31 October 2011

31 October - "The Bells" Poem and Parody

For Hallowe'en, we present the poem "The Bells" by Edgar Allen Poe -
and a parody by the editors of the Warren Gazette.

(My mother used to read this to me at bedtime - sometimes, bedtime stories were bedtime poems instead - and read it with all the emphasis and feeling that the words demanded, especially Part IV:
"They are neither man nor woman,
They are neither brute nor human,
They are GHOULS!"
I wonder if she was a frustrated actress.)


Hear the sledges with the bells-
Silver bells!
What a world of merriment their melody foretells!
How they tinkle, tinkle, tinkle,
In the icy air of night!
While the stars that oversprinkle
All the heavens, seem to twinkle
With a crystalline delight;
Keeping time, time, time,
In a sort of Runic rhyme,
To the tintinnabulation that so musically wells
From the bells, bells, bells, bells,
Bells, bells, bells-
From the jingling and the tinkling of the bells.


Hear the mellow wedding bells,
Golden bells!
What a world of happiness their harmony foretells!
Through the balmy air of night
How they ring out their delight!
From the molten-golden notes,
And all in tune,
What a liquid ditty floats
To the turtle-dove that listens, while she gloats
On the moon!
Oh, from out the sounding cells,
What a gush of euphony voluminously wells!
How it swells!
How it dwells
On the Future! how it tells
Of the rapture that impels
To the swinging and the ringing
Of the bells, bells, bells,
Of the bells, bells, bells,bells,
Bells, bells, bells-
To the rhyming and the chiming of the bells!


Hear the loud alarum bells-
Brazen bells!
What a tale of terror, now, their turbulency tells!
In the startled ear of night
How they scream out their affright!
Too much horrified to speak,
They can only shriek, shriek,
Out of tune,
In a clamorous appealing to the mercy of the fire,
In a mad expostulation with the deaf and frantic fire,
Leaping higher, higher, higher,
With a desperate desire,
And a resolute endeavor,
Now- now to sit or never,
By the side of the pale-faced moon.
Oh, the bells, bells, bells!
What a tale their terror tells
Of Despair!
How they clang, and clash, and roar!
What a horror they outpour
On the bosom of the palpitating air!
Yet the ear it fully knows,
By the twanging,
And the clanging,
How the danger ebbs and flows:
Yet the ear distinctly tells,
In the jangling,
And the wrangling,
How the danger sinks and swells,
By the sinking or the swelling in the anger of the bells-
Of the bells-
Of the bells, bells, bells,bells,
Bells, bells, bells-
In the clamor and the clangor of the bells!


Hear the tolling of the bells-
Iron Bells!
What a world of solemn thought their monody compels!
In the silence of the night,
How we shiver with affright
At the melancholy menace of their tone!
For every sound that floats
From the rust within their throats
Is a groan.
And the people- ah, the people-
They that dwell up in the steeple,
All Alone
And who, tolling, tolling, tolling,
In that muffled monotone,
Feel a glory in so rolling
On the human heart a stone-
They are neither man nor woman-
They are neither brute nor human-
They are Ghouls:
And their king it is who tolls;
And he rolls, rolls, rolls,
A paean from the bells!
And his merry bosom swells
With the paean of the bells!
And he dances, and he yells;
Keeping time, time, time,
In a sort of Runic rhyme,
To the paean of the bells-
Of the bells:
Keeping time, time, time,
In a sort of Runic rhyme,
To the throbbing of the bells-
Of the bells, bells, bells-
To the sobbing of the bells;
Keeping time, time, time,
As he knells, knells, knells,
In a happy Runic rhyme,
To the rolling of the bells-
Of the bells, bells, bells:
To the tolling of the bells,
Of the bells, bells, bells, bells-
Bells, bells, bells-
To the moaning and the groaning of the bells.

This parody was published in the Warren Gazette, February 16, 1872:

Hear that noisy lot of swells –
            Silly swells!
What a deal of trashy talk their company foretells
How they chatter, chatter, chatter
            In the ballroom of a night!
Making such a fearful clatter
As if something was the matter
            And had put them in a fright,
            Killing time, time, time
            (Never thinking it a crime),
with the foolish conversation to the little laughing belles;
Of the swells, swells, swells, swells, swells, swells, swells,
While a walking and a talking with the belles.

See those dissipated swells –
Drunken swells!
What a tale of temperance that tipsy tumble tells!
In the startled air of night
            Ringing bells with great delight,
And singing songs with all their might
Although the words they do not quite
            Distinctly utter.
Reeling, reeling, reeling
Standing, sitting, kneeling,
Rolling, rolling, rolling
On their homeward journey strolling
With a resolute endeavor,
Now, now to sit or never,
Side by side with their companions in the gutter.

See those horrid dandy swells –
            Scented swells!
What a world of vapid talk their company compels!
            How disgusting their flirtation
            And affected adoration
            Of every exclamation of the belles.
Oh, maidens, young and single
Lest your ears with pain should tingle
Never listen to the jingle
            Of the swells –
Of the swells, swells, swells, swells, swells, swells, swells,
To the jingling and the dingling of the swells.

31 October - All Hallow's Eve

Hallowe’en, possibly the second favorite holiday for children (after Christmas), and the first favorite of adults with fancy-dress fantasies.  Herein The Widow relates some of the superstitions of the day, which might make the evening merry:

[Of course, says that enlightened intellectual, Robert Burns, these things are only done by the peasantry, and "may be some entertainment to a philosophic mind to see the remains of it among the more unenlightened…"]

First of all, ring the church bells to drive away evil spirits.

