Mar 272018
 

On this date in 1915, Mary Mallon, later commonly referred to as Typhoid Mary, the first healthy and asymptomatic carrier of a disease ever identified in the United States, was arrested and put in quarantine, where she would remain for the rest of her life. This was her second arrest, after she left her first confinement. One hopes she would be treated differently these days, although one never knows. I expect the CDC has better options for asymptomatic carriers of deadly diseases nowadays. You can sympathize with Mallon. She had never had typhoid and did not understand that she was a carrier. Very few people understood the problem at the time. She felt she was being harassed for no reason and just wanted to be left alone. The huge problem was that she worked as a cook, and therefore was a constant danger to public health.  She is known to have infected 51 people, 3 of whom died, over the course of her career as a cook. There is no knowing how many others she infected.

Mary Mallon was born in 1869 in Cookstown, County Tyrone, in what is now Northern Ireland. She emigrated to the United States in 1883. She lived with her aunt and uncle for a time and later found work as a cook for affluent families. From 1900 to 1907, Mallon worked as a cook in the New York City area for seven families. In 1900, she worked in Mamaroneck, New York, where, within two weeks of her employment, residents developed typhoid fever. In 1901, she moved to Manhattan, where members of the family for whom she worked developed fevers and diarrhea, and the laundress died. Mallon then went to work for a lawyer. She left after 7 of the 8 people in that household became ill. In 1906, she took a position in Oyster Bay, Long Island, and within two weeks 10 of the 11 family members were hospitalized with typhoid. She changed jobs again, and similar occurrences happened in three more households. She worked as a cook for the family of a wealthy New York banker, Charles Henry Warren. When the Warrens rented a house in Oyster Bay for the summer of 1906, Mallon went along too. From August 27th to September 3rd, 6 of the 11 people in the family came down with typhoid fever. The disease at that time was “unusual” in Oyster Bay, according to three medical doctors who practiced there. Mallon was subsequently hired by other families, and outbreaks followed her.

In late 1906, one family hired a typhoid researcher named George Soper to investigate. Soper published the results on June 15th, 1907, in the Journal of the American Medical Association. He believed Mallon might be the source of the outbreak. He wrote:

It was found that the family changed cooks on August 4. This was about three weeks before the typhoid epidemic broke out. She remained in the family only a short time, leaving about three weeks after the outbreak occurred. The cook was described as an Irish woman about 40 years of age, tall, heavy, single. She seemed to be in perfect health.

Soper discovered that a female Irish cook, who fit the physical description he was given, was involved in all of the outbreaks. He was unable to locate her because she generally left after an outbreak began, without giving a forwarding address. Soper learned of an active outbreak in a penthouse on Park Avenue, and discovered Mallon was the cook. Two of the household’s servants were hospitalized, and the daughter of the family died of typhoid. When Soper approached Mallon about her possible role in spreading typhoid, she adamantly rejected his request for urine and stool samples. Since Mallon refused to give samples, he decided to compile a five-year history of Mallon’s employment. Soper found that of the 8 families that hired Mallon as a cook, members of 7 claimed to have contracted typhoid fever. On his next visit, he brought another doctor with him but again was turned away. During a later encounter when Mallon was herself hospitalized, he told her he would write a book and give her all the royalties. She angrily rejected his proposal and locked herself in the bathroom until he left.

The New York City Health Department finally sent physician Sara Josephine Baker to talk to Mallon. Baker stated “by that time she was convinced that the law was only persecuting her when she had done nothing wrong.” A few days later, Baker arrived at Mallon’s workplace with several police officers, who took her into custody. Mallon attracted so much media attention that she was called “Typhoid Mary” in a 1908 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association. Later, in a textbook that defined typhoid fever, she was again called “Typhoid Mary.”

Mallon admitted poor hygiene, saying she did not understand the purpose of hand-washing because she did not pose a risk. In prison, she was forced to give stool and urine samples. Authorities suggested removing her gallbladder because they believed typhoid bacteria resided there. However, she refused as she did not believe she carried the disease. She was also unwilling to cease working as a cook. The New York City Health Inspector determined her to be a carrier. Under sections 1169 and 1170 of the Greater New York Charter, Mallon was held in isolation for three years at a clinic located on North Brother Island.

Eventually, Eugene H. Porter, the New York State Commissioner of Health, decided that disease carriers should no longer be kept in isolation and that Mallon could be freed if she agreed to stop working as a cook and take reasonable steps to prevent transmitting typhoid to others. On February 19th, 1910, Mallon agreed that she was “prepared to change her occupation (that of a cook), and would give assurance by affidavit that she would upon her release take such hygienic precautions as would protect those with whom she came in contact, from infection.” She was released from quarantine and returned to the mainland.

Upon her release, Mallon was given a job as a laundress, which paid less than cooking. After several unsuccessful years of working as a laundress, she changed her name to Mary Brown and returned to her former occupation despite having been explicitly instructed not to. For the next five years, she worked in a number of kitchens; wherever she worked, there were outbreaks of typhoid. However, she changed jobs frequently, and Soper was unable to find her.

In 1915, Mallon started another major outbreak, this time at Sloane Hospital for Women in New York City. 25 people were infected and two died. She again left, but the police were able to find and arrest her when she brought food to a friend on Long Island. After arresting her, public health authorities returned her to quarantine on North Brother Island on March 27, 1915. She was still unwilling to have her gallbladder removed. Mallon remained confined for the remainder of her life. She became a minor celebrity and was occasionally interviewed by the media. They were told not to accept even water from her. Later, she was allowed to work as a technician in the island’s laboratory, washing bottles.

Mallon spent the rest of her life in quarantine at the Riverside Hospital. Six years before her death, she was paralyzed by a stroke. On November 11, 1938, she died of pneumonia at age 69. An autopsy found evidence of live typhoid bacteria in her gallbladder. Mallon’s body was cremated, and her ashes were buried at Saint Raymond’s Cemetery in the Bronx.

Mallon was the first asymptomatic typhoid carrier to be identified by medical science, and there was no policy providing guidelines for handling the situation. Some difficulties surrounding her case stemmed from Mallon’s vehement denial of her possible role, as she refused to acknowledge any connection between her working as a cook and the typhoid cases. Mallon maintained that she was perfectly healthy, had never had typhoid fever, and could not be the source. Public-health authorities determined that permanent quarantine was the only way to prevent Mallon from causing significant future typhoid outbreaks.

Other healthy typhoid carriers identified in the first quarter of the 20th century include Tony Labella, an Italian immigrant, presumed to have caused over 100 cases (with five deaths); an Adirondack guide dubbed “Typhoid John”, presumed to have infected 36 people (with two deaths); and Alphonse Cotils, a restaurateur and bakery owner.

In August 2013, researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine announced they were making breakthroughs in understanding the exact science behind asymptomatic carriers such as Mallon. The bacteria that cause typhoid may hide in macrophages, a type of immune cell. Individuals can develop typhoid fever after ingesting food or water contaminated during handling by a human carrier. The human carrier may be a healthy person who has survived a previous episode of typhoid fever yet who continues to shed the associated bacteria, Salmonella typhi, in feces and urine. Washing hands with soap before touching or preparing food, washing dishes and utensils with soap and water, and only eating cooked food are all ways to reduce the risk of typhoid infection.

 

Typhoid Mary is a Marvel Comics character who appears most frequently as an adversary of Daredevil and also of Dead Pool.

Given that Mallon was an Irish cook, an Irish recipe is in order, but, wash your hands first before preparation. Soda farls (or soda bread) are traditional in all of Ireland, and in Northern Ireland “filled sodas” are popular. To make them you first make soda farls, split them open, and then fill them with your choice of cooked sausage, bacon, eggs, mushrooms and onions.

Soda Farls

2 cups all-purpose flour
½ tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
1 cup buttermilk

Instructions

Preheat a heavy based flat griddle or skillet on medium to low heat.

Sift the flour, baking soda, and salt into a bowl. Make a well in the center and pour in the buttermilk.

Work quickly to mix into dough and knead very lightly on a well floured surface. Form into a flattened circle, about ½ inch thick and cut into quarters with a floured knife.

Sprinkle a little flour over the base of the hot pan and cook the farls for 6 to 8 minutes on each side or until golden brown.

 

Jan 252018
 

Today is the birthday (1627) of Robert William Boyle FRS, an Anglo-Irish natural philosopher, chemist, physicist, and inventor. Boyle is regarded today as one of the founders of modern chemistry, and one of the pioneers of modern experimental scientific method, even though, like his contemporary, Isaac Newton, he was an alchemist also. He is best known for Boyle’s law, which describes the inversely proportional relationship between the absolute pressure and the volume of a gas, if the temperature is kept constant within a closed system. Among his publications, The Sceptical Chymist is seen as a cornerstone book in the field of chemistry. He was a devout and pious Anglican and is noted for his writings in theology.

Boyle was born at Lismore Castle, in County Waterford, Ireland, the seventh son and fourteenth child of the 1st Earl of Cork (‘the Great Earl of Cork’) and Catherine Fenton. Lord Cork, then known simply as Richard Boyle, had arrived in Dublin from England in 1588 during the Tudor plantations of Ireland and obtained an appointment as a deputy escheator. He had amassed enormous wealth and landholdings by the time Robert was born, and had been created Earl of Cork in October 1620. Catherine Fenton, Countess of Cork, was the daughter of Sir Geoffrey Fenton, the former Secretary of State for Ireland, who was born in Dublin in 1539, and Alice Weston, the daughter of Robert Weston, who was born in Lismore in 1541.

