Gaius said: “Go to the capitol and sacrifice.”
Afra answered: “My capitol is Jesus Christ, whom I have always before my eyes. I every day confess my sins; and, because I am unworthy to offer him any sacrifice, I desire to sacrifice myself for his name, that this body in which I have sinned may be purified and sacrificed to him by torments.”

“I am informed,” said Gaius, “that you are a prostitute. Sacrifice, therefore, as you are a stranger to the God of the Christians, and cannot be accepted by him.
Afra replied: “Our Lord Jesus Christ hath said, that he came down from heaven to save sinners. The gospels testify that an abandoned woman washed his feet with her tears, and obtained pardon, and that he never rejected the publicans, but permitted them to eat with him.”

The judge said: “Sacrifice, that your gallants may follow you, and enrich you.”
Afra answered: “I will have no more of that execrable gain. I have thrown away, as so much filth, what I had by me of it. Even our poor brethren would not accept of it, till I had overcome their reluctance by my entreaties, that they might pray for my sins.”

Gaius said: “Jesus Christ will have nothing to do with you. It is in vain for you to acknowledge him for your God: a common prostitute can never be called a Christian.”
Afra replied: “It is true, I am unworthy to bear the name of a Christian; but Christ hath admitted me to be one.”

Gaius said: “Sacrifice to the gods, and they will save you.”
The martyr replied: “My Saviour is Jesus Christ, who upon the cross promised paradise to the thief who confessed him.”

The judge said: “Sacrifice, lest I order you to be whipped in the presence of your lovers.”
Afra replied: “The only subject of my confusion and grief are my sins.”

“Sacrifice,” said the judge, “I am ashamed that I have disputed so long with you. If you do not comply, you shall die.”
Afra replied: “That is what I desire, if I am not unworthy to find rest by this confession.”

The judge said: “Sacrifice, or I will order you to be tormented, and afterwards burnt alive.”
Afra answered: “Let that body which hath sinned undergo torments; but as to my soul, I will not taint it by sacrificing to demons.” "

For such strength of purpose, she was delivered to the executioners, who carried out the sentence on her.  She died of smoke inhalation.

Saint Afra, pray for us, that we might close our ears to the accusations of the world and find our worth in the love of Our Lord, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Artwork: Saint Afra of Augsburg by the Master of Messkirch, c.1535/40.  Wurth Museum, Schwabisch Hall, Baden-Wurttemburg, Germany.  Swiped from Wikipedia.

04 August 2011

4 August - United States Coast Guard Day

Semper Paratus

This is the birthday of the U. S. Coast Guard.  On this day in 1790, the President of the United States, George Washington, at the behest of the Secretary of the Treasury, Alexander Hamilton (portraits on the $1 and $10 bills, respectively) signed the bill establishing the Revenue-Marine Service under the command of the Treasury, to eradicate the rampant smuggling and evasion of tariffs by the good citizens of the new country.

This was not an easy task, as those same good citizens had been engaged in smuggling and other illegal activities since - well, before the colonies became states, that's for certain.  And when the new country has at least 1600 miles of coastline (multiply it by 16 if you want to count the inlets, bays, and navigable rivers), there's plenty of room for duty and tariff evasion.  Ten ocean-going cutters were ordered and built to handle it all, augmented by the smaller vessels utilized by the customs collectors.  The customs boats were equipped for ports, bays, and shorelines only; they could not go out to sea.  The cutters, sailing well away from the shoreline, formed the first line of defense against the extensive smuggling operations. 

Cutter captains were - at least on paper - answerable to the customs officials of the ports from which they sailed, but their orders were at once stringent and vague.  They were to board incoming and outgoing vessels, and check their papers, ensuring first that the cargoes were legal and then that they were properly documented.  They were to seal the cargo hold of incoming vessels (once the cargoes are checked for accuracy, we don't want anything - ahem - removed before the vessel makes port).  And they were to seize all vessels not in compliance with the law.

But they were also to remember that these men were independent citizens, who might reasonably take umbrage at any officiousness on the part of the government (yeah, like that's changed)... so their boarding of ships and checking of papers and sealing of holds and seizing of vessels must all be done diplomatically - as much as possible.

On top of that, they were to enforce any and all quarantines and embargoes, carry passengers as needed, chart the shoreline, and take supplies to the lighthouses.

[With so little to do, I'm surprised the crews didn't mutiny for more work.  That is sarcasm, for those who missed it.]

After a few more changes of name - and a lot more coastline to cover - the service was joined with the Lifesaving Service in 1915 to become the United States Coast Guard, one of the seven uniformed services.

For articles on Coast Guard history, please see the Historian's Office page and Wikipedia's page.  The Coast Guard page has more articles, including the current whereabouts of their tall ship Eagle.

03 August 2011

3 August - Saint Lydia

Gardening: Sow cabbage seed on the first Wednesday after 29 July.  The reason for this was not given, but we wouldn't want to fly in the face of tradition, would we?

Today we commemorate Saint Lydia of Thyatira, often called Lydia Purpuraria (purple seller), dealer in purple cloth, Saint Paul's first convert, and the first Christian convert in Europe (1st century).