If you have served Colcannon or Champ tonight, see who finds the charms - a ring, a thimble, a button, a china pig, a doll, and a coin - in their portion.  The one who finds the ring will be married within the year; the finder of the doll will have children; those who find the thimble and the button will still be a spinster and a bachelor, respectively, in the coming year; the one who finds the pig will have good luck; and the one who finds the coin will have wealth.

If you have baked a ring and a nut in a cake, remember that the one who finds the ring will marry; so too, will the finder of the nut, but his or her future spouse will be a widow or widower.  If they are already married, it indicates good luck will follow the finder.  If you also bake a key in the cake, it indicates a journey to the finder.

When a girl walks out, she will meet her future husband walking towards her [wearing a Casper the Friendly Ghost mask?]

If a young man puts nine grains of oats in his mouth and takes a walk, and continues walking until he hears the name of a girl mentioned, he will know that his future wife will have that same name (and have a mouthful of oatmeal, to boot.)

Take a handful of hempseed and go out into a field and sow it, repeating during the process: "Hempseed, I saw thee; hempseed, I saw thee; and he [or she] that is to be my true love, come after me and mow thee."  Now, summon up all your courage and look over your left shoulder.  You may see the apparition of your true love following you and reaping the hemp.

[Reaping.  You know.  With a sickle.  Or maybe a combine.  After all, this is a modern apparition.  Then explain to your father why you are scattering seeds in his newly-laid and meticulously maintained turf.]

You can find out the shape and size of your future spouse by harvesting a cabbage blindfolded.  Or to be more precise, as described by John Brand in his "Observations on the Popular Antiquities of Great Britain": "The first ceremony of Hallowe'en is each pulling a stock or plant of kail.  They must go out, hand in hand, eyes shut, and pull the first they meet with; its being big or little, straight or crooked, is prophetic of the size and shape of the grand object of all their spells - the husband or wife.  If any yird or earth stick to the root, that is tocher, or fortune; and the taste of the custoc, that is, the heart of the stem is indicative of the natural temper and disposition."

Two Hazel-Nuts I threw into the Flame,
And to each Nut I gave a Sweet-heart’s Name.
This with the loudest Bounce me sore amaz’d,
That in a Flame of brightest Colour blaz’d.
As blazed the Nut, so may thy Passion grow,
For ‘twas thy Nut that did so brightly glow!
John Gay, The Shepherd’s Week

Burning nuts is a time-honored tradition. Take three nuts, name one after yourself and the other two after men in whom you are interested, and lay all three together on the bar of the grate or in the coals.  If one of the nuts burns quietly beside the nut named for you, it means that person is true to you. [If both of the nuts burn quietly, well, lucky you! You’ve got choices to make] If the nuts bounce and fly asunder, there will be no happy relations between you and either of the men. [Move on to B list and name some more nuts]  Equally, take two nuts, name one after yourself and one after the favored suitor, or one after a friend and her favorite suitor, and toss them into the fire.  The same obtains here: if they burn together, the suitor is true; if they pop and bounce away from each other, the couple is ill-matched, and, should they marry, will just as noisily try to get away from each other.

And while we are on the subject of nuts… throw one into the fire and watch how it burns.  If it burns well, it indicates prosperity to the thrower; if it smolders and turns black, then there is no prosperity in store.

You can try again with an unbroken apple paring (as you did on Saints Simon and Jude) to find the first initial of your future spouse.  Swing the paring three times around your head, saying:

I pare this pippin round and round again,
My sweetheart’s name to flourish on the plain:
I fling the unbroken paring o’er my head,
My sweetheart’s letter on the ground is read.

Then let the paring drop, and discern the letter it makes.

Take the apple seeds, name two of them for persons in whom you are interested and place one on each cheek or on each eyelid.  The last to stay on will be true to you [No twitching or winking to help the Fates along!]

Take a candle and go alone to a looking glass; eat and apple before it, and, some traditions say, you should comb your hair all the time [yeah, right.  Have you ever tried eating an apple and combing your hair at the same time? Might want to practice first.]  The face of your conjugal companion-to-be will be seen in the glass, as if peeping over your shoulder.

Set three dishes on the floor – one empty, one with clean water, and one with dirty water.  Each person, blindfolded, approaches the dishes and places his or her left hand in one of them.  Those that dip their hand in the empty dish will remain unmarried; those that dip their hand in the dirty water will marry a widow or widower; those that dip their hand in the clean water will marry a bachelor or spinster. [Ahem! On behalf of widows everywhere, I take offense at being likened to dirty water!]

Take a ball of blue yarn [BLUE, mind you] and throw it out of the window after dark, holding on to one end of the yarn.  Then wind it over your hand from left to right, or widdershins, and repeat the Creed backward [uh-huh.  For those of you who even know the Creed, try saying it backwards, WITHOUT LOOKING AT THE PRINTED WORD. Not so easy, is it?]  If the charm works, the end of the yarn still outside the window will be held by someone so that you can wind no more around your hand.  If you then ask, "Who holds?" the name of your sweetheart should be wafted through the window.

As Peascods once I pluck’d, I chanc’d to see
One that was closely fill’d with three times three,
Which when I crop’d, I safely home convey’d,
And o’er my Door the Spell in secret laid.
My Wheel I turn’d, and sung a Ballad new,
While from the Spindle I the Fleeces drew;
The Latch mov’d up, when who should first come in,
But in his proper Person…
John Gay, The Shepherd’s Week

You can find out the name of your future spouse by finding a peascod [yes, that is the original packaging of peas; they don't grow in frozen food boxes] with exactly nine peas.  Write the following on a slip of paper: "Come in my dear, and do not fear", place the paper inside the peascod, and place the peascod under the door.  Mind the next person to come in through that door, for you will certainly marry someone with the same name.  [I think this one was invented by a mother who was trying to convince her daughter to shell enough peas for dinner.  Find exactly nine peas in a pod?  Must have taken a tidy few peascods to find that!]