As a child, Boyle was fostered out to a local family, as were his elder brothers. Boyle received private tutoring in Latin, Greek, and French and when he was 8 years old, following the death of his mother, he was sent to Eton College in England. His father’s friend, Sir Henry Wotton, was then the provost of the college. During this time, his father hired a private tutor, Robert Carew, who had knowledge of Irish, to act as private tutor to his sons in Eton. Boyle’s first language was Irish. After spending over three years at Eton, Boyle travelled abroad with a French tutor. They visited Italy in 1641 and remained in Florence during the winter of that year studying the “paradoxes of the great star-gazer,” Galileo Galilei, who was elderly but still living in 1641.

Boyle returned to England from continental Europe in mid-1644 with a keen interest in scientific research. His father had died the previous year and had left him the manor of Stalbridge in Dorset as well as substantial estates in County Limerick in Ireland. Boyle then made his residence at Stalbridge House, from 1644 to 1652, and conducted many experiments there. From that time, Boyle devoted his life to scientific research and soon took a prominent place in the band of enquirers, known as the “Invisible College”, who devoted themselves to the cultivation of the “new philosophy”. They met frequently in London, often at Gresham College, and some of the members also had meetings at Oxford.

Having made several visits to his Irish estates beginning in 1647, Boyle moved to Ireland in 1652 but became frustrated at his inability to make progress in his chemical work. In one letter, he described Ireland as “a barbarous country where chemical spirits were so misunderstood and chemical instruments so unprocurable that it was hard to have any Hermetic thoughts in it.” In 1654, Boyle left Ireland for Oxford to pursue his work more successfully. An inscription can be found on the wall of University College in the High Street in Oxford (now the location of the Shelley Memorial), marking the spot where Cross Hall stood until the early 19th century. It was here that Boyle rented rooms from the wealthy apothecary who owned the Hall.

Reading in 1657 of Otto von Guericke’s air pump, he set himself with the assistance of Robert Hooke to devise improvements in its construction, and with the result, the “machina Boyleana” or “Pneumatical Engine”, finished in 1659, he began a series of experiments on the properties of air. An account of Boyle’s work with the air pump was published in 1660 under the title New Experiments Physico-Mechanical, Touching the Spring of the Air, and its Effects. Among the critics of the views put forward in this book was a Jesuit, Francis Line (1595–1675), and it was while answering his objections that Boyle made his first mention of the law that the volume of a gas varies inversely to the pressure of the gas, which among English-speaking people is usually called Boyle’s Law after his name. The person who originally formulated the hypothesis was Henry Power in 1661. Boyle in 1662 included a reference to a paper written by Power, but mistakenly attributed it to Richard Towneley. In continental Europe the hypothesis is sometimes attributed to Edme Mariotte, although he did not publish it until 1676 and was likely aware of Boyle’s work at the time.

In 1663 the Invisible College became The Royal Society of London for Improving Natural Knowledge, and the charter of incorporation granted by Charles II of England named Boyle a member of the council. In 1680 he was elected president of the society, but declined the honor because of a scruple about oaths. In 1668 he left Oxford for London where he lived at the house of his elder sister Katherine Jones, Lady Ranelagh, in Pall Mall. His contemporaries widely acknowledged Katherine’s influence on his work, but later historiographies dropped her from the record. Theirs was “a lifelong intellectual partnership, where brother and sister shared medical remedies, promoted each other’s scientific ideas, and edited each other’s manuscripts.”

In 1669, Boyle’s health, never very strong, began to fail seriously and he gradually withdrew from his public engagements, ceasing his communications to the Royal Society, and advertising his desire to be excused from receiving guests, “unless upon occasions very extraordinary.” In the leisure thus gained he wished to “recruit his spirits, range his papers”, and prepare some important chemical investigations which he proposed to leave “as a kind of Hermetic legacy to the studious disciples of that art”, but of which he did not make known the nature. His health became still worse in 1691, and he died on 31 December that year, just a week after the death of the sister with whom he had lived for more than 20 years. He was buried in the churchyard of St Martin-in-the-Fields, his funeral sermon being preached by his friend Bishop Gilbert Burnet. In his will, Boyle endowed a series of lectures which came to be known as the Boyle Lectures.

Boyle’s great merit as a scientific investigator is that he carried out the principles which Francis Bacon espoused in the Novum Organum. Yet he would not avow himself a follower of Bacon, or indeed of any other teacher. On several occasions he mentions that to keep his judgment as unprepossessed as might be with any of the modern theories of philosophy, until he was “provided of experiments” to help him judge of them, he refrained from any study of the Atomical and the Cartesian systems, and even of the Novum Organum itself, though he admits to “transiently consulting” them about a few particulars. Nothing was more alien to his mental temperament than the spinning of hypotheses. He regarded the acquisition of knowledge as an end in itself. This, however, did not mean that he paid no attention to the practical application of science, but that pure knowledge was for Boyle a higher goal than applying scientific knowledge to utilitarian purposes.

Boyle was a committed alchemist, and, believing the transmutation of metals to be a possibility, he carried out experiments in the hope of achieving it. He was instrumental in obtaining the repeal, in 1689, of the statute of Henry IV against multiplying gold and silver. Despite all the important work Boyle accomplished in physics – the enunciation of Boyle’s law, the discovery of the part taken by air in the propagation of sound, and investigations on the expansive force of freezing water, on specific gravities and refractive powers, on crystals, on electricity, on color, on hydrostatics, etc. – chemistry was his favorite study. His first book, The Sceptical Chymist, published in 1661, criticized the “experiments whereby vulgar Spagyrists are wont to endeavour to evince their Salt, Sulphur and Mercury to be the true Principles of Things.” For him chemistry was the science of the composition of substances, not merely an adjunct to the arts of the alchemist or the physician. He endorsed the view that elements were the indivisible constituents of material bodies, and made the distinction between mixtures and compounds. He made considerable progress in the technique of detecting their ingredients, a process which he designated by the term “analysis”. He further supposed that the elements were ultimately composed of particles of various sorts and sizes, into which, however, they were not to be resolved in any known way. He studied the chemistry of combustion and of respiration, and conducted experiments in physiology, where, however, he was hampered by the “tenderness of his nature” which kept him from anatomical dissections, especially vivisections, though he knew them to be “most instructing”.

In addition to philosophy, Boyle devoted much time to theology, showing a very decided leaning to the practical side and an indifference to controversial polemics. At the Restoration of the king in 1660, he was favorably received at court and in 1665 would have received the provostship of Eton College had he agreed to take holy orders, but this he refused to do on the ground that his writings on religious subjects would have greater weight coming from a layman than a paid minister of the Church.

Moreover, Boyle incorporated his scientific interests into his theology, believing that natural philosophy could provide powerful evidence for the existence God. In works such as Disquisition about the Final Causes of Natural Things (1688), for instance, he criticized contemporary philosophers – such as René Descartes – who denied that the study of nature could reveal much about God. Instead, Boyle argued that natural philosophers could use the design apparently on display in some parts of nature to demonstrate God’s involvement with the world. He also attempted to tackle complex theological questions using methods derived from his scientific practices. In Some Physico-Theological Considerations about the Possibility of the Resurrection (1675), he used a chemical experiment known as the reduction to the pristine state as part of an attempt to demonstrate the physical possibility of the resurrection of the body. Throughout his career, Boyle tried to show that science could lend support to Christianity.

As a director of the East India Company he spent large sums in promoting the spread of Christianity in the East, contributing liberally to missionary societies and to the expenses of translating the Bible or portions of it into various languages. Boyle supported the policy that the Bible should be available in the vernacular language of the people. An Irish language version of the New Testament was published in 1602 but was rare in Boyle’s adult life. In 1680–85 Boyle personally financed the printing of the Bible, both Old and New Testaments, in Irish. In this respect, Boyle’s attitude to the Irish language differed from the English Ascendancy class in Ireland at the time, which was generally hostile to the language and largely opposed the use of Irish (not only as a language of religious worship).

In his will, Boyle provided money for a series of lectures to defend the Christian religion against those he considered “notorious infidels, namely atheists, deists, pagans, Jews and Muslims”, with the provision that controversies among Christians were not to be mentioned.

Boyle’s Experiments and Considerations Touching Colours has a section in it on the use of syrup of violets as a chemical indicator. The syrup is normally violet, of course, but turns red when an acid is added and green in alkaline solutions. Modern, commercial syrups of violets are of no use for experimentation because they contain artificial coloring agents precisely so that they will not change color depending on what they are mixed with. You can, however, make your own syrup. I am a huge fan of violet as a flavoring, especially for the cream centers of dark chocolates. My sister sends me half a dozen from England every Christmas.

Here’s a 17th century MS recipe for syrup of violets. Click on the image to enlarge it.

Here’s a modern recipe that works just as well.

Syrup of Violets

Ingredients

50g sweet violets
150ml boiling water
300gm white caster sugar

Instructions

Boil a 450ml bottle in clean water to sterilize it.

Remove all green matter, including stalks, from the violets, and place them in a clean glass or ceramic bowl. Pour the boiling water over the flowers, then cover the bowl with cling film or a tea towel, and let the violets infuse overnight.

When the violets have infused, place them with their water into the top of a double boiler. Add the sugar and stir well. Bring the water in the bottom of the double boiler to a slow boil, then place the top containing the violets, sugar, and water over the boiling water. Stir the violet mixture steadily until the sugar has completely dissolved.

