Monday, November 30, 2009

The feast of St. Nicholas, Dec. 6. This year his feast falls on the second Sunday of Advent

Santa Claus: we all know he is really—originally—St. Nicholas, the holy bishop of Myra (now in Turkey) in the 4th century. St. Nicholas is one of those saints with many charming legends. You can see and hear his story told on-line; the story is taken from The Golden Legend—a famous medieval compilation of saints’ lives. (You’ll need Quicktime on your computer to play the story; this program is easy to download.)
(This is from a performance website that I co-direct called “Performing Medieval Narrative Today: A Video Showcase”; my dear friend and former student Jenn Jordan is the excellent performer and the artist as well.)

To honor St. Nicholas, let’s start baking Springerle cookies: they are so delicious, and you make them in molds in a variety of beautiful shapes. (The word Springerle comes from the vaulting or jumping animal shapes in which they were often made.) The recipe, drawn from A Continual Feast, is below. You may be able to find molds in a local kitchen shop—or you can order them from The House on the Hill:
Here are their St. Nicholas molds:
And just take a look at all their Christmas molds!

Springerles Recipe
4 eggs
2 cups sugar
Pinch of salt
Grated rind of 1 lemon
¼ teaspoon baking powder
3 ½-4 cups flour
¾ cup anise seeds

In a large bowl, beat the eggs well. Gradually add the sugar, and continue beating until the mixture is light and fluffy. Beat in the salt and the lemon rind. Add the baking powder, and sift in the flour, 1 cup at a time, until the dough is fairly stiff and doesn’t stick to your hands.
Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Knead until the dough is soft and shiny, 5 to 10 minutes. Roll the dough out to a thickness of ¼ inch. Let it stand for about 10 minutes. Flour the mold well. Press is down on the dough, pressing firmly all around. (If there are a few little cookie images that I especially like, I sometimes just press the dough into those, one at a time, to get the image in all its detail.)
Cut the cookies apart. Place them on a baking sheet that has been lightly buttered and sprinkled with anise seeds. Let the cookies sit overnight, lightly covered with a clean dishtowel.
Bake at 300 F for about 15 minutes, or until the cookies are set and a very pale golden color. Do not let them brown!
These cookies will keep for a long time—they just get harder. If you like them soft, pack with them in the cookie tin a piece of apple, or of rye bread, replacing the apple or bread from time to time.
Optional: if you want, you can paint the Springerles with tinted icing (recipe in A Continual Feast, p. 104), but they are beautiful just as they are

If your family does not care for the flavor of anise, you can replace it with more lemon rind and/or some orange rind, or with 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

A Thanksgiving Recipe

With Thanksgiving only a week away, I thought it appropriate to share this sweet potato dish. I brought it to my first Thanksgiving feast with the Vitz family as a newlywed. They have decided to keep me in the family!

My family has a tradition of naming food dishes for the person who is known for preparing that dish. Naming dishes for a person is a wonderful way to remember them and to specifically remember them in prayer. Whenever I look at a recipe card with someone’s name on the top of it, I try and offer up the preparation of that dish for that person. In fact, our family has two favorite meals taken from a cookbook of my Nana’s: Gene Burns’ Chicken and Tom Brooke’s Meatloaf. While none of us have met these fine culinary geniuses, we still think of them in prayer as we prepare their dishes. I hope you enjoy this dish from my dear aunt.

Aunt Mary’s Sweet Potatoes
- 5-6 fresh sweet potatoes, cooked (see below tip to prepare the potatoes)
- 1/4 cup packed brown sugar
- 1/4 cup melted butter
- 2 Tablespoons water
- 1 Teaspoon vanilla
- 1/2 Teaspoon salt
- 2 eggs slightly beaten

- 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
- 2 Tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 1/4 Teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 2 Tablespoons cold butter or margarine
- ½ cup chopped pecans

1. Preheat oven to 350

2. In large mixing bowl, beat the sweet potatoes with an electric mixer on medium speed about 4 minutes, or until well mashed

3. Add brown sugar, melted butter, water, vanilla and salt. Beat until combined.
Add the slightly beaten eggs and beat until smooth. Note: I blend the sweet potatoes, sugar, butter, water, vanilla and salt all at once in my food processor until smooth. I then add the eggs and blend until combined.