To know if you will have the man of your dreams: take two lemon peels and carry them around all day in your pockets (under your armpits, says another. That should be interesting); at night, rub the four posts of the bedstead with them.  If you are to succeed, the person will appear in your dreams and give you a couple of lemons.  If he does not, then there is no hope.

After the party is over and your guests are gone, hang your smock before the fire [a slip would be the modern equivalent. A nightshirt would do], and sit concealed in a corner all night.  The apparition of your future spouse should come down the chimney and turn the smock [Santa? Is that you?]

Wet the sleeve of a shirt and hang it on a chair before the fire, as if to dry [the modern equivalent, if you have no fireplace in your bedroom, would be to hang it over the radiator or the forced-air grate].  Then go to bed, but do not go to sleep.  About midnight, you may see your future intended enter the room and turn the drying shirt.  If perchance, you don’t see anybody, it is probably because you allowed yourself to fall asleep, even if ‘just for a second’, and so missed him.

Put a small sliver of wood into a glass of water, and place the glass on your nightstand.  You may dream of falling from a bridge into a river, but don’t worry!  Your future spouse, whose face you can plainly see, will jump in and rescue you. [oh please, let him look like Eric Fleming!]

And of course, there is the Dumb-Cake, which, for Hallowe’en, is made of an eggshell-full of salt, the same of wheat meal, and the same of barley meal.  It must be made into a dough without using spring water [well water, perhaps?  Carbonated soda?  Leftover punch from the party?]  Unlike most of the other nights when a Dumb-Cake is fixed, any number of young women may join in the making and baking.  Each person takes a turn at rolling it out; after the final roll, when it is thin and broad, each person marks the initials of her name on some part of the cake, well separated from the initials of others.  Set the cake before the fire (or on the unlit stove).  Each person now takes a seat in the room, as far from the cake as the room allows. This must be done soon after eleven o’clock at night (23:00); between that time and midnight (24:00), each person must turn the cake once.  Above all, there must be NO TALKING, from start to finish.  Soon after midnight, the husband of the one who will be the first to marry will appear and lay his hand on that part of the cake marked with her initials.  (The charm doesn’t say if the husbands of subsequent brides will also appear in order.)

There are other superstitions about bonfires and throwing stones into them to see who will die within the coming year, but that is not something The Widow cares to investigate, and so she will leave that topic.

More Hallowe'en superstitions here and here.

I don't think I've seen this method of bobbing for apples.  Is the bobber trusting his friend to hold the board in place, so that he doesn't pitch head-first into the tub?  Greater trust hath no man...

30 October 2011

30 October - Soul Cakes

"Soul! Soul! For a Soul Cake!
Pray you, good mistress, a Soul Cake!" 

Soul Cakes, which are supposed to be handed out and eaten on November 2nd, the Feast of the Holy Souls, are also supposed to be made tomorrow, the 31st of October; but I am reasonably sure that your day will be spent putting in last minute touches to costumes and making sure there is enough swag to satisfy the ghoulies and ghosties and long-leggedy beasties (the accompanying parents) who will show up at your door, leaving little time for anything else.

So either make them today, or use this as a reminder to have the ingredients ready, in case you have time on your hands tomorrow.

There is quite a bit of information out there, some of it not worth the mentioning.  Most of the good sources say that this was a time when bread was bought or made, and doled out to those who would pray for the family's dead.  Sometimes it was a triangular cake, or a seed-cake, or a cake containing fruit or made with oatmeal.  Whatever the ingredients, there should be a heap of them standing by, ready to give each visitor to the house.

Make one cake for each of your deceased relatives, and a few (or a lot) more for those who have nobody to pray for them.

And remember, the person who eats the soul cake is required to pray for a holy soul in Purgatory, even if it is only "(Name), God have your soul, bones and all."

To start with, Fisheaters has a great overview of "Hallowtide": "31 October and 1 and 2 November are called, colloquially (not officially), "Hallowtide" or the "Days of the Dead" because on these days we pray for or remember those who've left this world..." and a recipe for soul cakes in the shape of doughnuts. Oh, and it explains why All Hallows Eve has nothing to do with Irish pagan harvest festivals. 

Historical Foods uses a bit of white wine vinegar to balance the sweetness of the sugar in their recipe for Souling Cakes, which is more like a shortbread cookie in shape and texture.  The page has photos of the steps used.  (It is based on British measurements, so I have listed the ingredients below):
3 cups plus 1 tablespoon of sifted flour
3/4 cup of sugar
3/4 cup of butter
scant 1/2 teaspoon of ground cinnamon, nutmeg, and 'mixed spice' (pumpkin pie spice comes closest)
scant 1-1/2 teaspoon of white wine vinegar
1 egg = 1 egg, no matter where you are, unless you are talking ostrich eggs.
Roll out dough to 1/4 inch.
Oven: 200 degrees C = 400 degrees F, which seems to be more a hot oven, rather than a moderate oven. Keep a watch on your cakes and lower the temperature to 375F if needed. 

Catholic Culture has a yeast bread recipe, and says that originally the buns were "shaped like men and women, with raisins or currants for eyes" (much like you would decorate gingerbread men). 

Gode Cookery uses a recipe from 1604 which has this advantage: it uses ale and dry sack sherry (only 1/2 cup of each, so there is plenty left for the cook!)

Now, get to it!  There are a lot of Holy Souls for whom to pray.  Perhaps one day, of your charity, you will pray for The Widow as well.