When the sugar has dissolved remove the mixture from the heat, and strain it through muslin lining a funnel into the sterilized bottle. Cap the bottle and store in a cool place or the refrigerator.

 

 

 

May 012017
 

The 1st of May is a global celebration in one guise or other. I’ve already dealt with 2 important celebrations, International Workers’ Day (throughout Europe, Asia, South America, and beyond) http://www.bookofdaystales.com/international-workers-day/  and May Day which is mostly an English custom http://www.bookofdaystales.com/may-daymay-morning/ . It is also Walpurga’s Day which is celebrated in Germanic countries, typically more on the Eve than the day itself http://www.bookofdaystales.com/walpurgas-nightmay-eve/ . Now it’s the turn of Celtic traditions. Beltane was not historically associated with an exact date, but in modern times it has been pegged specifically to May 1.  As always, there’s a great deal of nonsense written about the nature of Beltane historically, with precious little in the way of primary sources to back it up. Romantic, and wishful, speculation always trumps proper historical method, largely because people have a (bad) habit of believing what they want to believe. Having fun in whatever way you want is fine with me.  I’d just prefer that you leave historical justification out of the picture. Here is what is reasonably certain.

In Irish Gaelic, the festival is usually called Lá Bealtaine (“day of Beltane”) while the month of May is Mí Bhealtaine (“month of Beltane”). In Scottish Gaelic, the month is called (An) Cèitean or a’ Mhàigh, and the festival is Latha Bealltainn. Sometimes the older Scottish Gaelic spelling Bealltuinn is used. In modern Scottish Gaelic, Latha Buidhe Bealltainn or Là Buidhe Bealltainn (“the yellow day of Beltane”) is used to describe the first day of May. This term Lá Buidhe Bealtaine is also used in Irish and is translated as “Bright May Day”.

Despite more fanciful etymologies of recent years, it is commonly accepted that the Old Irish word Beltaine is derived from the conjectured archaic Celtic *belo-te(p)niâ, meaning “bright fire”. The element *belo- is probably cognate with the obsolete English word “bale” (as in bale-fire) meaning “white” or “shining.” Middle English “bale” comes from Old English bǣl (“funeral pyre”) which derives from Proto-Germanic *bēlą (“pyre”), from Proto-Indo-European *bʰel- (“to shine; gleam; sparkle”). Old Norse bál is also a cognate and may have been the direct source for the English word via Norse invaders. The most important point from all of this is that Beltane is a FIRE festival.

The best historical documentary evidence of the Celtic celebration of Beltane comes from Ireland, Scotland, and the Isle of Man, but something akin to it has been noted in Wales, Cornwall, and Brittany. Beltane in pastoral communities is associated with the beginning of the summer season when the animals of the community were driven up into summer pasture. The reverse traditionally occurred on Samhain (~ November 1) when they were driven back down to the village for winter.  Because timing was determined by climate and not by the weather, the exact date varied. In solar terms, Beltane is approximately a cross-quarter day – that is, in Northern latitudes, about halfway between the vernal equinox, and the summer solstice.

There are a number of customs that were once associated with Beltane, many of which died out but were revived in the second half of the 20th century: bonfires, May bushes, visits to holy wells, and house decorating. The Beltane bonfire was probably the most widespread tradition historically, and is the most common today.  There are references to Beltane in Old Irish literature, notably the (perhaps 10th century) glossary Sanas Cormaic and the anonymous, The Wooing of Emer by Cú Chulainn in the 15th or 16th century Tochmarc Emire, where we read:

For the druids used to make two fires with great incantations, and to drive the cattle between them against the plagues, every year.

I don’t trust this statement for one minute. What did early modern chroniclers actually know about druid customs that had died out a millennium earlier? In fact, we know virtually nothing about druids anywhere in the British Isles, but there is no end of idle speculation.  It’s possible also that Beltane bonfires were a conscious revival in the 18th and 19th centuries based on these old MSS, rather than the continuation of an ancient tradition.  In the 19th century, the ritual of driving cattle between two fires was documented in parts of Ireland and Scotland. Sometimes the cattle would be driven around a single bonfire or be made to leap over flames or embers. The people themselves would do likewise. In the Isle of Man, people encouraged the bonfire’s smoke to blow over them and their cattle. Subsequently people would daub themselves with the fire’s ashes and sprinkle it over their crops and livestock. Burning torches from the bonfire would be taken home, where they would be carried around the house or boundary of the farmstead and would be used to re-light the house’s fire which had been doused the night before.

Food could also be cooked at the bonfire. In 1769, Thomas Pennant wrote that, in Perthshire, a caudle made from eggs, butter, oatmeal and milk was cooked on the bonfire. Some of the mixture was poured on the ground as a libation. Everyone present would then take an oatmeal cake, called the bannoch Bealltainn or “Beltane bannock”. A bit of it was offered to the spirits to protect their livestock (one bit to protect the horses, one bit to protect the sheep, and so forth) and a bit was offered to each of the animals that might harm their livestock (one to the fox, one to the eagle, and so forth). Afterwards, they would drink the caudle.

According to several 18th century writers, who may or may not be reliable sources, in parts of Scotland there was another ritual involving the oatmeal cake. The cake would be cut and one of the slices marked with charcoal. The slices would then be put in a bonnet and everyone would take one out while blindfolded. According to one writer, whomever got the marked piece would have to leap through the fire three times. According to another, those present would pretend to throw him into the fire and, for some time afterwards, they would speak of him as if he were dead.

The use of yellow flowers such as primrose, rowan, hawthorn, gorse, hazel, and marsh marigold as garlands was a common Beltane custom, analogous to customs throughout Europe. These were placed at doorways and windows at Beltane in 19th century Ireland, Scotland, Cornwall, and the Isle of Man. Sometimes loose flowers were strewn at the doors and windows and sometimes they were made into bouquets, garlands or crosses and fastened to them. They would also be fastened to cows and equipment for milking and butter making.

The May Bush was a common custom in parts of Ireland until the late 19th century. This was a small tree or branch—typically hawthorn, rowan or sycamore—decorated with bright flowers, ribbons, painted shells, and so forth. There were household May Bushes (which would be placed outside each house) and communal May Bushes (which would be set in a public spot or paraded around the neighborhood). In Dublin and Belfast, May Bushes were brought into town from the countryside and decorated by the whole neighborhood. Each neighborhood competed for the most well-decorated tree. A certain amount of rowdiness associated with this custom led to the May Bush being outlawed in Victorian times. The practice of decorating a May Bush with flowers, ribbons, garlands and bright shells is found among the Gaelic diaspora, most notably in Newfoundland.

May garlands are a part of the Cornish May 1st celebrations in Padstow. On the evening of the Eve of May the town is thoroughly decorated with flowers, green bowers, and bunting. On May 1st there are two processions through town accompanying their ‘Obby ‘Oss – a unique custom of unknown origins. In the early part of the 20th century it was a very obscure event. But it was popularized by folklorists mid-century so that it is now a gargantuan tourist attraction, laden with the usual nonsense about ancient pagan origins despite the fact that the earliest reference to an ‘Obby ‘Oss in Padstow is 1803.

Holy wells were often visited at Beltane, as well as at Imbolc and Lughnasadh. Visitors to holy wells would pray for health while walking “sunwise” (moving from east to west) around the well. They would then leave offerings; typically coins or clooties (cloths). The first water drawn from a well on Beltane was seen as being especially potent, as was Beltane morning dew. It could (theoretically) be rolled in or collected in a jar, left in the sunlight, and then filtered. You might notice my skepticism. Ever tried collecting dew in a jar?

Most Beltane customs died out a long time ago and in many locations traces are seen only in place names and a few landmarks. There are a number of place names in Ireland containing the word Bealtaine, indicating places where Bealtaine festivities may have once been held. It is often Anglicized as Beltany. There are three Beltanys in County Donegal, including the Beltany stone circle, and two in County Tyrone. In County Armagh there is a place called Tamnaghvelton/Tamhnach Bhealtaine (“the Beltane field”). Lisbalting/Lios Bealtaine (“the Beltane ringfort”) is in County Tipperary, while Glasheennabaultina/Glaisín na Bealtaine (“the Beltane stream”) is the name of a stream joining the River Galey in County Limerick.

I suggest that you play around with the idea of oatcakes and caudle on this day since they are so commonly mentioned in old sources. They both come in kaleidoscopic variety in the Celtic world. The traditional Scottish oatcake or bannock was a heavy, flat cake of unleavened barley or oatmeal dough formed into a round or oval shape, then cooked on a griddle or, before the 19th century cooked on a bannock stone, a large, flat, rounded piece of sandstone, placed directly on to a fire, then used as a cooking surface. Most modern bannocks are made with baking powder or baking soda as a leavening agent, giving them a lighter texture.

The Oxford English Dictionary cites the earliest use of the word “caudle” in 1297. The earliest surviving recipe, from 1300–1325, is simply a list of ingredients: wine, wheat starch, raisins, and sugar to “abate the strength of the wine”. In a description of an initiation ceremony at Merton College, Oxford in 1647, caudle is described as a “syrupy gruel with spices and wine or ale added”. Another recipe from the late 14th century has more ingredients and more details on the cooking procedure: “mix breadcrumbs, wine, sugar or honey, and saffron, bring to a boil, then thicken with egg yolks, and sprinkle with salt, sugar, and ginger.” A 15th-century English cookbook includes three caudle recipes: ale or wine is heated and thickened with egg yolks and/or ground almonds, then optionally spiced with sugar, honey, saffron, and/or ginger. This is one version of caudle you can make without much effort. Just be sure to keep an eagle eye on the pot; it burns without much effort also !! This recipe is for one serving, but can easily be multiplied.