Not a bad resume.

Her whole story in scripture is found in Acts 16:13-40.  Paul and Silas, having been sent by the Holy Spirit to preach in Macedonia, had gone out of the city of Philippi a little ways where there was a women's prayer meeting being held by the river.

And upon the sabbath day, we went forth without the gate by a river side, where it seemed that there was prayer; and sitting down, we spoke to the women that were assembled.  And a certain woman named Lydia, a seller of purple, of the city of Thyatira, one that worshipped God, did hear: whose heart the Lord opened to attend to those things which were said by Paul.  And when she was baptized, and her household, she besought us, saying: If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come into my house, and abide there. And she constrained us. Acts 16:13-15

Accused by some local businessmen, Paul and Silas were beaten and thrown into prison.  After they were released, they went back to Lydia's house and having seen the brethren, they comforted them, and departed.

Thyatira (now the Turkish city of Akhisar) was a Greek center of dyeing and the dyed cloth trade.  Lydia seems to have been a sales-agent assigned to Philippi for a company back home which dealt in purple dye or purple cloth, both of which were high money-makers.  It is likely that she had a spacious domicile suitable for conducting business deals and housing guests at need; it became a meeting place for Christians in Philippi.  While she is not mentioned again, it was to the church which started in her house, that Paul wrote his Epistle to the Philippians.

Despite all of this, she is not well known in the Latin Church.  No medieval legends grew up around her, artwork of her is mostly confined to the Eastern Church, and she is missing from Reverend Butler's Lives of the Saints

As a businesswoman, she is one of my patron saints.  However, she is not, as one would think, the patron of businesswomen - that honor has inexplicably gone to Saint Margaret Clitherow (died 1586), the daughter of a wax-chandler and the wife of a wealthy butcher, but not in trade herself.  Lydia is the patron of dyers.

Caveat: You may read that she is "Equal to the Apostles".  This is a title bestowed  by the Orthodox Church on those saints whose work in spreading the faith is comparable to the original apostles.  Orthodox Christians know what it means and what such an honor entails.  There are a lot of saints, both men and women, who have that title.  It has nothing whatever to do with women's ordination.  Don't even go there.

01 August 2011

1 August - Lammas Day; Currant Scones

Weather: If geese and ducks run around with straw in their beaks, there will be destructive storms in late summer, and the autumn will be very boisterous.

Today is Lammas Day, also known as the Feast of the First Fruits.  Bread baked from the first harvest of grain is blessed today.  This would also be a good time to take some of the harvest from your garden to be blessed as well.  In all things, give thanks.

In many places, this was the traditional beginning of the harvest, but as everyone with a farm or garden knows, crops don't wait for certain dates, anymore than animals follow daylight savings time.

There is no consensus on the origin of the name "Lammas", with some contending that it is a short form of "Lamb-mass", either because the priests received their tithe-lambs today or because Mass said today was beneficial to lambs, and others maintaining that it comes from the Anglo-Saxon hlaf-maesse or loaf-mass, when an offering of new bread was made in thanksgiving for a good harvest.

This was formerly a quarter day, upon which rents were due and payments made, the others being Whitsuntide (May or June, depending on Easter), Martinmas (November 11), and Candlemas (February 2).  At some point, they became cross-quarter days, and those rents or payments not otherwise paid on the quarter days came due.  This was also one of the tithing days, in which a tenth of the produce or craft was paid to the church - hence the large tithe-barns.
Since the symbol of today is bread, this would be a good day to make a new loaf.  Catholic Culture has an article on the "Quarter Cakes" traditionally baked in Scotland for this day, with a recipe for them here.

Quick breads are easy; one of my oft-tried favorites is CURRANT SCONES:

Preheat the oven to 425° F.
Separate 1 egg.

In a large mixing bowl, combine 2 cups of flour, 1/4 cup of sugar, 1 tablespoon of baking powder, and 1 teaspoon of salt.  Stir well with a fork to mix.

Cut in 1/3 cup of solid vegetable shortening until mixture resembles coarse crumbs, then stir in 1/4 cup of currants or raisins.

In a smaller bowl, beat the egg yolk and 1 egg, then stir in 1/3 cup of milk.  Add this all at once to the flour mixture and stir until it is moistened and makes a soft dough (you may need to add a little more milk if the dough is too stiff).

Turn out the dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead gently for about 30 seconds.  Put the dough on an ungreased baking sheet, and either roll or pat the dough into an 8-inch circle, about 1/2-inch thick.  With a floured knife, cut the circle into 10 or 12 wedges.

Beat the egg white until frothy.  Paint it over the top of the dough and sprinkle top with 1 to 2 tablespoons of sugar.

Bake for 12-15 minutes, or until golden brown.


A glorious month!  It is also the Widow's birth month.

Skillful people are born in August, says the old adage.

Who ever wed in August be,
Many a change is sure to see.

