Monday Morning Poem: The Pumpkin

excerpt from The Pumpkin, by John  Greenleaf Whittier

Ah! on Thanksgiving day, when from East and from West,
From North and from South comes the pilgrim and guest;
When the gray-haired New Englander sees round his board
The old broken links of affection restored;
When the care-wearied man seeks his mother once more,
And the worn matron smiles where the girl smiled before;
What moistens the lip and what brightens the eye,
What calls back the past, like the rich Pumpkin pie?

Vintage Valentine Memories

Some of you undoubtedly remember with fondness the pre-politically correct days when schools could have holiday parties in classrooms without causing an uproar over personal rights. Letters were sent home to parents asking for volunteers to provide cupcakes (almost always handmade) and punch, along with lists of all your classmates. There was a box at the front of the class that all the “pupils”  had a part in decorating with paper hearts and cherubs, and each child brought in a stack of valentines, signed and sealed at home, one for each classmate. Valentines would be made ahead of time during class to take home to parents. On the holiday itself, there’d be a celebration in the afternoon, after lunch, with the assistance of the official “room mothers”, valentines were distributed, and the fancy cupcakes would be devoured, more than one per child if there were extras. Then each kid would stuff his or her valentines into a specially decorated envelope made from construction paper, help clean up the party trash, and when the final bell rang, gather coat and mittens and head for home.

 

Those more innocent days are now but a memory, although from what I understand, there are still some Valentine related activities in some primary grades. What are your memories?

Christmas Traditions: How to Make Sugarplums

Twas the Night Before Christmas, by Clement Moore. It’s become an indelible part of the American Christmas tradition, and many of us know it by heart. The line I’ve always wondered about is:

The children were nestled all snug in their beds,

While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads….


So I set out to discover what this delectable sounding treat might be. The dictionary defines a sugarplum as a small round or oval piece of sugary candy. Knowledge about exactly what it’s made of is considerably less exact. Perhaps the name arose from its resemblance to a small plum, or from the practice of preserving plums in sugar, a way to keep some summer fruits around for a while longer. No matter. Recipes using real plums date from at least the 16th century. (The sugarplum referred to in the Victorian poem are composed of a mix of ingredients, including dried fruits and nuts.)

The making of genuine sugarplums is quite time consuming, although it is not difficult.

Recipe:

1 pound of plums

2½ pounds of white granulated sugar

16 ounces of  water plus 2 Tbls water

1. Make a thin sugar syrup by mixing ½ lb of sugar and 16 oz. of water in a large pot.

2. Slit the plums down the seam and place them into the syrup so they are fully covered. Poach gently until just tender. Cool, cover and refrigerate overnight to allow the plums to absorb the sweetness.

3. Make a heavy sugar syrup by mixing 2 pounds of sugar and 2 tablespoons of water in a large pot. Slowly boil until a drop of syrup in cold water makes a thick but soft ball. Transfer plums from the thin syrup to the heavy syrup and remove from heat, making certain plums are covered by the heavy syrup. Allow to cool to room temperature. Transfer to a glass or ceramic bowl, cover tightly, and refrigerate for about a week.

Once flavor has developed, separate plums onto parchment paper and place them in a warm (170 degree) oven, turning them every half hour until dry (or use a home dehydrator.)

Entertain visions of the Sugar Plum Fairy while enjoying this traditional confection!

Monday Morning Poem: Christmas Pageants

by Raymond A. Foss (2006)

Small voices, raised to the rafters
singing their hearts out in the familiar story
the tale of the babe and his parents
sharing his birth with donkeys and lamb,
with shepherds and wise men from the east
marveling at the wonder of his birth
in that humble place so long ago
hearing the words of the story again
richer perhaps in the telling with little voices
echoing throughout the sanctuary
a bit noisier perhaps; but a wonderful
place to be

Monday Morning Poem: In Flanders Fields


In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row, 
That mark our place, and in the sky, 
The larks, still bravely singing, fly, 

We are the dead; short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset 
glow, 
Loved and were loved, and now we 
lie
In Flanders fields. 

Take up our quarrel with the foe! 
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high! 
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

Easter Traditions: Polish Babka Bread

My mother’s family came to the US from Poland, first to Deep River, CT, then moving to Buffalo, NY. When I was little, after church and after my brother and I had found all the hidden Easter eggs, we’d all sit down to Easter brunch. The menu never varied: juice, fresh kielbasa, boiled eggs, and babka. No chocolate till we’d all finished brunch. This year, I’ve decided to make a babka instead of settling for the dry kind sold  in  stores.

bunnyline

This recipe is from Old Farmer’s Almanac.

  • 1 yeast cake, or 1 package dry yeast
  • 1/4 cup lukewarm water
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) soft butter
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 4 egg yolks
  • grated rind of 1 lemon
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 5 cups flour
  • 1 cup milk, scalded and cooled to lukewarm
  • 1 cup white raisins
  • 1/3 cup fine bread crumbs
  • 1 egg yolk, beaten
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 1/4 cup chopped almonds

Add yeast to lukewarm water and let stand until softened or dissolved, about 5 minutes. Cream butter and sugar in a large mixing bowl. In a separate bowl, add salt to egg yolks and beat until thick; then add to sugar and butter mixture. Add yeast and water, lemon rind, and cinnamon. Add flour alternately with milk and beat well to make a smooth batter. Add raisins and knead by hand until batter leaves the fingers. Let rise in a warm place until double (about 1-1/4 hours). Punch down and let rise again until double.

