13 February 2013

Ash Wednesday; Jam Fritters

Weather – Wherever the wind lies on Ash Wednesday, it will continue in that quarter during the whole of Lent.

As the weather is on Ash Wednesday, so it will be through Lent.


This is also St. Valentine’s Eve, which has its own customs and traditions (read about them here).


Memento, homo, quia pulvis es, et in pulverem reverteris

The beginning of Lent had its own customs, like the burial of the sardine with solemn funeral processions, dirges, and the like.  People went to Mass early, received their ashes, and then went home for a last bit of frolic.

A straw effigy, sometimes called a Jack-o-Lent and representing 'good living', was paraded around the streets while those in the procession played foolish jokes and collected money from the amused bystanders.  Sometimes, the bystanders amused themselves and others by throwing sticks at the effigy, to the consternation of the person carrying it!  When the procession ended, “Good Living” was solemnly buried.

An interesting custom concerns the English court.  While the night hours were proclaimed throughout the year by an officer of the watch (“ten o’clock and all’s well…”), during the Lenten season an officer of the royal household, known by the high-and-mighty title of “the King’s Cock Crower”, fulfilled this duty by crowing the hour every night.  How long this had been a custom is unknown, but one can readily believe that the Stuarts, most particularly the Merry Monarch himself (Charles II) enjoyed it.  This was supposed to typify the cock-crow which called Peter to repentance; those hearing the hours were thus reminded to repent their own sins.

Then came Georg from Hanover, who didn’t speak English and didn’t know anything about English customs.  On his first Ash Wednesday as king, while his son was sitting down to supper, the King’s Cock Crower entered the dining room and emitted ten crows to indicate the hour.  The prince, thinking it was intended for an insult, was loudly and furiously (and almost physically) resentful, and only the quick explanations of those at the table saved the unfortunate time-keeper from his prince’s ire.  However, the custom was ended.  The officer probably was thankful that his throat would be spared (his head, as well).

Among the superstition of Ash Wednesday, it was believed that bathing today would assure the bather freedom from fevers and toothaches [a useful bait for getting the young’uns in the tub.  Contrariwise, NOT bathing today will secure freedom from having one’s personal space invaded.  Be kind to your fellow penitents and hit the showers! ]

An odd superstition is the one in which people believed that if they did not eat yellow jam today, they would turn into donkeys before Martinmas (either July or November).  While that sounds like something a parent would say, I find it hard to believe they would need such a threat to make the young’uns eat jam.  Vegetables, yes, but jam?

In many parts of England, this was known as Fritter Wednesday, when the last of the eggs and milk (forbidden by both church and civil law until Easter) was used up in making fritters for supper.

Most have heard of Apple Fritters, but in keeping with the day, I offer JAM FRITTERS.  If you can find yellow jam (peach would work, or pineapple), so much the better – you won’t turn into donkeys this year.  Otherwise, use whatever favorite jam you have, and just check the mirror every once in a while to see if your ears are growing…

  • Sift together 4 cups of flour with 4 teaspoons of baking powder and 1 teaspoon of salt.
  • Melt ½ cup of butter.
  • Separate 2 eggs.  Beat the egg whites until stiff but not dry. Reserve.

In a large mixing bowl, beat the egg yolks until thick and lemon-colored.  Stir in 1 cup of sugar.

Alternately add the flour mixture and 1 cup of milk to the eggs, mixing well after each addition.  Stir in the melted butter, then carefully fold in the beaten egg whites.

When thoroughly mixed, shape the dough into a ball in the mixing bowl, cover with wax paper, and refrigerate for 2 hours.

Roll out the chilled dough on a lightly floured board to ¼-inch thickness.  Using a 2-inch cookie cutter (a shot glass might work), cut out rounds from the dough. 

On half of the rounds, place a small spoonful of jam (i.e., if you have 36 rounds, 18 will get jam).  Moisten the edges of the dough with water and top with the remaining rounds.  Press the edges together to seal (you don’t want the jam to ooze out while frying.)

Heat fat or oil to 375° F. (at least 3 inches of oil).  Fry dough for 2 minutes, or until browned on both sides.  Drain, dredge with powdered sugar, and enjoy warm.

Age pœnitentiam ut habeas vitam æternam 
(do penance that you may have eternal life) 

“Lenten Preparation, from a medieval German print”, William Walsh, Curiosities of Popular Customs (1898), p. 617.

“Pinocchio turns into a donkey” from the Walt Disney animated movie Pinocchio (1940)