4. Transfer mixture to a 2 quart baking dish

5. To make the topping: in a small bowl combine the sugar, flour and cinnamon. Using a pastry blender (or a fork) cut in the cold butter until the mixture resembles coarse bread crumbs. Stir in the pecans.

6. Sprinkle topping over sweet potato mixture. Bake 350 for 35-40 minutes or until sweet potatoes are heated through and the top is crisp.

1. To cook fresh sweet potatoes: Wash and peel. Cut off woody portions and ends and discard. Cut sweet potatoes into cubes. Cook, covered, in boiling water for 2o-30 minutes or until tender.

2. Casserole can be assembled and refrigerated up to 48 hours before baking which makes it a great “Do Ahead” or “Bring Along” for a Thanksgiving Dinner. When taken directly from the refrigerator cook for 45-50 minutes.

Monday, November 16, 2009

The feast of Christ the King—closing the liturgical year

The last Sunday of November is the feast of Christ the King, which falls this year on November 22. This feast marks the end of the Christian year. (The following week, Advent begins—with fasting and prayer, and preparation for Christmas.)

Many powerful images in Christian art show Christ as King.

Many passages in scripture emphasize the theme of Christ’s kingship. Here is a glorious, stirring quotation from the opening chapter of Revelation:

“Grace and peace—from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits before his throne, and from Jesus Christ the faithful witness, the first-born from the dead and ruler of the kings of earth.”

Many Doctors of the Church have also stressed the theme of divine kingship, often emphasizing that it must be within—in our hearts and minds. Here is a beautiful passage from one of the early Fathers, Origen, writing in the 3rd century:

“The kingdom of God, in the words of our Lord and Savior, does not come for all to see, nor shall they say: ‘Behold, here it is!’ or ‘Behold, there it is!’ But the kingdom of God is within us, for the word of God is very near, in our mouth and in our heart. Thus is it clear that he who prays for the coming of God’s kingdom prays rightly to have it within himself, that there it may grow and bear fruit and become perfect. For God reigns in each of his holy ones.” (from Origen, On Prayer)

Now, food for this feast!
We recommend a crown roast of pork. This is a very regal-looking dish, in the form of a crown. (It consists of pork chops, tied in a circle.)

It is also exceedingly tasty!

Here is a picture of a crown roast to give you the idea--but I also like to add something extra to get the full visual effect! Most butchers will give you little golden foil frills to put on the tops of the chops, which make the dish look even more crown-like. (You may be able to find this sort of golden frill at a party store—or make them yourself with little pieces of gold foil or yellow paper.)

Crown roast of pork, to serve 8 (figure 1-2 chops per adult)

A crown-roast with 12 chops (Note: you order these roasts from a butcher, not by the pound, but rather by the number of chops; but the butcher will tell you the weight.)
¼ cup olive oil
Juice of ½ fresh lemon
Optional: 2-3 cloves garlic, mashed or finely chopped
1 tsp salt
Freshly ground pepper
½ tsp thyme
½ tsp sage
¼ cup fresh parsley
Stuffing—see below

Stuffing for the roast
See the stuffing recipe for Thanksgiving turkey, in A Continual Feast, p. 221. But any stuffing recipe will do. Try adding some chopped pecans, chopped scallions, and dried cranberries to your basic stuffing recipe.

