Friday, March 16, 2007

My Vernacular Saints

Being neither Catholic nor Buddhist, I am only mildly bemused by the vast majority of Saints in all their myriad flavors.
Early on in the Church's sovereignty success was rather too easily accomplished. Almost anybody -- anybody agreeable to being martyred -- became a Saint. You might call it a growth sector. Given the smug, argumentative, stubbornness of the species, volunteers were not far to seek. Rather the Church felt the need to regulate the market to keep the stock up. It wouldn't do to over extend. A young Jesuit once described the church to me as a bunch of non-peakers attempting to maintain a peak experience; so over extension happened. Almost every Saint required a chapel and two pair of hermits. Once a miracle occurred for some one some where some time somebody told whosits about it who mentioned it to my cousin last Epiphany -- or was it Midsomer dag? Any way there was need to mark the day with as much solemn rowdiness as the populace could get away with. The local employers objected. Not only were they hit up for donations to pay for the mass and festivities, but no work was done. It was enough to give Squire the appy pleckzy.
In the sixth century, Pope Boniface IV accepted the Pantheon as a gift from the Emperor Phocas and proclaimed May 13, 610, Feast of All Holy Martyrs held. ... In 835, Pope Gregory IV changed the date to November 1 and the name to Feast of All Saints.
So every one of the craychurs, even the wee little nameless ones that hadn't so much as a shrine to their name, got smooshed all together in to one collective. The Employers were pleased because the rest of the year was theirs to demand all labor they deemed their due.
The Church was happy because the Landlords paid the tithe even if they did grumble about it.
The King was happy because the serfs were too tired to cause trouble.
And, of course, the lumpen were too exhausted to notice.
Who says the aristos didn't like socialism? Of course only they rightly understood that that meant the work of the many for the benefit of me. Thus particular notice of particular Saints became optional.
Yet one or two Saints were too good to lose among the masses collectivized into one.
Usually it was the Boss' option.
But taking notice of the odd Saint at various times of the year does aid in maintaining a well oiled rhythm.
Among the Buddhist array there is no contest. Monkey is me fave.
When we worked at the Folk Life Festival in Spokane. Diana fell madly in love with the Scots the week they appeared in full kit, romance and regalia to the fore. We actually tried the haggis they made. I thought it excellent. Diana observed judiciously that it was acceptable in smallish nibbles chased quickly by a not so wee dram. And since she would only drink the whiskey if a man in a kilt was present and pipes were skirling, I could forget any notions I had of making it. So I have not yet attempted the intriguing recipe for "Our Modified 'Non-Intestinal' Scottish Haggis" in Feasts for All Seasons by Roy Andries de Groot. This is a steamed pate of beef liver, onions, suet and oatmeal garnished with Rowan jelly. But if the haggis is forbid, the malt remains. Andrew's day, November 30th is a good part of my personal calendar.

Though no saint in any boss' eye, Robbie Burns' day the 25th of January needs another dram or more to prevent toothache, if nothing more.

Saint Nick, December 6, is noticed for his idealism. The sweets are good as well.

On the first of March St David causes the Welsh recipes to dance and sing on the cook's palette. Teisen datws (mashed potato cakes with brown sugar, butter and ginger or cinnamon), or Punchnep (potatoes, turnips and cream), or Teisen nionod (Onion Cake very like a French Pomme de terre a la Boulangere). Accompany this with Cig Eidion Cymreig wedi Ei Frwysio (Welsh Braised Beef) which features beef shin, bacon, turnips, onions, carrots and herbs (thyme, marjoram, and savory which were grown to ward off witches and fairies) in a light beer or cider broth. Potatoes and leaks, naturally, go in the pot to finish. Else you might prefer a Pastai FFowlyn Cymreig (Welsh Chicken Pie) that pairs a jointed chicken with ham slices, gammon or tongue. Add leaks, chopped parsley, minced onion or shallot, flavored with nutmeg and covered with an egg pastry. For afters try Pwdin Efa (Eve's pudding): apples sweetened with golden or maple syrup thinned with lemen juice and surrounded with a vanilla sponge.
My welsh recipes are from a book I photocopied many years agone. Too cheap to pay for the title page, so I have no idea what it's called. Google provides the recipes. (So we need to add a St Google? Or, in the spirit of collectivity, a St. Dog Pile?)

As I write Patric's day looms. Since Diana is partially Irish, mixing nicely with the German and the French Canadian, it is a delight to observe the day. It's always a delight to have corn beef, carefully simmered, and steamed roots with cabbage. Ah, yes, and the light mustard sauce. De Groot mixes it fresh from powdered English mustard thinned with any liquid from beer to milk.

I have two recipes for Irish soda bread. This is so quick it is a shame not to make it for the day. Folklife at Expo '74 offered this:
Mix two cups of whole wheat flour with two cups of white and 2 teaspoons of baking powder, a teaspoon of salt, a teaspoon of soda and 2 tablespoons of sugar. Beat one egg into two cups of buttermilk. mix into dry ingredients. Stir well. Knead about 10 times. Put into a floured 9" pan and smooth out. cut a cross on top with a floured knife. Bake in a 3750f oven for about an hour.
But Thelma, very kindly, gave me her recipe which I like better:
Mix three cups of whole wheat with one cup of white. Add a teaspoon of salt, one teaspoon of soda, and three-quarters of a teaspoon of baking powder.
Add one and a half to two cups buttermilk to make a soft dough.
Form into a round loaf. Cut cross in top. Place on a well buttered cookie sheet. Bake in a 3750F oven 35 to 40 minutes.
After you chivvy all the sarpents out after Pat's day (they do so love to stick their tongues out at him) it is time to salute the Bard of Avon on his natal day (we think) April 23. Join Falstaff and company in a mere hogshead or two of good sherries sack, or tipple of your choice, and declaim your favorite sonnet (My mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun...Yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare as any she belied by false compare!) or scene (My liege I did deny no prisoners. But I remember, when the fight was done, when I was dry with rage and extreme toil, breathless and faint, leaning on my sword, came there a certain lord, neat, and trimly dress'd, fresh as a bridegroom ... ), lively with good felt roisterliness. And don't forget the music for your love's feast.

Shakes is followed not long after by St George on the 30th of April. Great British Cooking: A Well Kept Secret, by Jane Garmey, sees me through with Stoved Chicken, or Vicarage Beets, or Mixed Grill or Cornish Pasties, or Bubble and Squeak.and a Victoria sponge rolled up with jam for afters. See "Tools", to your right, to find your copy of the book.

But my all time favorite Saint is one that the workers chose to honor, that concoction of the industrial age -- St. Monday; in whose honor all working stiffs may thankfully worship at his bedside shrine. Observances are unusually strict in forbidding an excess of movement such as dressing for work. The service is usually a meditation of hearty snores which coincidentally allows the last remaining fumes of Saturday's booze-up to dissipate. The great disappointment of the day is that employers refuse to honor it with ordinary pay, let alone the time and a half it merits.
-- ml
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