01 February 2013

1 February - St. Ignatius of Antioch; Dandelion Wine

Today we remember Saint Ignatius, Bishop and Martyr.

We also celebrate Saint Bridget of Kildare.

Also, this is Candlemas Eve.  This is the LAST DAY of Christmas.  The totally last day.  This is it.  Take down the tree and the lights.  Put the reindeer away.  “Down with the holly and the mistletoe…”

“The birthday of St. Ignatius, bishop and martyr, who governed the church of Antioch, the third after the apostle St. Peter.  Being condemned to the beasts in the persecution of Trajan, he was by that emperor sent to Rome in chains, where, in the presence of the Senate, he was subjected to the most frightful torments, and delivered to the lions, which lacerated him with their teeth, and made of him a sacrifice to Christ.”

Ignatius, Bishop of Antioch (died c107), is, like his friend Polycarp of Smyrna and Clement of Rome, one of the Apostolic Fathers, those men who had personal contact with the Apostles and received the deposit of faith directly from them.  He is said to have been chosen by Saint Peter to succeed Bishop Evodius (who died around the year 67), his own successor to the chair of Antioch, making him the third Bishop (after Peter) of that See.

For over thirty years, Ignatius continued to guide and strengthen his flock, first through the persecution of the emperor Domitian, who deified himself, and then, after a short period of peace, during further persecutions under the emperor Trajan.  In response to a complaint that the huge number of Christians had caused the market value of sacrificial animals to drop (and the sellers of same to go out of business), Trajan made one of those economic stimulus decisions so popular among those who can’t see past their own wallets, and outlawed Christianity.  Those people who admitted to being Christians and refused to sacrifice to the state gods were to be punished with death.

Ignatius was soon denounced under the edict, and with eloquence and zeal, defended his faith in Christ.  For this, he was sentenced to be taken to Rome and thrown to the lions for the enjoyment of the spectators.

On the long journey to Rome, Ignatius found time to pen several letters to various churches, exhorting the Christians to stand fast in the Faith and not fall victim to either apostasy or heresy.  While seven of these letters are considered genuine, others have either been falsely attributed to him or have had a few “editorial remarks” added by subsequent authors, and are considered spurious (the practice of pseudepigrapha is nothing new).

“It is scarcely possible to exaggerate the importance of the testimony which the Ignatian letters offer to the dogmatic character of Apostolic Christianity. The martyred Bishop of Antioch constitutes a most important link between the Apostles and the Fathers of the early Church. Receiving from the Apostles themselves, whose auditor he was, not only the substance of revelation, but also their own inspired interpretation of it; dwelling, as it were, at the very fountain-head of Gospel truth, his testimony must necessarily carry with it the greatest weight and demand the most serious consideration." The Catholic Encyclopedia (1910)


The name ‘dandelion’ comes from dent de lion  or “lion’s tooth”, so called from the shape of its leaves.  Most people today think of it as a weed and spend large amounts of money and chemicals to eradicate it from their lawns, but our ancestors were very happy to see dandelions blooming.  As one of the first plants of spring (and one that continues during the entire growing season), dandelion leaves and roots provided fresh food for the table, and its concentration of vitamins made it a sorely needed spring tonic.

(Remember that most people ate what they could grow – and while some vegetables, such as carrots and turnips, could be kept in ‘root cellars’ over winter, within a few months they became tough and desiccated.  Other vegetables were preserved by being pickled or dried, but fresh vegetables would not be available until May or June at the earliest.  In the meantime, people sought out the ‘weeds’: dandelions, sorrel, and poke, to name a few.)

In honor of Saint Ignatius, who happily embraced his crown of martyrdom at the teeth of the Roman Lions, make DANDELION WINE.

It is a tad early for dandelions – but once made, it needs to sit for at least 5 months, so if you make some this year, you will have it for Saint Ignatius’ day next year.

Boil 1 gallon of water.  Place 1 gallon of dandelion flowers in a 2-gallon crock and pour the boiling water over them.  Cover and let the dandelions stand for three days.

Juice 3 oranges and 1 lemon (some people like to chop up the fruit and add it – juice, skin, seeds, and all – to the liquid.  It will be strained out, in any case.)

Strain the dandelion liquid through cheesecloth and squeeze all of the liquid from the flowers.  Discard flowers.  In a deep kettle, combine the dandelion liquid, the orange and lemon juices (or the whole fruit), and 3 pounds of sugar.  Heat to simmer and simmer for 20 minutes.  Pour the liquid back into the crock and cool until barely lukewarm.

Meanwhile, toast a piece of rye bread, and sprinkle top of toast with ½ package of active dry yeast.  When the liquid is barely lukewarm, place the toast on top of the liquid, cover the crock with cheesecloth, and let it stand for six days at room temperature (70° – 75°).

Strain the liquid into a gallon jug, ‘cork’ it loosely with a wad of cotton, and place the jug in a dark place (like a closet) for three weeks.

At the end of that time, decant the wine into smaller bottles, cap or cork them tightly, and put them away to mellow for five months.  Come next February 1st, you can enjoy a taste of “summer sunshine”.

In case you can’t wait, there are some places which sell it – like the Maple River Winery in North Dakota.  They even make Elderberry Wine, my favorite tipple when watching “Arsenic and Old Lace”.  (Unfortunately, they can’t ship to New England (except renegade New Hampshire), but you are likely in or near one of the other states to which they ship.)

Meanwhile, go make Barm Brack for Saint Bridget's day.

“Saint Ignatius of Antioch” from Pictorial Lives of the Saints, John Gilmary Shea, (1889) p. 75