Caudle

Ingredients

1 cup milk
1 tbsp oatmeal
2 eggs, beaten
honey
salt
grated fresh nutmeg
whisky or ale

Instructions

Heat the milk in a pan with the oatmeal and a pinch of salt. Bring to a boil, stirring with a wooden spoon, then turn down the heat and simmer until it starts to thicken.

Whisk in the eggs, plus honey and nutmeg to taste and simmer for about five minutes, constantly stirring to avoid sticking.

Remove from the heat and stir in whisky or ale in the quantity you want. Serve hot (“caudle” means “hot”) in mugs, or, if you prefer, you can pour it over a bannock as a dessert.

Aug 122016
 

nr1

Today is the birthday (1925) of twins Norris Dewar McWhirter, CBE, and Alan Ross McWhirter, both of whom were athletes, sports journalists, television presenters, and co-founders of Guinness World Records, which began as The Guinness Book of Records, a book which they wrote and annually updated together between 1955 and 1975.

Norris and Ross were the twin sons (Norris was the elder) of William McWhirter, the editor of the Sunday Pictorial, and Margaret Williamson. In 1929, as William was working on the founding of the Northcliffe Newspapers chain of provincial newspapers, the family moved to “Aberfoyle”, in Broad Walk, Winchmore Hill.  Like their elder brother, Kennedy (born 1923), Norris and Ross were educated at Marlborough College and Trinity College, Oxford.  Between 1943 and 1946, both served with the Royal Navy on active service in the Atlantic (escort duty) and the Pacific (minesweeping).

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Ross and Norris both became sports journalists in 1950. In 1951, they published Get to Your Marks, and earlier that year they had founded an agency to provide facts and figures to Fleet Street, setting out, in Norris’ words “to supply facts and figures to newspapers, yearbooks, encyclopaedias and advertisers.” At the same time, he became a founding member of the Association of Track and Field Statisticians.

Norris came to public attention while working for the BBC as a sports commentator, when on 6 May 1954, he kept the time at Iffley Rd track in Oxford when Roger Bannister ran the first sub four-minute mile. His announcement after the race has gone down in sports history because of his droll drawing out of the delivery of the actual result:

As a result of Event Four, the one mile, the winner was R.G. Bannister of Exeter and Merton colleges, in a time which, subject to ratification, is a track record, an English native record, a United Kingdom record, a European record, in a time of three minutes…

The rest of the announcement was drowned out in the deafening uproar.

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One of the athletes in Bannister’s record mile, whom the twins knew and covered on several occasions, was Christopher Chataway, who, as an employee at Guinness, introduced them to Hugh Beaver (managing director of Guinness). After an interview in 1954 in which the Guinness directors enjoyed testing the twins’ knowledge of records and unusual facts, the brothers agreed to start work on the book that would become The Guinness Book of Records. In August 1955, the first slim green volume – 198 pages long – was at the bookstalls, and in four months it was the UK’s number one non-fiction best-seller.

Both brothers were regulars on the BBC television show The Record Breakers. They were noted for their encyclopedic memories, enabling them to provide detailed answers to questions from the audience about world records – both published and unpublished.

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Both brothers had political views that I find repugnant. They were both highly conservative with pro-business, anti-trade union opinions (bordering on libertarian). Both stood for elections as Tory MPs, but were defeated. They also had hard-line policies concerning sectarian violence in Northern Ireland and England.

Ross was a vocal critic of British government policy in Northern Ireland, and called for a “tougher” response by the Army against Irish republicans. He advocated restrictions on the Irish community in Britain such as making it compulsory for all Irish people in Britain to register with the local police and to provide signed photographs of themselves when renting flats or booking into hotels and hostels. In addition, he offered a £50,000 reward for information leading to a conviction for several recent high-profile bombings in England that were publicly claimed by the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA).

On 27 November 1975, Ross was murdered by two IRA volunteers, Harry Duggan and Hugh Doherty, both of whom were members of what became known as the Balcombe Street Gang, the group for whose capture Ross had offered the reward. He was shot at close range in the head and chest outside his home in Enfield, Middlesex. Of course I absolutely deplore this murder, and admire his courage for standing out against violence. I will not brook any sentiment that suggests that he deserved to be a target.

Following Ross’s murder, Norris co-founded the right-wing political organization the National Association for Freedom (now The Freedom Association). This organization initiated legal challenges against the trade union movement in the UK, the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND), and the European Economic Community (EEC), later the European Union (EU). I don’t agree with any of these stances or their political motivation.

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After Ross’s death, Norris continued to appear alone on Record Breakers, eventually making him one of the most recognizable people on children’s television in the 1970s and 1980s, leading him to be made a CBE in 1980.

Norris retired from The Guinness Book of Records in 1985, though he continued in an advisory role until 1996, when he was forced out by the company, which wanted to downplay the listing of records in favor of dramatic illustrations. Nonetheless, he continued to write, editing a new reference book, Norris McWhirter’s Book of Millennium Records, in 1999. Norris died of a heart attack at his home in Kington Langley, Wiltshire, on 19 April 2004, aged 78.

Several world records that were once included in Guinness World Records have been removed for ethical reasons, including concerns for the wellbeing of potential record breakers. The “eating and drinking records” section of Human Achievements was dropped over concerns that potential competitors could harm themselves and expose the publisher to litigation. These changes included the removal of all liquor, wine, and beer drinking records, along with other unusual records for consuming such unlikely things as bicycles and trees. Nonetheless, the world’s largest, heaviest, etc. foods are still very much in play.

This gallery taken from this site — http://www.foxnews.com/leisure/2013/03/18/top-7-record-breaking-foods/ — gives an idea of why you’re not going to break any records cooking today.

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Frankly, I wouldn’t want to be part of making such gargantuan dishes. They are surely a tribute to quantity over quality which I heartily disdain. World’s most expensive foods don’t float my boat either as in the case of this fish sandwich:

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The Birds Eye company created this sandwich to celebrate the Queen’s 90th birthday. It cost £187 to make.

Most delicious, most artistic, and so forth interest me a lot more, but here we’re dealing with personal aesthetics which are not quantifiable. You might be able to quantify world’s favorite, but that’s iffy. Oxfam recently did a survey of 16,000 people worldwide and determined that pasta was the most popular choice. Big help. What does that even mean? What kind of pasta? Prepared how? In general, food superlatives are of little interest to me. I don’t have a favorite food, as such. My tastes constantly change based on all manner of factors. The list of the foods I’ve disliked the most is fairly short, but, of course, it’s highly subjective, and every one of them is something that some people adore. I’ll die a happy man if I never eat sea cucumber with winter melon again, but it is considered a great delicacy in east Asia. You’ll at least give me credit for eating the whole plateful I was served, even though I wanted to run a mile.

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Basically I think you ought to cook your own favorite today, but given that the McWhirters had a Scots heritage I’ll go with what many people outside of Scotland will grant as a (perhaps uniquely) strange dish in name and construction – crappit heid. Actually when it comes to a competition for strangest name in Scots’ cooking there are a lot of entrants: festy cock, clapshot, rumbledethumps, and fatty cutty are strong contenders. But crappit heid has name and ingredients on its side, even though it’s a great dish. Crappit heid is lowland Scots dialect for “stuffed head” – stuffed fish head to be precise.

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Crappit heid originated in the fishing communities of the Hebrides and North-Eastern Scotland in the 18th century. Money was scarce so the desirable fillets of cod or haddock were be sold by fishermen to markets, but the offal and less attractive parts were retained for the pot. Crappit heid was a common meal in fishing communities, consisting of the head of a large cod or similar sized fish, washed, descaled and then stuffed with a mixture of oats, suet, onion, white pepper and the liver of the fish. This was then sewn or skewered to close the aperture and boiled in seawater. The dish was served with potatoes or other root vegetables in season.

Although once a common dish in Scotland, crappit heid has, like many traditional dishes, become a rarity. Cod livers are now harder to obtain and usually only available if the fish has been caught by local line fishermen. However if you can get them, they add valuable nutrients including, of course, cod liver oil. I don’t live anywhere near the sea at present and can’t get access to whole fresh fish to give it a whirl. I don’t imagine either that any of my readers will want to rush out to snag fish heads for dinner. Here’s a website instead that tells you all you want if you are interested. The URL says it all:

http://foodanddrink.scotsman.com/general/a-history-of-crappit-heid-including-a-recipe-for-making-your-own/

Jun 112016
 

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Today, the second Saturday in June, is National Day in Montserrat, a Caribbean island in the Leeward Islands, which is part of the chain known as the Lesser Antilles, in the British West Indies. It is a British Overseas Territory. Montserrat is approximately 16 km (10 mi) long and 11 km (7 mi) wide, with approximately 40 km (25 mi) of coastline. In 1493, Christopher Columbus named the island Santa Maria de Montserrate, after the Virgin of Montserrat in the Monastery of Montserrat, near Barcelona in Spain.

Archaeological field work in 2012, in Montserrat’s Centre Hills indicated there was an Archaic (pre-Arawak) occupation between 4000 and 2500 BP but the island was uninhabited when Columbus sailed by. A number of Irish settled in Montserrat in 1642, and the Irish population expanded due to the arrival of exiles after Cromwell’s conquest of Ireland (1653). The island was captured by the French in 1666, and shortly afterwards by the English. English control of the island was confirmed under the Treaty of Breda in 1667.