Marinate the roast for a few hours or over-night in the oil, lemon juice, garlic, salt & pepper, thyme and sage. Turn the roast a few times in the marinade.
Preheat the oven to 350 F.
Put the roast in a large roasting pan.
Roast the meat for 25 to 30 minutes a pound, or until a meat thermometer reads 170 degrees. (When the roast is cut with a knife, the juices should run clear.) Baste the meat occasionally with the pan juices.
In the meantime, prepare the stuffing.
About 20 minutes before the meat is done, spoon into the center cavity of the roast as much of the stuffing as will fit. Keep the rest of the stuffing warm, and serve it as a side dish.
When the meat is done, cover it loosely with aluminum foil and let it sit for about 10 minutes, to let the juices settle.
If you have little gold crowns, place them on the tops of the chops.
Sprinkle with fresh parsley.

A crown roast is great with mashed or roasted potatoes—or really any kind of potato! (See some recipes in A Continual Feast.)

You may also want to serve the roast with a sauce. Here is one I like.
Cream sauce for roast pork:
2 Tsp pan drippings
½ pint heavy cream
1 tsp mustard (I use Dijon-style)
Optional: 1 Tsp tomato paste
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/8 tsp thyme or rosemary


Spoon the pan drippings into a saucepan.
Stir in the heavy cream. Bring to a boil, and let the cream thicken a bit, stirring frequently.
Stir in the mustard, (optional) tomato paste, salt, pepper, and thyme (or rosemary).
Heat a bit longer, under low heat, stirring, until the mixture is heated through.
Taste for seasoning.
Serve the sauce hot with the roast.

And crown-shaped breads and cakes!
There are also many baked goods—breads, coffee cakes, and other cakes—that can be made (or bought) in a round, or crown-like, shape. In A Continual Feast, see for example, Kugelhopf (p. 24).

You can invite your children to decorate any round cake to look like a crown. You can color white icing yellow with food coloring, and decorate the cake, emphasizing a crown shape, for example with gumdrops and sprinkles, or small pieces of candied ginger, or almonds or pecans. In my experience, this is an invitation that no child will pass up!

Friday, November 13, 2009

Succotash (without suffering) & Kateri Tekakwitha

Some of us remember sad, insipid, overcooked succotashes from our childhood. But succotash is worth cultivating: it is not just interesting in its history—it can taste very good!
The word “succotash” comes from the Narragansett word msikwatash, meaning “ear of corn.” The Narragansett Indians were one of the tribes of the Algonquin nation who lived mostly in New England. Succotash refers to a dish based on corn and lima beans, sometimes flavored with pieces of meat or fish. Succotash is said to have been eaten at the first Thanksgiving dinner.

Succotash recipe: serves 6 as a side dish

½ pound bacon
1 small onion, finely chopped
2 cups cooked corn (fresh or frozen); drained
1 ½ cups cooked lima beans (fresh or frozen), drained
Optional: ¼ teaspoon nutmeg OR paprika
Salt & freshly ground pepper
½ cup parsley

Cook the bacon. Drain it. Crumble or chop it, and set it aside.
Sauté the onion in the bacon fat until lightly browned. Discard all but 1-2 Tablespoons of the fat.
Add the cooked corn and beans to the pan, and sauté them briefly with the onions
Optional: stir in the nutmeg OR paprika
Add salt & pepper to taste
Stir in the crumbled bacon
Sprinkle with parsley
Serve immediately

Substitute ¼ cup olive oil or butter for the bacon fat.
Substitute cooked pork (or other) sausage—crumbled or sliced—for the bacon
For the bacon you can also substitute ½ pound venison (or other meat) jerky, cut into fairly large pieces; add them when sautéing the corn and beans..
Other historically authentic meats can also be substituted for the bacon, such as cooked bear meat (bear meat is available on-line, in most states) or cooked rabbit (available from some butchers, and on-line).
Or small pieces of cooked fish can be substituted for the bacon, such as trout or salmon.
Note: If you eliminate the bacon and other meat or fish, this makes a nice vegan dish.

But why associate succotash with Kateri Tekakwitha, that saintly young Indian woman?

