25 November 2012

25 November - Saint Catherine of Alexandria

Weather - As the weather on St. Catherine's foul or fair
                 So it will be next Februare.

                 If there is snow on St. Catherine's day, winter will be hard.

                 As on St. Catherine, so will the New Year be.

More on Saint Catherine and the celebration of her day, including the love charms, here.

Saint Catherine of Alexandria, Rogier van der Weyden, c1440.  Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna.

Stir up, we beseech Thee

Stir-up Sunday.

Another year gone.  Advent starts next week, and with it, the Liturgical Year.

And it is time again to make the mincemeat for my Christmas pies using the usual recipe, which I posted here (along with old receipts for plum pudding and plum pottage).

Always on the lookout for early recipes, I offer these from the turn of the century – the turn of the 18th into the 19th century, that is.

For those who must have the flaming cannonball, or Christmas won’t be Christmas, Sussannah Carter’s Frugal Housewife of 1803 offers this receipt for ‘Plumb Pudding’:

A cake suitable for Christmas Tea is a little more involved:

But I prefer Mincemeat.  This receipt is from American Cookery (1798) by Amelia Simmons (An American Orphan):

This is the third recipe for minced meat given by Ms. Simmons (the other two using neat’s foot and neat’s tongue as the meat) and as is her wont, the first recipe has directions, the others have only ingredients.  By following the directions in the first recipe, the 1798 cook would do thusly:
“To every four pound minced salted meat, add one pound of beef suet and four pound raw apple, chop all together very fine, add one quart of wine or rich sweet cider, one ounce of cinnamon, one ounce of mace, one nutmeg, two pounds stoned raisins, and sweeten to your taste.  Make use of paste No. 3 – bake three quarters of an hour.”

(The No. 3 Paste [pastry] is: “To any quantity of flour, rub in three fourths of its weight of butter, (12 eggs to a peck) rub in one third or half, and roll in the rest.”)

As to oven temperature: “All meat pies require a hotter and brisker oven than fruit pies” – so if you know how hot the oven needs to be for a fruit pie, you can adjust up accordingly.

The author also advises that “… in good cookeries, all raisins should be stoned.”

Well, mine have been marinating in brandy overnight, so they are well snookered.  Does that count?

(Yes, children, the Widow is aware that stoned raisins means that the seeds have been removed from them.  Fortunately, we have seedless raisins.)

The Frugal Housewife is definitely more frugal in the amount of meat and wine used:

Now, once you have baked all your pies, Ms. Simmons says you should carefully store them for later use, and during the winter you can produce a mince pie for any dinner according to the tastes of your guests by reheating the contents and adding more spices:

In other words, bake all your pies, and then, in the weeks to come, when you have guests who prefer a little more cinnamon or brandy in their pie, carefully raise the top crust, scoop out the mincemeat, warm the (emptied) crust before the fire, reheat the mincemeat with the required additions, put it all back together again, and serve it up.

As tempting as several-weeks-old pie must be, I will just put all my mincemeat in jars and make my pies on the days they are to be enjoyed, which is every day of the Twelve Days of Christmas… and any long, dark, cold winter day thereafter.

Stir up, we beseech Thee, O Lord, the wills of Thy faithful people; that they, plenteously bringing forth the fruit of good works, may of Thee be plenteously rewarded; through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.

17 November 2012

17 November - Saint Hilda of Whitby

The feast, or solemnity, or remembrance, or optional whatever… today belongs to the 7th century abbess, Saint Hilda of Whitby.

Hilda, or Hild, was born about 614 into the ruling family of Northumbria, but politics being what they were, she early learned that members of ruling families had a tendency to kill each other.  Her father was poisoned soon after her birth, and she grew up in the royal court of King Edwin (her father’s uncle) with her mother and older sister Hereswith.

Up to this point, Christianity in the northern part of England was not quite non-existent, but close enough.  The Irish monks had done great work in converting Scotland, Saint Augustine of Canterbury and his missionaries had made great inroads into the southern kingdoms, but in between, not so much.  That changed when Hilda was 11 and Uncle Edwin married Ethelburga, the Christian daughter of the king of Kent, and promised that not only would she be allowed to practice her religion freely, but that he would consider converting, if his wife’s religion seemed more acceptable to God than his own pagan religion.