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The Irish and English colonists began to transport African slaves for labor, as was common to most Caribbean islands in the 18th century. The colonists built an economy based on the production of sugar, rum, arrowroot and sea island cotton, cultivated on large plantations using slave labor. By the late 18th century numerous plantations had developed on the island, and many Irish continued to be transported to the island, to work as indentured servants.

On 17 March 1768, slaves rebelled but failed to achieve freedom, but the people of Montserrat celebrate St Patrick’s Day as a public holiday due to the slave revolt. In 1782, during the American Revolutionary War, France briefly captured Montserrat after supporting the American cause. The French returned the island to Great Britain under the 1783 Treaty of Paris, which ended that conflict.

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The Irish constituted a significant proportion of the population from the founding of the colony in 1628. Many were indentured laborers; others were merchants or plantation owners. The geographer Thomas Jeffrey claimed in The West India Atlas (1780) that the majority of those on Montserrat were either Irish or of Irish descent, “so that the use of the Irish language is preserved on the island, even among the Negroes.” There is indirect evidence that the use of the Irish language continued in Montserrat until at least the middle of the 19th century. The Kilkenny diarist and Irish scholar Amhlaoibh Ó Súilleabháin noted in 1831 that he had heard that Irish was still spoken in Montserrat by both black and white inhabitants. A letter by W.F. Butler in The Atheneum (15 July 1905) quotes an account by a Cork civil servant, C. Cremen, of what he had heard from a retired sailor called John O’Donovan, a fluent Irish speaker:

He frequently told me that in the year 1852, when mate of the brig Kaloolah, he went ashore on the island of Montserrat which was then out of the usual track of shipping. He said he was much surprised to hear the negroes actually talking Irish among themselves, and that he joined in the conversation.

There is no evidence for the survival of the Irish language in Montserrat into the 20th century.

Britain abolished slavery in Montserrat and its other Caribbean territories effective August 1834. During the 19th century, falling sugar-prices had an adverse effect on the island’s economy. In 1857, the British philanthropist Joseph Sturge bought a sugar estate on the island to prove it was economically viable to employ paid labor rather than slaves. Numerous members of the Sturge family bought additional land. In 1869 the family established the Montserrat Company Limited and planted lime trees, started the commercial production of lime juice, set up a school, and sold parcels of land to the inhabitants of the island. Much of Montserrat came to be owned by smallholders.

From 1871 to 1958, Montserrat was administered as part of the federal crown colony of the British Leeward Islands, becoming a province of the short-lived West Indies Federation from 1958 to 1962. In 1979, The Beatles’ producer, George Martin, opened AIR Studios Montserrat to provide a haven for harried musicians. The studios attracted numerous world-famous musicians, who came to record in the peaceful and lush tropical surroundings of Montserrat.

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The last decade of the 20th century brought two events that devastated the island. In the early hours of 17 September 1989, Hurricane Hugo, a Category 4 storm, struck Montserrat with full force, producing sustained winds of 140 kilometers per hour (87 mph). It damaged more than 90% of the structures on the island. AIR Studios closed, and the tourist economy was virtually wiped out. Within a few years, the island had recovered considerably, only to be damaged again, and even more severely, six years later by volcanic activity that started in 1995.

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The island now has a population estimated at around 6,000. Approximately 8,000 refugees left the island (primarily to the UK) following the resumption of volcanic activity in July 1995. Now, two-thirds of the population are between the ages of 15 and 64, the vast majority being of mixed Irish and African descent. It is not known with certainty how many African slaves and indentured Irish laborers were brought to the West Indies, though according to one estimate some 60,000 Irish were “Barbadosed” by Oliver Cromwell, some of whom would have arrived in Montserrat.

Today is also the first day of National Dairy Goat Awareness Week in the U.S. which runs from the first to the second Saturday in June. It was proclaimed in the Reagan era to promote dairy products from goats. Ronnie praised goats as hardy, productive animals that were intrinsically linked to the history of the United States. I expect he had a good speech writer; this is the man who thought ketchup was a vegetable.

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By coincidence, goat stew, known locally as goat water or kiddy stew, is the national dish of Montserrat. So you have a choice: cheese or meat. I buy goat cheese quite often when I can. I like its tang, especially in sandwiches and salads. I’m also a fan of goat meat which is harder to find, but is very common in Mantua, where I live now. There are numerous goat farms scattered around the countryside. Goats are common in the rockier regions of Montserrat, where they thrive. Milk-fed kid is as tender as young lamb, but mature goat requires lengthy cooking to be tender. It is more flavorful than kid, though.

Goat water is prepared using goat meat, breadfruit, vegetables, onion, tomato, spices and herbs, and flour. Additional ingredients may also be used, such as rum, whiskey and various tubers. Not surprisingly, there is no canonical recipe; it’s all down to what’s available and cook’s choice. Here’s a reasonable recipe which you can vary as you like. The bouquet garni can have in it various herbs. Mine is normally sprigs of thyme, rosemary, and sage.  Maggi cubes are made in Nigeria and are the ubiquitous flavoring in West African and Caribbean soups and stews. You can buy them online or in specialty markets. I’m not a big fan, so I use stock. Red chile peppers and tomato paste are also common ingredients, but I have omitted them here. Your choice.

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Goat Water

10 lb goat meat
2 lb/1kg green pawpaw, peeled and diced
2 lb/1kg breadfruit, peeled and diced
1 lb/500g flour
1 lb/500g onions, peeled and diced
cooking oil
2 tbsp gravy browning
bouquet garni
salt & black pepper
stock (or Maggi cubes)

Instructions

Cut the meat into serving pieces and season with salt and pepper. Heat cooking oil over high heat in a heavy pot and lightly brown the meat on all sides. Cover with stock (or water with Maggi cubes) and simmer for at least 2 hours (longer if the meat is still tough.

Gently sauté the pawpaw, breadfruit and onions and sauté in a little cooking oil, then add them to the meat along with a bouquet garni. Continue simmering.

Mix 3 tbsp (45ml) of flour to a smooth paste with water and add 2 tbsp (30ml) gravy browning. Add this mix to the stew.

With the remaining flour, make tiny dumpling (droppers) by making a dough of flour and water that is stiff. Mix the flour and water, a little at a time, until you have a firm ball. Knead the dough for about 20 minutes, then break off small pieces to form the dumplings. Add them to the stew and simmer until they are cooked, about 20 minutes.

Serve in deep bowls with crusty bread (or white rice).

Mar 172016
 

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Saint Patrick (Latin: Patricius; Irish: Pádraig, Old Irish: Cothraige) was a 5th-century Romano-British Christian missionary and bishop in Ireland. Known as the “Apostle of Ireland”, he is the primary patron saint of Ireland, along with saints Brigit of Kildare and Columba. He is also venerated in the Anglican Communion, the Old Catholic Church, and in the Eastern Orthodox Church as equal-to-apostles and the Enlightener of Ireland. You can go to a ton of websites about his life based on available sources, legend and speculation. I don’t see much point in repeating all that stuff here. Rather, I’d like to focus on how St Patrick’s Day has become a world-wide booze up. It looks very much as if this has come about because of the long-term popularity of the St Patrick’s Day parade and associated activities in New York City, and also in the Irish diaspora. It wasn’t until the 20th century that St Patrick’s Day became a public holiday in Ireland, and at the time it was linked to Irish nationalism.

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Saint Patrick’s feast day, as a kind of national day, was already being celebrated by the Irish in Europe in the 9th and 10th centuries. In later times, he became more and more widely seen as the patron of Ireland. Saint Patrick’s feast day was finally placed on the universal liturgical calendar in the Catholic Church due to the influence of Waterford-born Franciscan scholar Luke Wadding in the early 17th century. Saint Patrick’s Day thus became a holy day of obligation for Roman Catholics in Ireland. It is also a feast day in the Church of Ireland, which is part of the worldwide Anglican Communion.

In 1903, St Patrick’s Day became an official public holiday in Ireland. This was thanks to the Bank Holiday (Ireland) Act 1903, an act of the United Kingdom Parliament introduced by Irish Member of Parliament James O’Mara. O’Mara later introduced the law which required that public houses be shut on 17 March after drinking got out of hand, a provision that was repealed in the 1970s.

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The first St Patrick’s Day parade in Ireland was held in Waterford in 1903. The week of St Patrick’s Day 1903 had been declared Irish Language Week by the Gaelic League and in Waterford they opted to have a procession on Sunday 15 March. The procession consisted of the Mayor and members of Waterford Corporation, the Trades Hall, the various trade unions and bands who included the ‘Barrack St Band’ and the ‘Thomas Francis Meagher Band’. The parade began at the premises of the Gaelic League in George’s St and finished in the Peoples Park, where the public were addressed by the Mayor and other dignitaries. On Tuesday 17 March, most Waterford businesses—including public houses—were closed and marching bands paraded as they had two days previously.

On St Patrick’s Day 1916, the Irish Volunteers – an Irish nationalist paramilitary organization – held parades throughout Ireland. The authorities recorded 38 St Patrick’s Day parades, involving 6,000 marchers, almost half of whom were said to be armed. The following month, the Irish Volunteers launched the Easter Rising against British rule. This marked the beginning of the Irish revolutionary period and led to the Irish War of Independence and Civil War. During this time, St Patrick’s Day celebrations in Ireland were muted, although the day was sometimes chosen to hold large political rallies. The celebrations remained low-key after the creation of the Irish Free State; the only state-organized observance was a military procession and trooping of the colours, and an Irish-language mass attended by government ministers. In 1927, the Irish Free State government banned the selling of alcohol on St Patrick’s Day, although it remained legal in Northern Ireland. The ban was not repealed until 1961.