28 October 2011

28 October - Saint Simon and Saint Jude

Weather:  Simon and Jude is almost certain to be rainy.

There is oft times a tempest on St. Jude.

"The birthday of the blessed apostles, Simon the Cananean, and Thaddeus, who is called Jude.  Simon preached the Gospel in Egypt, Thaddeus in Mesopotamia.  Afterwards, entering Persia together, they converted to Christ a numberless multitude of the inhabitants, and then underwent martyrdom."

[And the lands which they traversed need our prayers more than ever.  Saints Simon and Jude, intercede for the Christians in Egypt and the Middle East!]

Today is the feast of Saint Simon the Zealous and Saint Jude Thaddeus, Apostles and Martyrs; invoked against rheumatic pain [which cold, wet days are likely to aggravate].  Saint Simon, who (according to one tradition) was sawed in half, is the patron of those who use saws and other toothed instruments, like curry-combs.  Saint Jude is well known as the patron of hopeless problems and lost causes (you can still see any number of prayers to Saint Jude published in the newspapers).

The lives of both can be read here in the Golden Legend.

As Apostles go, these two are the obscure ones - Simon more so than Jude.  Jude, at least, wrote an epistle.  But where they preached and where they were martyred - even how they were martyred - is disputed.  Read an interesting disquisition on Saint Simon by Otto Hophan, OFM Cap.,  from which I take this comforting paragraph:

"Simon, the unknown apostle, is the patron of the countless Christians who go through life without fame, without a name. He is the patron of the army of unknown workers in the vineyard of the Lord, who toil in the last places for the kingdom of God. He is the patron of the unknown soldiers of Christ, who struggle on the disregarded and thankless fronts.  No one notices, no one praises, no one rewards this obscure and often misunderstood apostle - no one except the Father, who sees through all obscurity, who understands all misjudgments." 

Artwork: Workshop of Simone Martini, Saint Simon (left) and Saint Thaddeus (right), c1320.  National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

So, young ladies... you have dreamed of your future husband (Saint Faith's Eve) and found what kind of husband he will make (Saint Luke's Day).  Care to find out the initial of his surname? 

Take an apple and pare it whole (or as long of a paring as you can get).  Take the long paring in your right hand, stand in the middle of the room, and say: 

"Saint Simon and Jude, on you I intrude,
By this paring I hold, to discover
Without any delay, tell me this day,
The first letter of my own true lover." 

Then turn around three times (doesn't matter which way) and cast the paring over your left shoulder.  It will form the first letter of your future husband's surname.  If the paring breaks into many pieces, so that no letter is discernable, then you will never marry (at least, not this year). 

[Remember that there are several alphabets out there (my parings always look Cyrillic, if not Middle Eastern) and that even our own familiar Latin-based alphabet has several ways to form its letters.  If you can't tell immediately (with no cheating!) what initial the paring has formed, look up different fonts and alphabets.  I'm sure you will find something to match.] 

After throwing the parings as described, take the pips of the apple, put them in spring water, and swallow them. [Why?  Who knows?  The reason was never given.] 

Then explain to your mother why you are throwing garbage on the floor ("It's for a good cause!")

27 October 2011

The Foods of Hallowe'en

Hallowe'en cometh shortly, followed by the Solemnity of All Saints and the Commemoration of All Souls, so herein are some traditional dishes with which to celebrate.

APPLES and NUTS are still being harvested and are in plentiful supply, so naturally they take pride of place in all sorts of ways, including the superstitions of Hallowe'en, which will be posted on that day.

Since pumpkins are the gourd of choice at this time of year, make PUMPKIN SEEDS when you carve your jack o' lanterns.  This article has an easy recipe, and do scroll down to read the comments and tips by people who have made them, for different flavors and techniques.

A traditional dish for Hallowe'en is COLCANNON (also called Kailkenny or Rumbledethumps), in which are mashed together 6-8 cooked potatoes, and 1 head of shredded, boiled cabbage.  Stir in 1-1/2 cups of milk and 6-8 tablespoons of butter, and salt and pepper to taste. (Alternatively, you can chop up two leeks, cook them in the milk, then add leeks and milk together to the potatoes/cabbage, and mash away). Heat immediately and serve in a warm dish.  Make a well in the middle of the Colcannon and pour in a little melted butter.

Like plum puddings and Twelfth Night Cakes, a ring, a thimble, a button, a china pig, a doll, and a coin were stirred into the Colcannon, and when it was served the one who found the ring would be married within the year; the finder of the doll would have children; the finders of the thimble and the button would be a spinster and a bachelor, respectively; the one who found the pig would have good luck; and the one who found the coin would have wealth.

If cabbage is not to your taste, make CHAMP instead:  Cook and mash 6 - 8 potatoes.  Chop up enough spring onions to make 1 cup and cook them in 1-1/2 cups of milk.  Mix together the potatoes, onions, and milk, with 1/3 to 1/2 cup of butter, and season to taste.  Put the same charms in the Champ and serve hot.

A variation on this was to bake a ring and a nut in a cake such as BARM BRACK.  The one who found the ring would marry; so too, would the finder of the nut, but his or her future spouse would be a widow or widower.

Mix 1/2 ounce of fresh yeast with 1 teaspoon of sugar.  Add 1-1/4 cup of warm water and set aside.  Sieve together 3-1/2 cups of flour, a dash of salt, and 1 teaspoon of pumpkin pie spice (or a half teaspoon of cinnamon and a half teaspoon of nutmeg). Stir in the yeast mixture and mix to a stiff dough.  Turn out onto a floured board and knead about 5 minutes, or until it is smooth and springy. Return dough to the bowl, cover with a cloth, and let stand in a warm place for 1 hour, or until it has doubled in size.