How he was going to determine its acceptability to God is not mentioned, but perhaps a few curtain-lectures helped.  Two years later, Edwin converted and was baptized with his household (including Hilda).  Soon after this, older sister Hereswith married into the ruling family of East Anglia.

Life went on as usual until 632, when Uncle Edwin was killed in battle, and Aunt Ethelburga and her children were forced to flee to the safety of Kent.  It is not known for certain what action Hilda took, but it is likely that she went south with the queen, possibly heading for her sister’s court in East Anglia.  Her life for the next 15 years is open to speculation.

Meanwhile, the victory in 633 of Oswald (another relative from a rival part of the family) over the pagan king of Mercia brought a Christian king back to the throne of Northumbria.  Older sister Hereswith was widowed and, as was usual for royal widows, took the veil as a nun.  There not being any foundations nearby, she chose to go to Chelles in France.  Hilda, now 33 years of age, contemplated joining her sister in Chelles, but King Oswald’s friend Saint Aidan convinced her to return to Northumbria and take charge of a monastery there.  She did so, eventually becoming the abbess of the double monastery at Hartlepool, where Aidan continued to visit and advise her until his death in 651.

Oswald, himself later to be canonized, was killed in battle and was succeeded by his brother Oswiu.  Facing a battle of his own, the king vowed to dedicate his infant daughter to the service of God and furthermore to make 12 grants of land for religious foundations if he was victorious.  Making good on that vow, he sent the baby to Hilda to be raised at Hartlepool, and gave her one of the grants of land, which she used to found a double abbey at Streoneshalch (later called Whitby) in 657.  In a double abbey or monastery, both monks and nuns lived in small cells separated by the church – monks on one side, nuns on the other (no mixed dorms here!) – under the rule of an abbess.   Hilda’s foundation grew and prospered, and, like its founder, was far famed for learning and piety.

Hilda was still founding and building in 680, when the intermittent fever from which she had suffered for the last seven years finally caused her death at the age of 66.

In the picture here, we see Hilda holding her abbey in one hand, and a spiraled object in the other.  In the area around Whitby, ammonite fossils are common, and while we now know what they are, medieval man did not.  Therefore, they became the stuff of legend – specifically that Saint Hilda turned to stone the snakes which infested the place.  In Scott’s “Marmion”, the Whitby nuns relate:

 — how of a thousand snakes each one
Was changed into a coil of stone
When holy Hilda prayed;
Themselves within their holy bound
Their stony folds had often found.

That the ‘snakes’ had no heads was explained away – either St. Hilda or St. Cuthbert had so cursed them before they were petrified, but for those who needed help visualizing the miracle, the locals would happily (and surreptitiously) carve heads on the “snake-stones” prior to selling the same to the awe-struck pilgrims.

Hilda’s flourishing abbey of Whitby was destroyed by Norsemen in 867.   A plaintive poem from 1880 imaginatively describes the loss of the abbey bells, and relates that those who hear them ringing on New Year’s Eve will be married within the year:

by ‘Hereward’

FROM the pleasant vale of Whitby, by the German Ocean shore,
Floats the sweetness of a legend handed down from days of yore,
When that hardy North Sea Rover, Oscar Olaf, Son of Sweyn,
Swooping down on Whitby's convent, bore her Bells beyond the Main—
Far away to where the headlands on the Scandinavian shore—
With reverberating thunder—-echo Baltic's sullen roar;

And sad the night-winds o'er the Yorkshire fells

Bemoan'd the absence of St. Hilda's Bells.

But the storms of Scandinavia, (Dane and Viking's sea-girt home),
Smote the Baltic's angry breakers, lash'd them into seething foam,
Whose white-crested, heaving mountains drove the saffron-bearded Dane
(Him the Saxons feared and hated, Oscar Olaf, Son of Sweyn)
Drove him back to cloister'd Whitby, and the German Ocean wave
Rolls and breaks with ceaseless moaning o'er the North Sea Rover's grave:
Aye, rolls and breaks, as when it moaned the knells
Of Oscar Olaf and St. Hilda's Bells.

Oft the Nuns and Mother Abbess of St. Hilda's lofty fane
Sighed to hear the silver chiming of the Convent Bells again;
Oft the herdsman on the moorland, and the maiden on the lea,
Mourned the missing iron songsters borne away beyond the sea;
For it seemed as though the accents of the dear old Bells no more
Would be heard in pleasant Whitby by the German Ocean shore,
That evermore the North Sea's surging swells
Would drown the music of St. Hilda's bells.