(For those of you who don’t know her, details of her life are readily available on the internet, for example:

You can see two pictures of her here. One is the earliest known painting of Kateri, the other a more recent image.

Kateri’s mother was an Algonquin; her father a Mohawk. She is pretty certain to have eaten succotash: variations on this dish were probably fundamental to the Northeastern Native American diet, since corn and lima beans were native to the regions where they lived.

The succotash recipe I provide above I think Kateri might have liked—though I can’t say for sure that she would ever have tasted one quite this delicious.

(Our thanks to Jessica for taking the beautiful photograph of the dish!)

Monday, November 9, 2009

Our opening post: Welcome to A Continual Feast... Continued! Looking toward Thanksgiving: St. Martin of Tours and food traditions

The Thanksgiving feast that the American Puritans celebrated—and that we gratefully recall each year late in November—takes its roots in age-old European autumn “harvest-home” feasts. For centuries these feasts of thanksgiving to God for the harvest had taken place at “Martinmas”—the feast of St. Martin of Tours (in France), on November 11. (See A Continual Feast, p. 280.)

Martin is a particularly interesting saint: he is the first holy person who was not a martyr to have been honored as a saint. He was a 4th century bishop—and clearly a remarkably holy man and a miracle-worker.

I have a wonderful old cake mold that shows St. Martin on his horse—and it makes a beautiful, painted cake! I just wish I knew where we can buy these today.

Here are a few new ideas for you, to help bring this great saintly figure back into mind and memory, food-wise:

When, as a young man, Martin was a soldier, riding along one cold winter’s night he cut his army cloak in two and gave half of it to a poor man—who later appeared to Martin in a dream as Christ himself. The image I have included here is one of my favorites of the many icons and pictures of St. Martin.

We can imitate this act of charity: let’s divide the food we make in two—and give half to the poor. That is the spirit of charity of St. Martin of Tours!

Goose is one of the major foods associated with the feast of St. Martin. One reason for this is that, according to legend, Martin went into hiding to avoid being chosen bishop—but a noisy flock of geese revealed his whereabouts to those who were seeking him. Most of us in America prefer turkey—but roast goose is certainly delicious! Here is the recipe for Roast Goose, drawn from A Continual Feast.

Roast Goose, Swedish style—stuffed with prunes and apples


1 goose, 10-12 pounds, fresh or frozen

20 large prunes, pitted, and plumped until soft in hot water

6-8 tart apples (I prefer Granny Smiths), peeled and quartered

½ teaspoon allspice


If the goose is frozen, defrost it for 48 hours or more in the refrigerator until completely defrosted. Remove the giblets and cut off as much fat as possible from the inside and all over the goose.

Wash the goose, pat it dry with paper towels, and set it aside.

Chop the fruit coarsely. In a box, mix in the allspice.

Stuff the next cavity with some of the fruit. Fold over the skin and secure it with a skewer or sew it up. Stuff the body cavity with the remaining fruit, and cover the opening with a piece of foil (or close it with skewers, or sew it up).

Sprinkle the goose with salt and pepper all over. Place it on a rack in a shallow pan. Place in a preheated 400 F oven and roast for ½ hour.

Prick the skin all over with a fork (this will allow the grease to drop out). Reduce the heat to 350 F. Insert a meat thermometer into the thickest part of the breast without touching the breastbone. About every 20 minutes, pour fat out of the roasting pan, or spoon it out using a large kitchen spoon. Baste the goose frequently with the pan drippings.

Roast for 2 ½ to 3 hours, or until the thermometer reaches 185 F. Let the goose cool for 15 minutes to let the juices settle. Place on a heated platter and carve at the table.

Roast goose is delicious served with spiced red cabbage and potato pancakes.

And how about making sugar cookies (recipe on p. 95) in the shape of geese? You can find goose-shaped cookie cutters on-line, for example at:

Stay tuned for more thoughts and food suggestions as Thanksgiving—then Advent—approach!