Now mix together 6 tablespoons of melted butter, 2 beaten eggs, 1/2 cup of sugar, 3/4 cup EACH of currants, raisins, and sultanas, and 2 tablespoons of candied peel.  Stir into dough and beat well.

Fill 2 greased bread tins halfway-up with mixture; cover with a cloth, and let rise again in a warm place for about an hour or until dough has risen above the tops of the bread tins.

Bake in a preheated 375 degree F oven for about 50 minutes.  Glaze while hot.
GLAZE: 2 tablespoons of sugar mixed with 4 teaspoons of water, boil for half a minute.

If you are going to bake the ring in the cake, make sure it is metal and wrap it in a piece of waxed paper before dropping it in the batter. And remind your guests to be on the lookout for it and the nut.

If this is for a party, you can make sure that every person gets a charm of some kind by baking cupcakes.  Using the end of a wooden spoon, carefully make a small opening to about halfway down.  Wrap the small charms, such as those used in Colcannon above, in waxed paper and insert them in the hole.  Cover the evidence with frosting.  This also works with regular cakes, and since they aren’t being baked inside, the charms can be plastic.  The waxed paper wrap just helps people to find the charm before they swallow them.

APPLE BRACK is another good cake:

Peel, core, and slice 2 large apples or 4-5 small ones (about 2 pounds of apples).  Place slices in a saucepan with a tablespoon of water and cook over low heat until soft, stirring often. Cool.

Sift 4 cups of flour with 2 teaspoons of baking soda.  Rub 1 cup of butter into flour.  Add 1 cup EACH of sultanas and raisins; mix well.  Stir in 1-1/3 cups of the cooked apple.  Beat 1 egg with a little milk (I used 2 teaspoons); add to flour mixture and mix well.  Pour into round cake tin and bake in a 375 degree F oven for about 1-1/2 hours.

FADGE is a flat cake made of mashed potatoes and flour:

Mix 2 tablespoons of butter with 2 pounds of mashed potatoes (4 medium or 2 large potatoes). Sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Work in 4 tablespoons of flour and mix well (add more flour if needed to make a non-sticky dough).  Roll out dough on a floured surface to 1/2 inch thick; cut into circles (about 4 inches across).  Prick on both sides with a fork and cook either in bacon fat or on a non-stick griddle until brown on both sides.  Sprinkle with powdered sugar for a sweet treat.

And to drink?
LAMBS-WOOL was a traditional drink made by bruising roasted, hot apples and mixing them with ale or wine (or sometimes milk).   "Lamb's-wool is thus etymologized by Vallancey:—"The first day of November was dedicated to the angel presiding over fruits, seeds, & etc., and was therefore named La Mas Ubhal, that is, the day of the apple fruit, and being pronounced lamasool, the English have corrupted the name to lamb's-wool."   

On the other hand, it could be from the appearance of the apples bobbing on top of the liquid.

Heat oven to 450 degrees F.  Place 4 - 6 cored apples in a baking pan and roast in hot oven for about an hour or until they are very soft.

Heat 1 quart of ale or cider in a pot.  Stir in any of the hot spices: ground cinnamon, ground nutmeg, ground ginger, ground cloves, ground cardamom, ground allspice (and depending on how many spices you use, don't let the total be more than 1 to 2 teaspoons.  1/4 teaspoon EACH of cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger and cloves is good; more or less according to taste).  Add brown sugar by tablespoonsful - up to 1/2 cup - tasting after each addition for desired sweetness.  Bring the mixture to a boil, lower heat and simmer for 10-15 minutes.

Place the roasted apples in a warmed punchbowl and pour the hot liquid over them.  Serve hot.

This recipe from Historic Foods adds eggs and cream, while this one from The Foody is less complicated.

Go thou and enjoy.

25 October 2011

25 October - Saints Crispin and Crispinian; Crispin Apple Crisp

At Soissons, in France, in the persecution of Diocletian, the holy martyrs Crispin and Crispinian,  noble Romans. Under the governor Rictiovarus,  after horrible torments, they were put to the sword,  and thus obtained the crown of martyrdom. Their  bodies were afterwards conveyed to Rome, and entombed with due honors in the church of St.  Lawrence, in Panisperna. [Although a Kentish tradition holds that their bodies were thrown into the sea and washed ashore in the vicinity of Lydd.]

Today is the feast of Saints Crispin and Crispinian,  patrons of shoemakers, cobblers, tanners, saddle-makers, and other who work with leather.  They were 3rd century Romans, perhaps brothers, perhaps even twin brothers, who settled in Soissons (northern France) and set about preaching and converting the inhabitants by day, and making shoes by night.  They were denounced as Christians, tortured, and beheaded.  You can read the story of Crispin and Crispinian in the Golden Legend.

The most famous mention of Saint Crispin and Saint Crispinian is in the speech of Henry V before the Battle of Agincourt (1415), as written by Shakespeare:

"This day is call'd the feast of Crispian: 
He that outlives this day, and comes safe home, 
Will stand a tip-toe when this day is named,
And rouse him at the name of Crispian.
He that shall live this day, and see old age, 
Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbours,
And say, "To-morrow is Saint Crispian:"
Then will he strip his sleeve, and show his scars,
And say "These wounds I had on Crispin's day."
Old men forget; yet all shall be forgot,
But he'll remember with advantages
What feats he did that day; then shall our names,
Familiar in his mouth as household words,
Harry the king, Bedford and Exeter, 
Warwick and Talbot, Salisbury and Gloucester,
Be in their flowing cups freshly remember'd.
This story shall the good man teach his son;
And Crispin Crispian shall ne'er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remembered;
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne'er so base,
This day shall gentle his condition: 
And gentlemen in England, now abed,
Shall think themselves accurs'd they were not here;
And hold their manhoods cheap, whiles any speaks 
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin's day." 
William Shakespeare, The Life of King Henry V, Act IV, Scene iii.