Aves, Credos, Paternosters, pleaded at St. Hilda's shrine,
(Sacred altar where the franklin's and the villein's prayers entwine,)
These, and presents rich and goodly, to that convent old and quaint,
Touched the heart of good St. Hilda, Saxon Whitby's Patron Saint;
For 'tis writ in fisher folk-lore at her word old Ocean bore
On his crest the ravished songsters, stranding them on Whitby's shore;
And oft again o'er Whitby's woodland dells
Was heard the sweetness of St. Hilda's Bells.

Years have fled adown the ages since those nigh-forgotten times;
But each New Year's Eve the waters echo back the convent chimes,
And—'tis said—the youth who hears them, ere the coming year has fled
(Flinging single life behind him) shall have press'd the nuptial bed;
Sweet belief, and quaint old legend, wafting long-forgotten lore
From the pleasant vale of Whitby by the German Ocean shore,
Where strolls the ancient fisherman who tells
Of Oscar Olaf and St. Hilda's Bells.

02 November 2012

2 November - All Souls Day; Nut Shortbread

Soul, Soul, for a Soul cake
Pray you, good mistress, a Soul cake…

“Soul day, Soul Day,
We have been praying for the soul departed.
So pray good people give us a cake
For we are all poor people,
Well known to you before.
So give us a cake for charity’s sake,
And our blessing we’ll leave at your door.
Soul! Soul! For an apple or two,
If you have no apples, pears will do,
If pears are scarce, then cakes from your pan,
Give us our souling and we’ll be gone.”

My Soul Cakes this year were shortbread triangles, and I added chopped nuts because, well, the souls for whom I am praying all tended to be a bit eccentric on occasion.


Soften 1 cup of butter.
Sift flour to make 2-½ cups
Chop nuts to make ½ cup

Preheat oven to 300° F.

To the butter and flour, add ½ cup of sugar and 1/8 teaspoon of salt.  Mix thoroughly, then stir in the chopped nuts.

Roll out dough to ½ inch thickness.  Cut into triangles, about 1-½ inch per side more or less (or whatever shape you wish.  A shot glass or the round cap from a spice jar make good cutters).

Bake for 20 to 25 minutes.

When you enjoy these little cakes, remember to say a prayer for a soul.

"Souling", an illustration by 'R. Blum' (Robert Frederick Blum) for St. Nicholas: An Illustrated Magazine for Young Folks, December 1882, p. 93.

[And this time, Wikipedia swiped it from me.]

01 November 2012

1 November - All Saints Day

Weather:  If All Saints' Day will bring out the winter, Saint Martin's Day (11 November) will bring out Indian Summer (and vice versa)

All Saints’ Day has a little summer of three days. When it is warm at this time of year, it is called “All Saints’ Rest”.

If on All Saints’ Day the beechnut be found dry, we shall have a hard winter; but if the nut be wet and not light, we may expect a wet winter.

As on November 1st, so is the winter to come.


“The memories of the Saints, are precious to God, and therefore they ought also to be so to us; and such persons who serve God by holy living, industrious preaching, and religious dying, ought to have their names preserved in honor, and God be glorified in them, and their holy doctrines and lives published and imitated; and we by so doing give testimony to the article of the communion of saints… The holiday is best kept by giving God thanks for the excellent persons, apostles or martyrs, we then remember, and by imitating their lives; this all may do.”  Jeremy Taylor (1613 – 1667)

Our old friend Naogeorgus, nearly foaming at the mouth over the idolatry of the Papists, denounced a 16th century Corpus Christi procession with its accompanying saints:

“Christ’s passion here derided is, with sundry masques and plays,
Fair Ursula with her maidens all, do pass amid the ways:
And valiant George, with spear you kill the dreadful dragon here;
The devil’s house is drawn about, wherein there does appear
A wondrous sort of damned sprites, with foul and fearful look;
Great Christopher does wade and pass with Christ amid the brook:
Sebastian full of feathered shafts, the dint of dart does feel;
There walks Katherine with her sword in hand, and cruel wheel:
The Chalice and the singing Cake, with Barbara is led,
And sundry other Pageants played in worship of this bread,
That please the foolish people well: what should I stand upon,
Their Banners, Crosses, Candlesticks, and relics many on,
Their Cups and carved Images, that Priests with countenance hie,
Or rude and common people bear about full solemnly.”

