Friday, February 02, 2007

Wives’ Feast Day.

Today, February 2nd …

There is something for everyone to celebrate today. Whether your interest is historic, spiritual, astronomical, astrological, zoological or just plain economic, the first couple of days of February have been significant from ancient times.

In previous times, before clocks were invented, time was reckoned by the sun, and the new ‘day’ started at sunset on what we would now call the ‘eve’. This made sense because it was believed that new life (and the new day) arose from the dark, and it is the reason why nowadays we often start festival celebrations on the ‘eve’ of the actual nominated day. Which, when you think about it, might still make more sense than starting the new day at an arbitrary time in the middle of the night, as we do now that we are civilised and modern.

All of which is getting me around to saying that February 1st/2nd is one of the old ‘cross-quarter’ days which fall mid-way between the start of the seasons (or between the solstices and equinoxes), and in the Northern hemisphere means that Spring, at least in theory, is on the way.

Animals don’t need clocks and calendars of course, and today is Groundhog day or Hedgehog day – the day when these little animals step out to sniff the nearly-spring air and in so doing predict the weather for us. It is also the start of the lambing season (in the Northern hemisphere), and the ancient name for the time of year was Imbolc, or Oimelc, which refers to lactating ewes. The onset of spring seems to turn the whole of the animal kingdom to thoughts of fun and frolicking, and for the human animal too, it used to be a time of fertility rites.

It is generally assumed that early Christian authorities appropriated many ‘pagan’ festivals and attached their own significance to them as part of their missionary activity, on the principle that ignorant peasants would be unlikely to convert to a religion that denied them a day of fun and feasting. In attempting to convince the masses that this was Candlemas, early clerics must have had a real challenge on their hands to convince them to give up their (presumably) much-enjoyed fertility games. The remnants of these rites persisted until quite recent times in the form of ,Wives' Feast Day, in the north of England, so if you are so inclined it would be quite appropriate to have a girls' day and talk about girls' stuff.

If all this invoking of fertility deities is successful of course, you end up creating a whole lot more work for yourselves, and will have need of recipes such as this, from the South Australian Country Women’s Association ‘Calendar of Puddings’(1950’s?).

Washing Day Pudding.
1 ½ cups S.R. flour, piece of butter size of walnut, ½ cup milk, 2 tablespoons boiling water, pinch salt.
Syrup: ½ cup sugar, 1 tablespoon golden syrup, 1 cup boiling water, 1 or 2 tablespoons butter, a squeeze of lemon juice if liked.
Rub butter into flour and salt, mix in milk, and lastly the boiling water to make a light dough. Roll into a ball and place in greased basin. Then heat the syrup ingredients all together and pour boiling over the dough. Do not cover basin, but keep lid on saucepan in which it is steamed for one hour. Serve pudding hot in same basin, with sauce or custard if liked.

It is a pleasure to do all that work for Mum’s Little Delights, isn’t it? Maybe they will make this pudding for you, from the same calendar:

Mum’s Delight.
A delicious light pudding may be made by melting 1 heaped tablespoon of butter in a mixing bowl, then add in the following order: ¾ cup sugar, 2 tablespoons dessicated cocoanut, pinch salt, 4 tablespoons milk, 2 unbeaten eggs, 1 large cup flour. Stir all gently together and beat for 2 minutes only. Then stir in carefully 1 teaspoon baking powder. Have ready a greased pudding basin, in the bottom of which has been placed 3 tablespoons of blackberry jelly or jam. Pour in the mixture, cover with greased paper, and steam for 1 ½ hours. Turn out, pile whipped cream on top, and serve with vanilla sauce.

And if your interests are ‘economic’? The cross-quarter days were the traditional time for paying rents and hiring servants, so if you have need of new cook, today is the day to look around.

P.S. If you are a man, dont feel left out - we are getting around to Men's Food next week.

Monday’s Story …

A Better Egg-Beater.

A Previous Story for this Day …

We talked about celebrating Candlemas in Marseilles with navettes last year on this day.

Quotation for the Day …

My wife is a light eater … as soon as it’s light, she starts to eat. Henry Youngman (1906-1998)

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