"In France a cobbler's kit of tools was known as his Saint-Crepin. The bootjack was St. Crispin's stole, the awl St. Crispin's lance.  Of a person too tightly booted it is said that he is "in the prison of St. Crispin."  Formerly the cobblers worked at night with a large spherical bottle full of water between them and their candle or lamp.  This was known as St. Crispin's lamp, and its invention was attributed to Crispin himself.William S. Walsh, Curiosities of Popular Customs (1898), p. 294.

This was the high holiday of the shoemakers.  The guild, dressed in their best, marched to the church with banners and music, where a High Mass was celebrated. A banquet followed, over which the rule of 'King Crispin' held sway, with dancing to round out the festivities.

A good way to celebrate today would be to donate a pair of shoes to the local homeless shelter, woman's shelter, Saint Vincent de Paul Society, Goodwill, or any of a number of good causes.  Clean out your closet, or go and buy a stout pair of shoes, and take them to one of the aforementioned.  You will be in my prayers for your charity.

For tea or dessert tonight, The Feast Day Cookbook (by Katherine Burton and Helmut Ripperger) suggests a Fruit Cobbler in honor of the cobbler saints, with a recipe easy enough for cook's helpers to attempt.  In the same vein, I propose:

(Ahem! Thou shalt not groan in mental anguish, neither shalt thou roll thy eyes, lest The Widow box thy ears for thy effrontery!)

Crispin Apples look like large Golden Delicious.  Of course, any good cooking apple will do.

Preheat oven to 375° F.   Grease a square pan, 8" x 8" x 2".

Wash, dry, peel, core, and slice 4 Crispin Apples [or any cooking apple; last year I used 5 small Macintosh Apples.  This year I have an abundance of Granny Smiths].  Arrange apple slices in the greased square pan,

In a bowl, mix together 2/3 cup of packed brown sugar [3/4 cup if you are using very tart apples], 1/2 cup of flour, 1/2 cups of oats, and 3/4 teaspoon each of ground cinnamon and ground nutmeg.  Stir in 1/3 cup of softened butter or margarine [or you can cut in the butter with a pastry cutter, if it is not softened enough to mix easily with the dry ingredients]; mix well together.

Sprinkle topping evenly over apples.  Bake for about 30 minutes or until topping is golden brown and apples are tender.  Serve warm [ice cream goes really well with warm apple crisp, trust me].

And for your drinking pleasure, perhaps Crispin the Saint ("Elevated Hard Apple Cider") from the Crispin Cider Company.

23 October 2011

23 October - St. John of Capristrano; The Imam Fainted

"When the swallows come back to Capistrano...." 

Jose de Paez, c1775
In the General Calendar, today is the memorial of the Franciscan reformer, theologian, preacher, and crusader Saint John of Capistrano (1385-1456), also known as Saint John Capistran.  Prof. Plinio CorrĂȘa de Oliveira calls him one of the saints "who were the defensive walls of the House of God."  And he did indeed defend, whether with words or in the midst of battle, for after a lifetime of fighting heretics, John raised troops for a crusade against the Muslim armies menacing Europe and led them to the relief of Turkish-besieged Belgade.

As the son of a well-to-do family and one moreover with connections to the royal court of Naples, John was sent to the University of Perugia to study law, after which he became a magistrate, governor, and ambassador.  The last position, in which he tried to broker a peace, got him tossed into the pokey, the lord to whom he was sent not having a complete understanding of ambassadorial privilege.

With a lot of time to think, he thought much about the state of his soul, and decided to join the Franciscan order.  He studied theology under St. Bernardine of Siena - the Apostle of Italy - and joined him in promoting devotion to the Holy Name of Jesus.  It was John who defended Bernardine from malicious charges of heresy before a papal commission.

Like his mentor, he was a famous preacher; churches were often not large enough to hold the crowds which came to hear him, and he was required to preach in the piazzas. He also followed St. Bernardine in working for the reform of the the Friars Minor.  The Holy See sent him as its representative to various courts in Europe; between embassies, he preached strongly against heretics, especially the Hussites of Bohemia.

In 1453, when John was 67, the Turkish sultan Mohammed II conquered Constantinople, and set his sights on Europe.  At the Diet of Frankfort the following year, John preached a crusade against the Turks, and raised troops to which joined with those of Janos Hunyady in raising the siege of Belgrade.  John led his own troops in this decisive battle, after which both he and Hunyady contracted the bubonic plague; he died on 23 October 1456. 

Artwork: San Juan Capistrano by Jose de Paez, c1775. Mission San Juan Capistrano, California. 

As Saint John is the patron of military chaplains, I suppose eating MREs (Meals, Ready to Eat) would be appropriate; still, he came from southern Italy, which should have some bearing on tonight's dinner, so use the MREs as a centerpiece and choose something flavorful from Capistrano.

Capistrano is in the Calabrian region of Italy, at the toe of the Italian boot.  Surrounded by the sea, seafood and shellfish vie with the meats of the interior: pork and beef.  There are innumerable pasta dishes and vegetables, most especially eggplant.  Last St. John's day, we had Stuffed Eggplant.  This year, in honor of the raising of the siege of Belgrade, try an eggplant dish whose name translates to THE IMAM FAINTED:

Preheat oven to 350° (moderate oven).
Peel and chop 3 medium tomatoes. Crush 2 cloves of garlic.

Chop 2 medium onions and saute in a little olive oil for about 5 minutes.  Add the tomatoes, crushed garlic, 3 tablespoons of chopped parsley, and salt and pepper to taste, and cook until the mixture is mushy.