[Poor Naogeorgus!  You were only born in the wrong century.  Saints, processions, “Vatican II did away with that…” as I was told by a Cradle Catholic.  Sigh.]

Artwork: both woodcuts are from a 1489 Dutch printing of The Golden Legend.


Next was November; he full gross and fat
As fed with lard, and that right well might seem;
For he had been a fatting hogs of late,
That yet his brows with sweat did reek and steam,
And yet the season was full sharp and breem;
In planting eke he took no small delight,
Whereon he rode, not easy was to deem
For it a dreadful Centaur was in sight,
The seed of Saturn and fair Nais, Chiron hight.

"This name signifies the ninth month, which position it occupied in the ten-month calendar ascribed to Romulus.  The name was retained when two additional months were added.  The Emperor Tiberius was born in this month.  Hence the Senate wished to give it his name, following the precedent set by Augustus, but he declined the honor, saying, “What will you do, conscript fathers, when you have thirteen Caesars?"

“It was the Windmonath or Wind Month, of the Saxons, who knew it also as Blotmonath, for this was the month when cattle, pigs, and sheep were slaughtered and preserved for the winter's meals.”  Now begin the days of salting, smoking, and pickling the larger cuts of meat, while the scrapings go into sausages and head-cheese.

Astronomy for November   

Fall Back!  Daylight Saving Time ends at 2:00 AM on Sunday, the 4th, for those who follow it.  Put your clocks back one hour before you go to bed.

The full moon on the 28th is the Full Beaver Moon (also known as the Full Frost Moon). 

Meteor Showers   
The South Taurid Meteor Shower  peaks after midnight on November 4th and 5th.  The waning moon will be with you all night, so seeing these slow-moving shooting stars won’t be easy.

The moon, what there is of it, rises between 3:00 and 4:00 am on November 11th and between 4:00 and 5:00 am on November 12th, so dress warmly and watch the North Taurid Meteor Shower after midnight on both days.

The almost half-moon sets in the evening and only rises for elevenses the next morning, so this should be a good viewing of the Leonid Meteor Shower on November 17th  - 18th,  (barring any clouds, of course).  Best time to watch is (brrrrrr) pre-dawn on both days.

See EarthSky's Meteor Shower Guide for a list of upcoming showers.

Novenas for November
This month is dedicated to the Holy Souls in Purgatory.  EWTN has a novena for them and for us.  It takes nine days (nov = nine), so I start over again on the 10th, and again on the 19th, making the entire month one of prayer. On the 28th, I triple the prayers, so that that the nine prayers are again said on the final three days.

And if that is too much, try to find time each day to say Saint Gertrude's Prayer:
"Eternal Father, I offer Thee the Most Precious Blood of Thy Divine Son, Jesus, in union with the Masses said throughout the world today, for all the Holy Souls in Purgatory, for sinners everywhere, for sinners in the Universal Church, those in my own home and within my family. Amen."

Holy Souls in Purgatory             continues from 24 October
Saint Martin de Porres                continues from 25 October
Christ the King (General)           begins 16 November
Saint Francis Xavier                   begins 24 November
Saint Nicholas                             begins 27 November


Dull November brings the blast
Then the leaves are whirling fast. 

Weather for November 
Based on the 12 Days of Christmas: Mostly sunny and very, very cold. 
Based on the first 12 Days of January: Mostly sunny and mild. 
Based on the Ember Days:  Cloudy in the morning, clearing to a lovely, golden day.

Weather Lore for November: 

If the latter end of October and the beginning of November be for the most part warm and rainy, then January and February are likely to be frosty and cold. [A pretty safe bet, no matter what the weather of October and November]

And vice versa:
If October and November are cold, then the following January and February will be mild and dry.

If the robin becomes more familiar than usual at the fall of the year, a severe winter may be expected.

Ice in November brings mud in December.

If there's ice in November that will bear a duck, there will be nothing at Christmas but mud and muck.

Flowers in bloom late in autumn indicate a bad winter [even if the bad winter won’t show up until the following year]

As in November, so the following March.

A heavy November snow will last until April.

Thunder in November, a fertile year to come.

A wet November, a plentiful year.

