Tuesday, November 11, 2008

More on Martinmas.

Today is Martinmas, the feast day of St. Martin – and in the northern hemisphere it is the official end of the harvest season. It was the day when the surplus stock that could not be over-wintered were slaughtered, and what could not be “put down” by salting and smoking and sausaging was eaten in a final pre-winter gorging session – the reason the day was also called “Split-Stomach Day”.
In the background of course, the pickling and preserving of the fruit harvest had been going on for many weeks. This particular duty – along with preparing the household remedies and “cordial waters” - was the responsibility of the lady of the house, no matter how fine a lady she might be. Even if she did not take a hand in it herself, she was expected to be knowledgeable about it, and supervise it carefully because the health (and nutrition) of the household depended on it, especially over winter.
Mrs Wooley’s Gentlewoman’s Companion (1673) is our seasonal inspiration this week. She is adamant that Candying, Conserving, and Preserving “are Curiosities which are not only laudible, but requisite and necessary in young Ladies and Gentlewomen.” She is using “Curiosities” in its old sense of “Proficiencies.” Her instructions still hold good today – and I particularly like the idea of pears with ginger in wine.
Pears Preserved.
Take Pears that are found, and newly gather’d from the Tree, indifferent ripe, then lay in the bottom of an Earthen-pit some dried Vine-leaves, and so may a lay of Pears and leaves till you have filled the pot, laying between each lay some sliced Ginger, then pour in as much old Wine as the pot will hold, laying some heavy thing on the Pears that they may not swim.
Green Pippins Preserved.
Take half a score of Green Pippins, (from the tree if you can), pare them, and boil them in a pottle of water, till they are like a Pulpe; strain them from the Cores, then take two pound of Sugar, and mingle it with the liquor or pulp so strained, then set it on the fire, and as soon as it boileth, put in your Pippins you intend to preserve, so let them boil leisurely; till they be enough; when they are preserved, they will be green; in like sort you may preserve Quinces, Plumbs, Peaches and Apricocks, if you take them green.
Quotation for the Day …
The jelly - the jam and the marmalade,
And the cherry-and quince-"preserves" she made!
And the sweet-sour pickles of peach and pear,
With cinnamon in 'em, and all things rare!
- And the more we ate was the more to spare,
Out to old Aunt Mary's! Ah!
            James Whitcomb Riley.


Ken Albala said...

The pear recipe sounds delicious! I will try it today. But why the dried vine leaves? They are indeed dry by now.

Also, Can it already be Tuesday there? I guess you are on the other side of the world. I had to do a double take, it's still Monday here, and I'm still at work too!

Happy Martinmas


~~louise~~ said...

I agree, the pear recipe sounds quite intriguing although, I'm not quite sure how to keep them from "swimming."

I hadn't known about the "Split-Stomach Day" relationship, fascinating! Another keeper...

Anonymous said...

I've just discovered your absolutely fabulous blog and proceeded to steal a bit of your Split-Stomach Day for my own blog,quite a big bit actually, sorry and thanks, I hope you are having a great trip.

Anonymous said...

To keep the pears from swimming, you take away their trunks. No, sorry, isn't that where you put a plate with a weight on it on them?

About the green pippins, are you making an apple butter and then preserving additional whole apples in it?

The Old Foodie said...

Hello nbmandel - yes, I think that is what is intended, that the pippins be preserved in a sort of apple butter. Sounds great, doesnt it?