Cut the stem end of 2 medium eggplants, and make 3 lengthwise slits, one in the center, one on each side of the eggplant, starting and ending about 1 inch from each end (no need to be precise, just don't cut the entire length.)  Spoon the onion/tomato mixture into each cavity.

Place the stuffed eggplants in a baking dish, and sprinkle with 2 teaspoons of sugar, 3 tablespoons of lemon juice, and 1/2 cup of olive oil.  Cover and bake for 40 minutes, or until the eggplants are tender.

Serve either hot or cold.  Yogurt is a good accompaniment.

21 October 2011

21 October - Saint Ursula

Chivalry! Intrigue! Betrayal! And more virgins than any Muslim terrorist ever dreamed would be his reward!

The story of Saint Ursula and her eleven thousand virgins was a great favorite in the Middle Ages.  Simply put, a young Christian woman and her companions were martyred by barbarians near Cologne, Germany, or as the martyrology says: "At Cologne, the birthday of the Saints Ursula and her companions, who gained the martyr's crown by being massacred by the Huns for the Christian religion and their constancy in keeping their virginity.  Many of their bodies were deposited at Cologne."

But the medieval writers were not interested in history - they wished to edify the faithful, and simple does not edify quite as much as a story embellished with great deeds and great suffering and great opinions. So the legend of these martyred women grew.

The young woman in charge was given a name - Ursula - and parents - daddy was the king - and a country - England in some accounts, Cornwall in others - and a reason for leaving home - a pilgrimage to Rome - and a reason for the pilgrimage - one last trip before her wedding.

Not content with this, the writers added even more. Princess Ursula was "ennobled in the faith of Jesu Christ" and "shone full of marvellous honesty, wisdom, and beauty, and her fame and renown was borne all about".  Even this was not enough, so she became "not only wonderfully beautiful, and gifted with all the external graces of her sex, but accomplished in all the learning of the time. Her mind was a perfect storehouse of wisdom and knowledge; she had read about the stars and the courses of the winds; all that had ever happened in the world from the days of Adam she had by heart; the poets and the philosophers were to her what childish recreations are to others; but, above all, she was profoundly versed in theology and school divinity, so that the doctors were astonished and confounded by her argumentative powers. To these accomplishments were added the more excellent gifts of humility, piety, and charity, so that she was esteemed the most accomplished princess of the time". 

Not to be outdone, the young man she was to marry was a prince, "as celebrated for his beauty of person, his warlike prowess, and physical strength, as Ursula for her piety, her graces, and her learning".  However, he was also a pagan, so before she would marry him, she demanded that first, he become a Christian (accepted), second, that he send her ten virgin noblewomen as companions, and that each young woman be accompanied by one thousand virgins, plus another thousand for herself (accepted), and thirdly, that she be allowed three years to make a pilgrimage to Rome and other shrines, while he was studying to become a Christian (accepted).

Once the eleven thousand+ virgins "spotless and beautiful and of noble birth" "fair and accomplished in all female learning, and attired in rich garments, wearing jewels of gold and silver" were converted to Christianity, there was nothing left to do but go on that pilgrimage, and the large company of women embarked on several ships.  They made it to Rome, and the reigning pope, Ciriacus (whom you will not find in the papal lists, but don't worry, there's a reason for that) resigned his triple tiara and went with the women on their return journey.  In this he was joined by several bishops.

When they reached Cologne, they found that the Huns were besieging the area.  The Huns, for their part, fell upon this company, slaying the men first, and then offering the women their lives if they would abjure their faith and sacrifice their virginity.  Incited and encouraged by Ursula, they wouldn't give in, and the whole lot of them were massacred.  Ursula was the last, but her beauty so captivated the Hun leader that he offered to make her his wife.  The outraged princess "all glowing with indignation and a holy scorn" made her refusal quite clear: "O thou cruel man! — blind and senseless as thou art cruel! Thinkest thou I can weep?  Or dost thou hold me so base, so cowardly, that I would consent to survive my dear companions and sisters?  Thou art deceived, O son of Satan! for I defy thee, and him whom thou servest!"  Rather etiquette-challenged, you might say, and the Hun leader was equally rude in reply. He shot her with arrows (accounts differ whether it was one arrow or three), and so she died.

Not content with even these embellishments, the writers kept adding to the story, giving Ursula more companions, including her aunt, the Queen of Sicily, and her daughters; the daughter of the king of Constantinople and her uncle, the bishop of Greece; the bishops of Antioch, Lucca, and Ravenna; and a host of knights and men-at-arms.  The erstwhile pope, Ciriacus, so angered the clergy with his abdication, that they removed all mention of his name (now you know why you won't find him in the list of popes).  The Huns were apprised of this great company of Christians by two pagan princes of Rome, who commanded all the Imperial troops in Germania. "They, being astonished at the sight of this multitude of virgins, said one to the other, 'Shall we suffer this? If we allow these Christian maidens to return to Germania, they will convert the whole nation; or if they marry husbands, then they will have so many children — no doubt all Christians — that our empire will cease; therefore let us take counsel what is best to be done."  They deceitfully ascertained the route of the returning pilgrims and then wrote to their cousin the chief, suggesting that that the Christians be slain at Cologne.  Ursula's betrothed husband, now converted and baptized, was told in a vision to go to Cologne where he would be martyred - he took his mother and little sister, and joined Ursula in death.

That is one version, which you can read in full in the Golden Legend.  Other versions, along with the theories of how a simple misunderstanding multiplied the number from eleven young women to something greater than the population of my home-town, can be found at the Catholic Encyclopedia.