11/1 - If All Saints' Day will bring out the winter, Saint Martin's Day will bring out Indian Summer (and vice versa)

         All Saints’ Day has a little summer of three days. When it is warm at this time of year, it is called “All Saints’ Rest”.

         If on All Saints’ Day the beechnut be found dry, we shall have a hard winter; but if the nut be wet and not light, we may expect a wet winter.

         As on November 1st, so is the winter.

11/4 – If it storms on the first Sunday of the month, it will storm every Sunday.

11/10 – The weather on Martinmas Eve is supposed to indicate the weather for the winter, and where the wind is, there it will be for the coming winter.

            If there is a frost before Martinmas, the winter will be mild.

11/11 – Around St. Martin’s day, we can expect some warm weather.  This is called St. Martin’s Summer.
            At St. Martin’s Day, winter is on his way.

            If ducks do slide at Martintide, at Christmas they will swim;
            If ducks do swim at Martintide, at Christmas they will slide.

            If the geese stand on ice, they will walk in mud at Christmas.

            If Martinmas is fair, dry, and cold, the cold in winter will not last long.

           If the wind is in the south-west at Martinmas, it remains there until after Christmas (Candlemas for the optimists), and we shall have a mild winter up to then and no snow to speak of.

           Wind north-west at Martinmas, severe winter to come.

           If the leaves of the trees and grape vines do not fall before Martin’s Day, a cold winter may be expected.

           If this day be fair, the next winter will bring but little rain and snow along with it; but if the first half of the day be clear and the other half cloudy, the beginning of winter will accordingly be fair, but its end and spring will turn out rigorous and disagreeable.

11/21 - As November 21st, so is the winter.

11/25 - As at Catherine foul or fair, so will be next February.
November take flail,
Let no more ships sail.


"The business of the garden this month is principally in preparing manure, making all clean and neat, and defending plants against the coming frosts."

Thunder in November, a fertile year to come.

A wet November, a plentiful year.

When in November the water rises, it will show itself the whole winter.

11/1 - Set trees at Allhallowtide, and command them to prosper; Set them after Candlemas, and entreat them to grow.

           If the weather holds clear on the first of November, sow the last of your wheat for the year.

           Begin making cider today

11/5 – Tulips should be planted today.  In fact, if the weather holds, and you have not already done so, now is a good time to dig up, separate, and replant any spring-flowering bulbs – tulips, daffodils, narcissus, hyacinths, etc.

11/9 – Plant raspberry canes today.

The 1817 Almanac advises the gardener: "If the season proves mild, you may continue to prune Apple Trees, be they Standards, Wall Fruit, or Espaliers; but you should not prune them later, lest Rains and Frosts should hurt the Trees, when the Wounds are fresh.”

“Trench your Ground, by laying it up in Ridges to mellow.  Set Crab-Tree Stocks to graft on; continue to plant Suckers and Cuttings of Gooseberries, Currants and Raspberries; make Hot-beds for Asparagus; fell Coppices, and lop Trees, plant Timber and Fruit-Trees, if the Weather be open."

Cassell’s Illustrated Almanac 1871 for November
Flowers —Plant hyacinths early in the month, and tulips should also be in the first week, if possible. Climbing plants and flowering shrubs may now be obtained and planted. Take up dahlias; watch any plants you may have in pits, giving them light and air freely on the few milder days of the month, and carefully covering them again as soon as the sun goes down.

Vegetables —A sowing of early beans may now be made, at a depth of about two inches, and when they rise they must be well protected with litter. Clear away all decayed leaves from your young crops, and keep the ground well cleaned between the plants. Cover over the crowns of rhubarb and seakale with dry dung, sand, or some similar material.

Fruit —The pruning and transplanting of fruit trees should now be completed. Newly-planted trees of a tender kind should be well protected against frost, and fruit trees on walls may now be freely pruned, and their training attended to.

… Mushrooms and the Fungus race,
That grow as Allhallowtide takes place.   (Nov 1)
Soon the evergreen Laurel alone is seen,
When Catherine crowns all learned men.    (Nov 25)


"The best Physic this Month is good Exercise, warm Clothes, and wholesome Diet.  But if any Distemper afflict you, finish your Physic this Month, and so rest till March."

November. Engraving by Samuel Williams. William Hone, The Everyday Book and Table Book, (1838), p. 1418

November – Group Around a Fire. Engraving based on an 11th century manuscript. William Walsh, Curiosities of Popular Customs (1898), p. 755