The first official, state-sponsored St Patrick’s Day parade in Dublin took place in 1931. But it was not until the mid-1990s that the government of the Republic of Ireland began a campaign to use St Patrick’s Day to showcase Ireland and its culture, and pumped money into a Dublin parade. As an educated guess I’d be inclined to say that St Patrick’s Day parades and celebrations became bigger and more extravagant in the Irish Diaspora than in Ireland, especially in the United States, because there was a much greater need for a sense of identity and unity among immigrants than within the home community.

The Charitable Irish Society of Boston organized the first observance of Saint Patrick’s Day in the Thirteen Colonies in 1737. The celebration was not Catholic in nature, because Irish immigration to the colonies had been dominated by Protestants. The society’s purpose in gathering was simply to honor its homeland, and although they continued to meet annually to coordinate charitable works for the Irish community in Boston, they did not meet on 17 March again until 1794. During the observance of the day, individuals attended a service of worship and a special dinner.

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New York’s first Saint Patrick’s Day observance was similar to that of Boston. It was held on 17 March 1762 in the home of John Marshall, an Irish Protestant, and over the next few years informal gatherings by Irish immigrants were the norm. The first recorded parade in New York was by Irish soldiers in the British Army in 1766. The first documented St. Patrick’s Day Celebration in Philadelphia was held in 1771. Philadelphia’s Friendly Sons of St. Patrick was found to honor St. Patrick and to provide relief to Irish immigrants in the city. Irish Americans have celebrated St. Patrick’s Day in Philadelphia since their arrival in North America. General George Washington, a member of Philadelphia’s Friendly Sons of St. Patrick, actively encouraged Irish American patriots to join the Continental Army. In 1780, while camped in Morristown, NJ, General Washington allowed his troops a holiday on 17 March “as an act of solidarity with the Irish in their fight for independence.”

Irish patriotism in New York City continued to soar, and the parade in New York City continued to grow, as immigration mounted (along with anti-Irish sentiment). Irish aid societies, such as Friendly Sons of Saint Patrick and the Hibernian Society, marched in the parades, and when many of these aid societies joined forces in 1848 (during the Irish Potato Famine), the parade became not only the largest parade in the United States but one of the largest in the world.

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The City of Savannah, Georgia, has hosted Saint Patrick’s Day celebrations since 1824. Festivities begin more than a week in advance with communal rituals and commemorative ceremonies, such as the St. Patrick`s Parade. Such events were the main factors in shaping Irish-American identity as recognized today. Leading up to the 1870s, Irish-American identity in the United States was reworked through the shifting character of the Saint Patrick’s Day rituals which featured a rhetoric of vengeance against Britain for creating the dire conditions that provoked the mass exodus from Ireland, and of increasing sectarian, yet Catholic, nationalism.

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The New York parade not only has become the largest Saint Patrick’s Day parade in the world but is also the oldest civilian parade in the world. In a typical year, 150,000 marchers participate in it, including bands, firefighters, military and police groups, county associations, emigrant societies and social and cultural clubs, while an average of 2 million spectators line the streets, and millions more watch on television. The parade marches up the 1.5-mile route along 5th Avenue in Manhattan, takes five hours to complete, and is always led by the 69th Infantry Regiment (New York). The commissioner of the parade always asks the commanding officer if the 69th is ready, to which the response is, “The 69th is always ready.” New York politicians—or those running for office—are always found prominently marching in the parade. Former New York City Mayor Ed Koch (who was of Jewish ethnicity) once proclaimed himself “Ed O’Koch” for the day, and he continued to wear an Irish sweater and march every year up until 2003, even though he was no longer in office.

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For many years the parade banned gay groups, saying groups could not display banners identifying their sexuality. On September 3, 2014, the organizers of the parade announced a decision to lift the ban on gay groups, saying they preferred to keep the parade non-political and the ban was having the opposite effect. In 2015 OUT@NBCUniversal, an organization of gay employees of NBCUniversal, became the first gay group to march in the parade.

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In the U.S. corned beef and cabbage is the overdetermined dish of the day, even though there is precious little that is Irish about it. I followed suit for a number of years because it’s a nice enough meal, and corned beef was always on sale. When I left the United States I switched gears to more conventional Irish cooking. Pictured are my colcannon and lamb stew from years past, both of which you are far more likely to encounter in Ireland than corned beef and cabbage. Lamb stew with onions, potatoes, carrots, and suet dumplings is often referred to as Irish stew in England. It’s really no more than a one pot dish that was the norm of rural cooking across northern Europe. That is, you keep a meat stock simmering on the fire, and add what’s available day to day. There’s no recipe as such.

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A classic Irish stew these days is normally a mix of lamb that has been browned and then simmered with onions until tender. Then add diced carrots and potatoes and cook them through. Finally add suet dumplings – for me, the best part. Mix together equal portions of shredded suet and all purpose flour. Add a little baking powder and then moisten with cold water to form a stiff, fairly dry dough. Roll into balls about the size of a walnut, or bigger if you like, and cook them in the stew as it simmers. They will cook in about 15 minutes and float to the top. You can also thicken the stew at the end with flour if you like. Mix the flour with cold water in a bowl until it is well blended. Then whisk in some of the broth from the pot. Add this mixture slowly back to the pot, stirring as you do. Bring back to a simmer and let cook for 5 to 10 minutes. Serve in deep bowls with soda bread.

Feb 012014
 

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Today is Imbolc or Imbolg (pronounced i-MOLK or i-MOLG ), also known as saint Brigid’s Day (Irish: Lá Fhéile Bríde, Scottish Gaelic: Là Fhèill Brìghde, Manx: Laa’l Breeshey), a Gaelic festival marking the beginning of spring. Most commonly it is held on 31 January–1 February, that is, halfway between the winter solstice and the spring equinox. It is one of the four Gaelic seasonal festivals, along with Beltane, Lughnasadh and Samhain. It is observed in Ireland, Scotland and the Isle of Man. Kindred festivals were held at the same time of year in other Celtic lands; for example the Welsh G?yl Fair y Canhwyllau.

Imbolc is mentioned in some of the earliest Irish literature and it is associated with important events in Irish legend. It has been suggested that it was originally a pagan festival associated with the goddess Brighid and that it was Christianized as a festival of Saint Brigid, who some scholars take to be a Christianization of the goddess, while others believe that Brigid was a real person. At Imbolc, Brighid’s crosses were made and a doll-like figure of Brighid, called a Brídeóg, would be carried from house-to-house. Brighid was said to visit one’s home at Imbolc. To receive her blessings, people would make a bed for Brighid and leave her food and drink, while items of clothing would be left outside for her to bless. Brighid was also invoked to protect livestock. Holy wells were visited and it was also a time for divination.

Irish imbolc probably derives from the Old Irish i mbolg “in the belly”. This refers to the pregnancy of ewes.

Since Imbolc is immediately followed (on 2 February) by Candlemas (Irish Lá Fhéile Muire na gCoinneal “feast day of Mary of the Candles,” Welsh G?yl Fair y Canhwyllau), and has customs associated with it that very close to those of Candlemas (see 2 Feb), Irish imbolc is sometimes rendered as “Candlemas” in English translation; e.g. iar n-imbulc, ba garb a ngeilt translated as “after Candlemas, rough was their herding.”

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The date of Imbolc is thought to have been significant in Ireland since the Neolithic period. This is based on the alignment of some Megalithic monuments. For example, at the Mound of the Hostages on the Hill of Tara, the inner chamber is aligned with the rising sun on the dates of Imbolc and Samhain (six months later).

In Gaelic Ireland, Imbolc was the feis or festival marking the beginning of spring, during which great feasts were held. It is attested in some of the earliest Old Irish literature, from the 10th century onward. It was one of four Gaelic seasonal festivals: Samhain (1 November), Imbolc (1 February), Beltane (1 May) and Lughnasadh (1 August). Studies by folklorists from the 18th to 20th centuries tell us how Imbolc was celebrated then, and shed light on how it may have been celebrated in the more recent past.

Imbolc has been traditionally associated with the onset of lactation of ewes and the lambing season. This could vary by as much as two weeks before or after the start of February. Also, the timing of agrarian festivals can vary widely, given regional variations in climate. This has led to some debate about both the timing and origins of the festival. The Blackthorn is said to bloom at Imbolc. The holiday was a festival of the hearth and home, and a celebration of the lengthening days and the early signs of spring. Celebrations often involved hearth fires, special foods (see recipes), divination or watching for omens, candles or a bonfire if the weather permitted.

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Imbolc is strongly associated with Saint Brigid (Old Irish: Brigit, modern Irish: Bríd, modern Scottish Gaelic: Brìghde or Brìd, anglicized as Brigit, Bridget, Bridgit, Bríd, and Bride). There is considerable controversy as to whether Brigid is a humanized and Christianized version of the goddess Brighid of Imbolc, or whether she was a real flesh and blood woman.  Quite a number of pagan festivals were Christianized in the Middle Ages in order to make conversion to Christianity more palatable.  Christmas in northern Europe is the commonest example used, a conversion of pagan midwinter festivals with all the old pagan symbols remaining – evergreen trees, holly, mistletoe, etc. – but with the focus shifted to the birth of Jesus (whose actual birth date is unknown).

