03 March 2012

3 March - Saint Winwaloe; Shrimp Chowder

WeatherEmber Day – The weather today foretells the weather of June.

Thunder on St. Cunigunda’s day foretells a second winter.


Today is the feast of Saint Winwallus, aka Winwaloe, abbot, the third person in the weather-rhyme:

First comes David, next come Chad
Then comes Winnal roaring mad *
White or black,
Or old house thack (i.e. bringing snow, rain, or heavy winds)
*(or, “roaring like mad”, or “as if he was mad”, or “as though he was mad”, or “blowing mad”)

A good Celtic name transplanted from one Celtic country (Wales) to another (Brittany) and back again (Cornwall, and points north), it is variously rendered as Bennoc, Guénolé, Onolaus, Valois, Winwalloe, Winwalve, and several other variations, and in the above weather-rhyme, “Winnold”, “Winneral”, “Whinwall”, “Winnel” and “Winnol”

His father was a Welsh noble who fled with his family across the Channel to the western coast of Brittany during a threatened Saxon invasion in the latter part of the 5th century.  Winwaloe, as the third son, was destined for the Church, and at an early age was sent to study under the tutelage of St. Budoc.   Obeying a vision of the recently deceased Saint Patrick, Winwaloe and eleven companions established a monastery on the small island of Tibidy in the Celtic Sea, where they could maintain a truly eremitical existence.  However, the soil there was too poor for agriculture, and the island was so constantly visited by violent winds and storms, that the monastery was abandoned after three years.

[All jokes about jolly fat friars aside, the monastic saints were, as a rule, not easily turned by a little suffering.  In fact, they welcomed it, and their stories are replete with the original ways that they found to add a little suffering to their already sacrificial lives – living on top of a column, rolling in a bed of nettles, repeating the psalms while submerged to the neck in a pool of freezing water – and these on top of the usual hair-shirts, rock mattresses, and starvation diets.

In Winwaloe’s monastery, the monks ate no wheat bread or drank wine, except in the sacrifice of the Mass.  They ate coarse barley-bread and boiled herbs and roots [which doesn’t sound so bad if you think of it as cooked spinach and boiled carrots] and drank water or a weak herbal tea (“water boiled with a small decoction of certain wild herbs”).  On Sundays, they were allowed a treat in the form of cheese and shellfish.  Winwaloe, himself, ate only barley-bread mixed with ashes (more ashes added on feast days), wore an outfit composed of goatskin with a hair-shirt beneath, and slept on a pile of bark with a stone pillow.

With such a routinely miserable existence, the storms must have been great indeed to make the monks abandon the island for a more protected location.]

The new foundation was at Landévennec to the southwest, about fifteen miles by land around the Celtic Sea, but only about a mile over the water.  Winwaloe took the short route and walked across from Tibidy.  This monastery, where he died in 530, flourished until its destruction during the raids of the Norsemen in 914.  Prior to that, it had established daughter houses, notably in Cornwall and in East Anglia, where the destructive storms coming off the North Sea were called “Whinwall storms”.


There is a delicious Breton fish soup/stew called Cotriade, which looks like something that the less saintly of Winwaloe’s monks might have thoroughly enjoyed on a festival day.  Two recipes can be found here and here, and there are dozens of others. Some of the recipes declare that shellfish must never be used, and others suggest [and act on the suggestion] that shellfish would make the soup even more excellent.

[The use of shellfish in Cotriade probably incites as many heated discussions as does the rivalry between New England and Manhattan Clam Chowders.  Trust me.  Do not even hint of tomatoes when the New England chowder is cooking.  Memories are long here.]

Well, since the monks enjoyed shellfish and cheese, and it is a cold day, let us honor them with SHRIMP CHOWDER, which likely would have sent them to confession and penance for the rest of their days:

Rinse 2 pounds of shrimp, but do not shell.

Start with enough salted water to cover; heat to boiling and drop the shrimp into the water.  Simmer, covered, until the shrimp are pink, about 2 to 5 minutes.  Drain, reserving broth.  Shell and devein shrimp [and the voice of experience suggests that you let them cool first].

Meanwhile, mince a small onion to equal ½ cup, and dice 2-3 potatoes (more or less, depending on size) to equal 2 cups.  Shred cheddar or other favorite shreddable cheese to equal ½ cup [this is optional].

If you are using the traditional salt pork, dice ¼ pound and cook it in a large pot or saucepan until it is brown and crisp.  Remove crisp bits and set aside.  Otherwise, you can use 2 tablespoons of butter or olive oil.

In the chosen fat, cook the onion until it is soft.  Add 2 cups of the strained shrimp broth and the diced potatoes to the pot and simmer, covered, until the potatoes are tender.

Meanwhile, heat 3 cups of mixed milk and light cream [half of each or whatever you’ve got] to just simmering.  Remove from heat.  Stir in shredded cheese until melted, and keep warm.

When potatoes are tender, add the shrimps and milk/cream (and the pork bits if you’ve got ‘em), and heat through.

Serve in bowls with a sprinkling of parsley on each.  A nice crusty bread is a good accompaniment, and if you didn’t add cheese to the chowder [or even if you did], a plate of fromage and fruit will end the repast nicely.