In art, she is usually depicted crowned and richly dressed, holding arrows and a white banner bearing a red cross (the cross of St. George) signifying not only her country of origin, but the Christian standard of victory.  In the Dutch woodcut here, she holds an enormous arrow and shelters her companions under her cloak.

Then let us devoutly give laud and praising unto the blessed Trinity and pray Him that by the merits of this great multitude of martyrs He will forgive and pardon us of our sins, that after this life we may come unto this holy company in heaven. Amen.

20 October 2011

20 October - Orionids; Hunter's Stew

Astronomy:  The Orionid meteor shower reaches its peak tonight after midnight through tomorrow's pre-dawn hours and the same for after midnight tomorrow, with about 15 shooting stars per hour.  This year, the waning crescent moon might hinder optimum viewing.  Still, you might be able to see something.  EarthSky says that viewing is best in the wee (and very chilly) hours before dawn.  Look south/southeast; the meteors will appear to be coming from Orion's right arm (on your left as you look at the constellation).

You should know what Orion looks like (after the Big Dipper, it has to be one of the easiest constellations to recognize), but if not, here is one of the clearest images I could find.  The 'belt', the three stars at an angle, is very recognizable.  The reddish-yellow star marking his right shoulder (on your left as you look at it) is Betelgeuse, and the meteors seem to come from just above that.

(They are not in this photo, but if, when you are stargazing, you look to the right of the constellation, you will see a group of stars hanging down in a semi-circle.  These are often drawn as the skin of a beast he has recently slain, and since he is waving it in the face of Taurus, the Bull (the 'V' of the horns is easily seen, with the Pleiades marking the Bull's shoulder), this makes him the oldest bullfighter in history.)

Orion, in Greek mythology, was a mighty hunter - a real Nimrod - and so in his honor, and that of Canis, his faithful companion, let us have a HUNTER'S STEW:

Start with 2 pounds of moose, elk, caribou, venison, or (if you are not a hunter; or you are, but your shot accounted for one of the local farmer's best milk cows, and you have paid a really whopping fine and now own a carcass) beef pot roast.

[ahem!  And even if he flushed a pheasant and startled you so that your shot went wild, dropping poor Elsie in her tracks, please do not substitute faithful Canis for the above. Thank you.]

Cut up the meat into manageable chunks and brown in 2 tablespoons of hot bacon fat in a large saucepan or kettle.  Just cover browned meat with water and simmer, covered, for about an hour.  

[From the Experience Files: check on the level of water throughout the hour.  You'd be surprised how fast it can evaporate, even at a slow simmer.  Add a little hot water if needed.] 

Cut 6 carrots into 1-inch pieces. Add carrots, a bay leaf, and salt and pepper to taste to the pot; simmer, covered, for 30 minutes.  Coarsely chop 3 medium onions; peel and cube 6 medium potatoes. Add onions and potatoes to pot; simmer, covered for 20 minutes (you may need to add a little hot water to keep the ingredients covered).  Quarter a small green cabbage and add that to the pot; simmer, covered for a final 15 minutes.  Season as desired and serve.

[And for faithful Canis?  Probably his usual kibble.  Something like this recipe might operate so powerfully on his digestion as to make moving the doghouse to the very end of the back-forty feasible.  Of course, cabbage may have the same effect on the Mighty Nimrods of the house, in which case they too should be sent out to the back-forty.]

18 October 2011

18 October - Saint Luke

Weather:   Today, and the days fore and aft, are known as Saint Luke's Little Summer, a bit of warmth in the crisp October days.   


 Feast of Saint Luke the Evangelist: the first ecclesiastical historiographer, author of the Gospel of Luke and of The Acts of the Apostles, and the companion of St. Paul, who called him 'the beloved physician'.  His symbol is the horned ox, usually winged.  Patron of artists, especially painters, and physicians, and a whole host of others.   You can read a nearly exhaustive account of the great writer here at the Catholic Encyclopedia.    More ways to celebrate Saint Luke's day can be found on Catholic Culture, including the beautiful prayer said at the completion of the day, Nunc Dimittis: "Now Thou dost dismiss Thy servant, O Lord, according to Thy word in peace; because my eyes have seen Thy salvation, which Thou hast prepared before the face of all peoples: A light to the revelation of the Gentiles, and the glory of Thy people Israel."

Today is another good day to find out who you are going to marry, but unlike Saint Faith's Eve, you can also find out what kind of husband he will be.  This charm is taken from Mother Bunch's Closet Newly Broke Open, as found in Observations on the Popular Antiquities of Great Britain by John Brand:

"Take marigold flowers, a sprig of marjoram, thyme, and a little wormwood; dry them before a fire, rub them to a powder, then sift it through a fine piece of lawn; simmer these in a small quantity of virgin honey in white vinegar, over a slow fire; with this anoint your stomach, breast, and lips, lying down, and repeat these words thrice:

Saint Luke, Saint Luke, be kind to me
Let me in dreams my true love see

This said, hasten to sleep, and in the soft slumber of your nights repose, the very man whom you shall marry will appear before you, walking to and fro, near your bedside, very plain and visible to be seen.  You shall perfectly see his visage, stature and deportment; and if he be one that will prove a loving husband, he will approach you with a smile; which, if he does, do not seem to be over fond or peevish; but receive the same with a mild and modest blush.  But if it be one, who after marriage will forsake thy bed to wander after strange women, he will offer to be rude and uncivil with thee."

Good luck!  Were I to see some guy walking to and fro near my bedside, I would be dialing 9-1-1; that is, I would if I could do anything more than pray, "Take me now, Lord!"

Artwork: Woodcut of Saint Luke from a sixteenth century Dutch copy of The Golden Legend.