In the controversy about the historical existence of Brigid that erupted in the last third of the 20th century, researchers noted that eleven people with whom Brigid is associated in her Vita are independently attested in other annals, sources that place her death on 1 February 523 (in the Annals of Tigernach and Chronicon Scotorum) and her birth at 451 (calculated from the alleged age of 72 at death). The differing biographies written by different authors, giving conflicting accounts of her life, are regarded as having considerable literary merit in themselves, but their legendary nature and seriously conflicting accounts undermine the notion that Brigid actually existed. Three of those biographies agree that she had a slave mother in the court of her father, Dubhthach, a king of Leinster.

Some scholars suggest that believers syncretised St Brigid with the pagan goddess Brighid. According to medievalist Pamela Berger, Christian “monks took the ancient figure of the mother goddess and grafted her name and functions on to her Christian counterpart.”

Brigid may have been born in Dundalk, County Louth, Ireland. Because of the legendary quality of the earliest accounts of her life, there is much debate among many secular scholars and even faithful Christians as to the authenticity of her biographies. According to her biographers her parents were Dubhthach, a pagan chieftain of Leinster, and Brocca, a Christian Pict and slave who had been baptized by Saint Patrick. Some accounts of her life suggest that Brigid’s father was in fact from Lusitania, kidnapped by Irish pirates and brought to Ireland to work as a slave, in much the same way as Saint Patrick. Many stories also detail Brigid’s and her mother’s statuses as pieces of property belonging to Dubhthach, and the resulting impact on important parts of Brigid’s life story.

The Vita outlines Brigid’s early life. It says that Brigid’s mother was a slave, and Brigid herself was born into slavery to a druid. From the start, it is clear that Brigid is holy. Before a name had been given to the infant, Dubthach dreamt of three clerics baptizing her. One of the clerics told her father, “Let Brigid be your name for the girl”. When the druid tries to feed her, she vomits because he is impure. Dubhthach recognises his impurity and finds a white cow with red ears to sustain her instead. As she grows older, Brigid performs many miracles, including healing and feeding the poor. Saint Brigid is celebrated for her generosity to the poor. According to one tale, as a child, she once gave away her mother’s entire store of butter. The butter was then replenished in answer to Brigid’s prayers.

Brigid committed to the religious life as a young woman. The ceremony was performed, according to different accounts, by one or the other of the bishops Mel (d. 487) or Mac-Caille (d. c.489), the location probably being in Mág Tulach (the present barony of Fartullagh, Co. Westmeath). Mel also granted her abbatial powers. She followed Saint Mel into the Kingdom of Teathbha, which is made up of sections of modern Meath, Westmeath and Longford. This occurred about 468. According to some sources, Brigid was ordained bishop by Bishop Mel at Mag Tulach, and her successors have always been given Episcopal honor.

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Brigid’s small oratory at Cill-Dara (Kildare) became a center of religion and learning, and developed into a cathedral city. She founded two monastic institutions, one for men, and the other for women, and appointed Saint Conleth as spiritual pastor of them. It has been frequently stated that she gave canonical jurisdiction to Saint Conleth, Bishop of Kildare, but, as Archbishop Healy points out, she simply “selected the person to whom the Church gave this jurisdiction”, and her biographer tells us distinctly that she chose Saint Conleth “to govern the church along with herself”. Thus, for centuries, Kildare was ruled by a double line of abbot-bishops and of abbesses, the Abbess of Kildare being regarded as superior general of the monasteries in Ireland.

Brigid also founded a school of art, including metal work and illumination, over which Conleth presided. The Kildare scriptorium produced the Book of Kildare, which elicited high praise from Giraldus Cambrensis, but which has disappeared since the Reformation. According to Giraldus, nothing that he had ever seen was at all comparable to the book, every page of which was gorgeously illuminated, and he concludes by saying that the interlaced work and the harmony of the colors left the impression that “all this is the work of angelic, and not human skill”.

There is evidence in the Trias Thaumaturga for Brigit’s stay in Connaught, especially in County Roscommon and also in the many churches founded by her in the Diocese of Elphin. Her friendship with Saint Patrick is attested by the following paragraph from the Book of Armagh: “inter sanctum Patricium Brigitanque Hibernesium columpnas amicitia caritatis inerat tanta, ut unum cor consiliumque haberent unum. Christus per illum illamque virtutes multas peregit”. (Between St. Patrick and Brigid, the pillars of the Irish people, there was so great a friendship of charity that they had but one heart and one mind. Through him and through her Christ performed many great works.)­­­

On Imbolc Eve, Brighid (the goddess) was said to visit virtuous households and bless the inhabitants as they slept. As Brighid represented the light half of the year, and the power that will bring people from the dark season of winter into spring, her presence was very important at this time of year. In the 19th century, families would have a supper on Imbolc Eve to mark the end of winter. Often, some of the food and drink would be set aside for Brighid. Before going to bed, items of clothing or strips of cloth would be left outside for Brighid to bless. Ashes from the fire would be raked smooth and, in the morning, they would look for some kind of mark on the ashes as a sign that Brighid had visited. The clothes or strips of cloth would be brought inside, and believed to now have powers of healing and protection. In Mann during the 18th century, the custom was to gather a bundle of rushes, stand at the door, and invite Brighid into the house by saying “Brede, Brede, come to my house tonight. Open the door for Brede and let Brede come in”. The rushes were then strewn on the floor as a carpet or bed for Brighid. In the 19th century, some old Manx women would make a bed for Brighid in the barn with food, ale, and a candle on a table. In the Hebrides in the late 18th century, a bed of hay would be made for Brighid and someone would then go outside and call out three times: “a Bhríd, a Bhríd, thig a sligh as gabh do leabaidh” (“Bríd Bríd, come in; thy bed is ready”). In the early 19th century, the people of the Hebrides held feasts, at which women would dance while holding a large cloth and calling “Bridean, Bridean, thig an nall ‘s dean do leabaidh” (“Bríd Bríd, come over and make your bed”). However, by this time the bed itself was rarely made.

In Ireland and Scotland, girls and young women would make a Brídeóg (also called a ‘Breedhoge’ or ‘Biddy’), a doll-like figure of Brighid made from rushes or reeds. It would be dressed in bits of cloth, shells and/or flowers. the Hebrides of Scotland, a bright shell or crystal called the reul-iuil Bríde (guiding star of Brighid) was set on its chest. The girls would carry it in procession while singing a hymn to Brighid. All wore white with their hair unbound as a symbol of purity and youth. They visited every house in the area, where they received either food or more decoration for the Brídeóg. Afterwards, they feasted in a house with the Brídeóg set in a place of honor, and put it to bed with lullabies. When the meal was done, the local young men humbly asked for admission, made obeisance to the Brídeóg, and joined the girls in dancing and merrymaking until dawn. In the late 17th century, Catholic families in the Hebrides would make a bed for the Brídeóg out of a basket. In parts of Ireland, the Brídeóg was carried from house-to-house by children who asked for pennies for “poor Biddy”. In many parts, only unmarried girls could carry the Brídeóg, but in some places both boys and girls carried it.Up until the mid 20th century, children still went from house-to-house asking for money for the poor. In County Kerry, men in white robes went from house-to-house singing.

Brighid’s crosses were made at Imbolc (top image). A Brighid’s cross consists of rushes woven into a shape similar to a swastika, with a square in the middle and four arms protruding from each corner. They were often hung over doors, windows and stables to welcome Brighid and protect the buildings from fire and lightning. The crosses were generally left there until the next Imbolc. In western Connacht, people would make a Crios Bríde (Bríd’s girdle); a great ring of rushes with a cross woven in the middle. Young boys would carry it around the village, inviting people to step through it and so be blessed.

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Today, some people still make Brighid’s/Brigid’s crosses and Brídeógs, or visit holy wells dedicated to St Brigid. Imbolc (and Candlemas) was also traditionally a time of weather divination, and the old tradition of watching to see if serpents or badgers came from their winter dens may be a forerunner to the North American Groundhog Day. A Scots Gaelic proverb about the day says:

   Thig an nathair as an toll
    Là donn Brìde,
    Ged robh trì troighean dhen t-sneachd
    Air leac an làir.

    The serpent will come from the hole
    On the brown Day of Bríde,
    Though there should be three feet of snow
    On the flat surface of the ground.

Imbolc was believed to be when the Cailleach—the divine hag of Gaelic tradition—gathers her firewood for the rest of the winter. Legend has it that if she wishes to make the winter last a good while longer, she will make sure the weather on Imbolc is bright and sunny, so she can gather plenty of firewood. Therefore, people would be relieved if Imbolc is a day of foul weather, as it means the Cailleach is asleep and winter is almost over. At Imbolc on the Isle of Man, where she is known as Caillagh ny Groamagh, the Cailleach is said to take the form of a gigantic bird carrying sticks in her beak.

Brigid, usually using the spelling “Bride” has given her name to numerous towns, wells, churches, and locations. Kilbride (Brigid’s church) is one of Ireland’s most widely spread placenames, there are 43 Kilbrides located in 19 of Ireland’s 32 counties, as well as two Kilbreedy’s in Tipperary, Kilbreedia and Toberbreeda in Clare, Toberbreedia in Kilkenny, Brideswell Commons in Dublin, Bridestown and Templebreedy in Cork and Rathbride and Brideschurch in Kildare. Similarly, there are a number of placenames derived from Cnoic Bhríde (“Brigit’s Hill”), such as Knockbridge in Louth and Knockbride in Cavan.