Generously butter a fluted tube pan. Sprinkle with  fine bread crumbs, sugar, and if desired, honey,   and fill pan  with dough. Brush with mixture of egg yolk beaten with 2 tablespoons water. Sprinkle with almonds and let rise again. Bake in preheated 350 degrees F oven for 30 minutes.

History News: The Date of the Crucifixion of Jesus


The Gospel of Matthew recounts the moment of Jesus’s death:  “And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit. At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook, the rocks split and the tombs broke open.” Sounds like an earthquake, which is exactly what geologists from the International Geology Review have attempted to connect to the crucifixion.

According to a study first made public in May of 2012,  a seismic event did occur in the area surrounding Jerusalem during the period between 26 to 36 AD, and could have taken place during the execution.  Astronomical and geological evidence suggests that the date was Friday, April 3, 33 AD. It is also speculated that the darkness, reported by the Gospels to have occurred between the hours of noon and three as Jesus hung on the cross, might have been caused by a dust storm caused by the earthquake.

It’s tempting, from the historical perspective, to believe that the proposed date is the real one. But the scientists do allow for the possibility that the evangelists experienced earthquake activity at another time and appropriated its effects in allegorical fashion, to accentuate the drama of the crucifixion.

It’s Ground Hog Day: history and tradition

As the light grows longer
The cold grows stronger
If Candlemas be fair and bright
Winter will have another flight
If Candlemas be cloud and snow
Winter will be gone and not come again
A farmer should on Candlemas day
Have half his corn and half his hay
On Candlemas day if thorns hang a drop
You can be sure of a good pea crop
(Scottish verse)


Here in Connecticut, ground hogs grazing in the grass are a frequent sight during the mild weather months. During winter, however, the first one we see is Connecticut Chuckles VII, formerly known as Molly, who is always awakened early on February 2nd and ushered outdoors by keepers at the Lutz Children’s Museum in Manchester.

The groundhog , often referred to as the woodchuck, (of  “how much wood would a woodchuck chuck” fame) is the only mammal to have a holiday named in his honor, and for good reason. His holiday stems from the old belief that hibernating creatures were able to predict the arrival of springtime by their emergence. The German immigrants known as Pennsylvania Dutch brought the tradition to America in the 18th century. They had once regarded the badger as the winter-spring barometer…but the job was reassigned to the groundhog after importing their Candlemas traditions to the U.S. Traditionally, the groundhog is supposed to awaken on February 2, Groundhog Day, and come up out of his burrow. If he sees his shadow, he will return to the burrow for six more weeks of winter. If he doesn’t see his shadow, he remains outside and starts his year, because he knows that spring has arrived early. Chuckles, Connecticut’s Official Groundhog, came to reside at the museum years ago, after being hit by a car. He made a full recovery, although since being deaf and blind in one eye would make him a target for predators, he’s living out his golden years at the Lutz, making accurate predictions for Connecticut’s winter. When he’s not taking part in his annual important job, he enjoys relaxing, snacking on bananas, his favorite treat.

So what is Candlemas Day? The oldest of Christian festivals honoring the Virgin Mary, Candlemas commemorates her ritual purification after giving birth, as well as the presentation of Jesus at the Temple. According to Wikipedia, The name “Candlemas”comes from the annual blessing at this time of liturgical candles for use during the rest of the year. It was the traditional day to remove the cattle from the hay meadows, and from the field that was to be ploughed and sown that spring. References to it are common in later medieval and early Modern literature; Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night is recorded as having its first performance on Candlemas Day, 1602. It remains one of the Scottish quarter days, at which debts are paid and law courts are in session. As with some other holidays, it is plausible that some features of Pagan observances were incorporated into Christian rites of Candlemas when the celebration of Candlemas spread to the north and west of Europe, where February 2 was sacred to the Goddess Brighid, or Brigid. Modern Pagans believe that Candlemas is a Christianization of the Gaelic festival of Imbolc, which was celebrated in pre-Christian Europe (and especially the Celtic Nations) at about the same time of year. This festival marked the mid-way point between the Winter Solstice and the spring equinox. The term “Imbolc” translates as either “in milk” or “in the belly,” and marked the birth and nursing of the spring lambs as a sign of the first stirrings of spring in the middle of winter. Imbolc is called “St. Brigid’s Day” or “Brigid” in Ireland, Scotland and Great Britain. Both Brigid the Goddess and Brigid the saint are associated with sacred flames, holy wells and springs, healing and smithcraft. Brigid is a virgin, yet also the patron of midwives.

There is also a scientific link to this old tradition, and it has to do with the weather phenomenon we know as El Nino. According to the folks at Old Farmer’s Almanac, “In large parts of the East,  an El Niño frequently produces a cool early winter, warm mid-winter and cool late winter. If a large rodent was wandering around in the relatively mild mid-winter, there might be enough sunshine to see his shadow. Then the El Niño would weaken and winter would literally come storming back.”

Regardless of its origins, Groundhog Day in the US is a secular celebration set midway between the winter solstice and the spring equinox. Whether or not the little guy sees his shadow, Spring will definitely arrive in 6 weeks. Meteorological spring, that is; here in the northeast, the climate usually doesn’t cooperate!