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!