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St Bride’s church in Fleet Street in London is conjectured to have been founded by Celtic monks in the 7th century.  The current church was designed by Christopher Wren in 1672 after the previous one (sixth to stand on the site) was destroyed by the Great Fire of London (see 2 September). The spire was the inspiration for modern wedding cakes – presumably because of a misunderstanding concerning the meaning of “Bride.”

You get a three-fer of recipes for Imbolc/Brigid today – Colcannon, Boxty Cakes, and Oat Cakes..  All three are strongly associated in Ireland with 1 February, although all of them are eaten throughout the year.  Colcannon is very popular across the Celtic regions of Britain and there are numerous recipes. Oat cakes or oat bread are essential on this day.  All these dishes go well with corned beef which is sometimes served on this day in honor of the druid’s white cow with red ears.

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Colcannon

Ingredients:

1¼ lbs Kale (preferable) or green Cabbage
2 cups water
1 tbsp olive oil
1¼ lbs potatoes, peeled and quartered
1 tbsp chopped parsley
1 cup leeks, chopped (white part only)
1 cup milk
pinch ground mace
salt and ground pepper to taste
½ cup melted butter

Instructions:

Simmer kale or cabbage in 2 cups water and oil for 10 minutes, then drain, and chop fine.

Boil potatoes and water, and simmer until tender.

Simmer the leeks in milk for ten minutes until tender.

Drain and mash the potatoes.

Add the leeks and their milk and the cooked kale, and mix in. Add mace, salt and pepper to taste.

Mound on a plate and pour on the melted butter. Garnish with parsley.

Serves 6

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Boxty Cakes

½ lb hot cooked potatoes
½ lb grated raw potatoes
2 cups flour
1 tsp baking soda
1½ cups buttermilk
butter for frying
salt and pepper

Instructions:

Drain, peel and mash the hot potatoes.

Stir in the raw potatoes, flour and baking soda. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Mix well with enough buttermilk to make a stiff batter.

Shape into 3 inch patties about ¼ inch thick and fry on hot greased griddle until crispy and golden on both sides.

Yield 12 cakes

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St. Brigid’s Oatcakes

Ingredients:

2 cups uncooked, old-fashioned rolled oats (not instant)
1 ¼ cups buttermilk
2 ½ cups sifted bread flour
1 tsp baking soda
½ tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
vegetable oil

Instructions:

A day ahead, combine the oats and buttermilk in a small bowl. Blend thoroughly, cover and refrigerate overnight.

The next day, preheat the oven to 350°F/175°C.

Remove the oat mixture from the refrigerator.

Combine the bread flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl. Slowly add the oat mixture and stir with a wooden spoon 20 to 30 times, or until you have a smooth dough.

Grease a baking sheet with the vegetable oil.

Turn the dough on to the baking sheet, and use your hands to form a round, cake-shaped loaf about 1-inch thick. Use a sharp knife to cut the dough into 4 quarters. Move the quarters apart slightly, but keep them in the original round shape.

Bake until the cakes are light golden brown and firm to the touch, 30 to 35 minutes. Cool slightly on a rack, and serve with butter and jam or preserves.

Yield: 1 loaf (in quarters).

Dec 262013
 

The Demidoff Altarpiece: Saint Stephen

Today is the feast of St Stephen, first Christian martyr. Stephen, was, according to the Acts of the Apostles, a deacon in the early church at Jerusalem who aroused the enmity of members of various synagogues by his teachings. Accused of blasphemy, at his trial he made a long speech fiercely denouncing the Jewish authorities who were sitting in judgment on him and was stoned to death. His martyrdom was witnessed by Saul of Tarsus (later renamed Paul), a Pharisee who would later convert to Christianity and become an apostle.The only primary source for information about Stephen is the Biblical book Acts of the Apostles. Stephen was one of the Greek-speaking Hellenistic Jews selected for a fairer distribution of welfare to the Greek speaking widows in Acts 6:

1 In those days when the number of disciples was increasing, the Grecian Jews among them complained against the Hebraic Jews because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food. 2 So the Twelve gathered all the disciples together and said, “It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables. 3 Brothers, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them 4 and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word.” 5 This proposal pleased the whole group. They chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit; also Philip, Procorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas from Antioch, a convert to Judaism. 6 They presented these men to the apostles, who prayed and laid their hands on them.

Thus was inaugurated the office of deacon, which remains to this day in many Christian denominations a position of service to the community, especially to the poor and needy. Besides his official duties, however, Stephen also preached to the people and raised the ire of some:

8 Now Stephen, a man full of God’s grace and power, did great wonders and miraculous signs among the people. 9 Opposition arose, however, from members of the Synagogue of the Freedmen (as it was called)–Jews of Cyrene and Alexandria as well as the provinces of Cilicia and Asia. These men began to argue with Stephen, 10 but they could not stand up against his wisdom or the Spirit by whom he spoke. 11 Then they secretly persuaded some men to say, “We have heard Stephen speak words of blasphemy against Moses and against God.” 12 So they stirred up the people and the elders and the teachers of the law. They seized Stephen and brought him before the Sanhedrin.

Stephen’s defense before the Sanhedrin is reported in Acts 7; the longest speech recorded in the Greek Bible.  It’s fiery stuff not calculated to win any friends on the Sanhedrin. For example,

51 “You stiff-necked people, with uncircumcised hearts and ears! You are just like your fathers: You always resist the Holy Spirit! 52 Was there ever a prophet your fathers did not persecute? They even killed those who predicted the coming of the Righteous One. And now you have betrayed and murdered him– 53 you who have received the law that was put into effect through angels but have not obeyed it.”

The consequences for Stephen were dire:

54 When they heard this, they were furious and gnashed their teeth at him. 55 But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. 56 “Look,” he said, “I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” 57 At this they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him, 58 dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. Meanwhile, the witnesses laid their clothes at the feet of a young man named Saul. 59 While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” 60 Then he fell on his knees and cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he fell asleep.

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Stephen’s name is derived from the Greek, Stephanos, meaning “crown.” Traditionally, Stephen is invested with a crown of martyrdom; he is often depicted in art with three stones and the martyr’s palm. In Eastern Christian iconography, he is shown as a young, beardless man with a tonsure, wearing a deacon’s vestments, and often holding a miniature church building or a censer.

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St Stephen’s day is a widespread holiday in Europe associated with a host of customs.  In Ireland, the day is one of nine official public holidays. In Irish, it is called Lá Fhéile Stiofán or Lá an Dreoilín, meaning the Day of the Wren or Wren’s Day. This name alludes to several legends, including those found in Ireland, linking episodes in the life of Jesus to the wren. Boys and young men dress up in old clothes or disguises  and travel from door to door begging for money “for the wren.” At one time they carried a wren on a pole which they had killed that morning, but nowadays they carry a fake wren.  Each group had a song they sang as they walked the streets. This one was popularized by the group Steeleye Span:

The custom is not very common these days, although it is being revived in some communities.  I had the good fortune to see the traditional wren boys in Letterkenny, Co, Donegal in 1971 late at night as they paraded through the town with lighted fire brands. Fun, but just a tad scary too. Fifty or so young farm boys who have been drinking all day, disguised and carrying live fire – hmmmm. The people in the town were absolutely jubilant as they passed through.

In the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth, the day following Christmas is a holiday known as Boxing Day, so called because of the custom in the 19th century of service people going to their employers to receive Christmas “boxes,” that is, bonuses for good service.  Household servants had to work on Christmas Day but had Boxing Day off.  There are numerous customs associated with the day, too numerous to mention.  My favorite is the tradition of linked sword dancing which is very common in the NE of England.  Here is a sample from Grenoside in Yorkshire:

Boxing Day is typically a day for using up leftovers from Christmas dinner in creative ways.  St Stephen’s Day pie is a great recipe for this.  It’s a variant of the classic shepherd’s pie or cottage pie; ground meat and veggies in gravy topped with mashed potato and then baked.  This recipe should also teach you that you can make a pie out of just about anything topped with potatoes.  I like to make a mix of fish and shellfish in a white sauce.  The world is your oyster.

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St Stephen’s Day Pie

Ingredients:

2 lbs cold turkey meat
1 lb cold ham or bacon
4 ozs butter plus extra for the topping
1 ½ cups chopped onions
1 clove garlic, minced
2 ½ cups poultry stock
1 ¼ cups turkey gravy
8 ozs small button mushrooms
4 tsps chopped parsley
4 tsps chopped chives
2 tsps marjoram, sage, or thyme
salt and freshly ground black pepper
? cup heavy cream
2 pounds mashed potato

Instructions:

Cut the turkey and ham/bacon into 1″ pieces. Melt the butter in a heavy skillet or saucepan, add the chopped onions, cover and sauté for about 10 minutes until they are soft, but not browned.

Wash and slice the mushrooms.

When the onions are soft, stir in the garlic and remove to a plate. Increase the heat and cook the sliced mushrooms. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper and add to the onion and garlic.

Toss the cold turkey and ham /bacon in the hot pan, using a little extra butter if necessary. Add the mushrooms and onions. De-glaze the pan with the turkey stock. Add the cream and chopped herbs and bring to a boil. Add the gravy, meat, mushrooms and onions and simmer for 5 minutes. Taste and adjust the seasonings.

Pour the filling into a deep pie dish and top with potatoes. Dot the top with butter to ensure browning. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until the potato is golden and the pie is bubbling.

Serves 6-8