"In the old Roman calendar, August bore the name of Sextilis, as the sixth month of the series, and consisted but of twenty-nine days.  Julius Caesar, in reforming the calendar of his nation, extended it to thirty days.  When, not long after, Augustus conferred on it his own name, he took a day from February, and added it to August, which has consequently ever since consisted of thirty-one days.  This great ruler was born in September, and it might have been expected that he would take that month under his patronage; but a number of lucky things had happened to him in August, which, moreover, stood next to the month of his illustrious predecessor, Julius; so he preferred Sextilis as the month which should be honoured by bearing his name, and August it has ever since been among all nations deriving their civilisation from the Romans." Robert Chambers, The Book of Days, Volume II, page 253 (1832)
The full moon this month - on the 13th - is known as the Sturgeon Moon or the Corn Moon.

The Perseid meteor shower is slated to peak in the predawn hours of the 12th and 13th.  This will not be a good year for viewing the spectacular shower as the full moon will drown out all most of the 'shooting stars'.  However, EarthSky says to start watching for the Perseids in the first week of August.  There won't be as many of them as at peak, but still enough to watch.
Weather for August
Based on the 12 Days of Christmas: Sunny, with high thin clouds, and very warm.
Based on the first 12 days of January: Cloudy and warm.
Based on the Ember Days: Warm with rain, very heavy rain.

Weather Lore for August
Dry August and warm
Doth harvest no harm.

August rain gives honey, wine, and saffron. Sounds good!  Saffron-honeycakes and a glass of wine.

August sunshine and bright nights ripen the grapes. Even better!

Rain early in August refreshes the trees.
A wet August never brings dearth.
There will be as many snows in the following winter as there are rains in August.  The same goes for the number of foggy mornings.

A north-wind in August brings settled weather. 

So many August fogs, so many winter mists.

Observe on what day in August the first heavy fog occurs, and expect a hard frost on the same day in October.

A fog in August indicates a severe winter and plenty of snow.

As August, so the next February.  I don't want to think about next February.  It comes soon enough.

If the first week in August is unusually warm, the winter will be white and long.  Describe 'unusually'.  For that matter, describe 'white and long'.  Up here, all winters are white and long.  Sometimes there is more 'white' one year than the next; nevertheless, winter starts somewhere in October and lasts through May, no matter how much white has fallen.

An old Albanian tradition said that the first twelve days of August foretell the weather of the succeeding twelve months.

8/1 - If geese and ducks run around with straw in their beaks today, there will be destructive storms in late summer, and autumn will be very boisterous.

8/6 - As the weather is on Transfiguration, so it will be the rest of the year. [Which I take to mean either settled or unsettled weather, as in, if the day is fine, then winter will not be hard, and autumn, spring, and summer will be equable, but if the day is stormy, then we can expect hard weather conditions throughout the year.]
8/10 - If on Saint Lawrence's Day the weather be fine, fair autumn and good wine may be hoped for.

8/11 - As the Dog Days commence, so they end.

8/15 -  On Saint Mary's Day, sunshine brings much good wine. Which is especially enjoyed in my backyard on a lazy August afternoon.

            If the sun do shine on Mary's day, that is a good token, and especially for wind.

8/19 - If it rains on Saint Louis' day, it will rain for eight days.

8/24 - As Bartholomew's Day, so the whole autumn.

          If Bartelmy's day be fair and clear, 
          Hope for a prosperous autumn that year.

          Saint Bartholomew's mantle wipes dry
          All the tears that Saint Swithin can cry.

          Saint Bartholomew brings the cold dew.

          If it rains on Bartholomew's Day, it will rain the forty days after.

          Thunderstorms after Bartholomew's Day are more violent.

           If the morning begins with a hoar frost, the cold weather can be soon expected, and a hard winter.

8/26 - Tradition says that it always rains today.

8/28 - The last Sunday of the month indicates the weather for the next month.
Gardening:  "August brings the sheaves of corn; the the harvest home is borne."

"August fills the kitchen, and September the cellar."

8/3 - traditionally, cabbage seed was sowed on the first Wednesday after the 29th of July.

8/10 - Saint Lawrence's day puts the sickle to the wheat.

Plant spring flowering bulbs, like daffodils, or dig up, separate, and replant the bulbs in your garden after the second week in August.

8/19 - Sow turnip seeds on Saint Sebald's day.

August, in my 1816 almanac, is a tremendously busy time in the garden:
Sow Cauliflowers, Spinach, Onions, Cabbages, Coleworts, Lettuce, Cresses, Chervil, and Corn Sallad, for Winter Use.  Transplant Broccoli into the Ground, where it is to remain for flowering.  Plant Slips of Savory, Thyme, Sage, Hyssop, Rosemary, Lavender, Mastick, and other aromatic Plants.  Continue to sow Rape, Radish, Mustard, Cresses, and Turnipseed every Week; they will now soon grow large enough to use.

For good health, it advises: This Month use moderate Diet, forbear to sleep soon after Meat, for that brings Oppilations, Head-achs, Agues, and Catarrhs, and other Distempers of the same Kind.  Take great Care of sudden Cold after Heat.

Artwork: "August" from Tres Riches Heures du Jean, Duc de Berry, (c. 1410), Musee Conde, Chantilly, France.