One of our members at Emmanuel in London, Lucie Brear, has compiled a fantastic collection of recipes and suggested Scripture readings for advent. If you want to discover a traditional English way to prepare for Christmas, then just read on! I’ll post them here one week at a time. Here’s the second:
A Medieval Christmas: Fast Days and Fish Days
Christmas conjures up images of a host of culinary delights. It is a time of feasting and merry-making, celebrating the incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ.
In Medieval times, feasting at Christmas was commonplace, though there are striking differences in what was eaten and served at Christmas time then as compared to now. There was a version of Christmas pudding (or ‘Christmas porridge’, as it was then known) but generally speaking, there were not as many Christmas-specific foods as there are now. The same sorts of things were eaten at Christmas as during the rest of the year, though in greater abundance.
Fast and Feast by Bridget Ann Henisch is filled with detailed and fascinating information on food and feasting in Medieval society. Here is what the author has to say on Christmas:
“The two longest and most important fasts were Advent and Lent, which ushered in the greatest feasts of the years, Christmas & Easter. Advent is a period of preparation for Christmas, a time when man tries to turn over a new leaf and start again. One fifteenth-century sermon writer points to the parallel between the Church and the individual: just as the Church makes a fresh beginning on Advent Sunday, ‘so owe ye to begynne and renewe youre lyf.'”
Historically, the days leading up to Christmas were the fast, or fish-days of Advent, when fish was eaten in great quantities up to and including Christmas Eve.
The practice of serving fish up until Christmas Day survives enthusiastically today, in the observance of the “Nativity Fast” within the Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox and Eastern Catholic Churches, as well as the modern Italian-American tradition of a large and extravagant Christmas Eve seafood dinner.
Here’s a delightful and not-too-decadent recipe for Salmon en croûte (meaning ‘in crust’) and pickled cucumber salad, courtesy of the festive chef, Nigel Slater, which can be served anytime in the run up to Christmas.
- 2 medium cucumbers, peeled
- 5 tbsp Dijon mustard
- 2 tbsp clear honey
- 1 tbsp white wine vinegar
- 50g/1¾oz fresh dill, finely chopped
- salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1 x 380g/13oz ready-made puff pastry sheet
- plain flour, for dusting
- 1 x 2.8kg/6lb salmon, skin removed and filleted into 2 pieces
- 1 free-range egg, beaten, combined with a little milk
- Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas 4. Line a large baking tray with baking parchment.
- Slice the cucumbers lengthways, scrape out the seeds with a teaspoon, and chop into 1cm/½in thick pieces.
- Place the cucumbers in a mixing bowl with the mustard, honey, vinegar and finely chopped dill. Season well with salt and freshly ground black pepper and set aside.
- Roll the pastry out to 40cm/16in x 30cm/12in on a lightly floured surface. Lay on the lined baking tray.
- Lay one fillet in the centre of the pastry, pile half of the filling on top and then cover with the second fillet.
- Brush the edges of the pastry with the mixture of milk and beaten egg.
- Fold the pastry over the fish, sealing the edges by pressing them together, leaving a gap in the centre, so that you can see inside.
- Brush the pastry with more beaten egg and milk and bake for 45 minutes.
- Serve with the remaining cucumber mixture.
- Monday, December 11, 2017: Psalm 27; Isaiah 26:7-15; Acts 2:37-42
- Tuesday, December 12, 2017: Psalm 27; Isaiah 4:2-6; Acts 11:1-18
- Wednesday, December 13, 2017: Psalm 27; Malachi 2:10-3:1; Luke 1:5-17
- Thursday, December 14, 2017: Psalm 126; Habakkuk 2:1-5; Philippians 3:7-11
- Friday, December 15, 2017: Psalm 126; Habakkuk 3:2-6; Philippians 3:12-16
- Saturday, December 16, 2017: Psalm 126; Habakkuk 3:13-19; Matthew 21:28-32
POEM for Advent: Advent Sunday, by Christina Rossetti
BEHOLD, the Bridegroom cometh: go ye out
With lighted lamps and garlands round about
To meet Him in a rapture with a shout.
It may be at the midnight, black as pitch,
Earth shall cast up her poor, cast up her rich.
It may be at the crowing of the cock
Earth shall upheave her depth, uproot her rock.
For lo, the Bridegroom fetcheth home the Bride:
His Hands are Hands she knows, she knows His Side.
Like pure Rebekah at the appointed place,
Veiled, she unveils her face to meet His Face.
Like great Queen Esther in her triumphing,
She triumphs in the Presence of her King.
His Eyes are as a Dove’s, and she’s Dove-eyed;
He knows His lovely mirror, sister, Bride.
He speaks with Dove-voice of exceeding love,
And she with love-voice of an answering Dove.
Behold, the Bridegroom cometh: go we out
With lamps ablaze and garlands round about
To meet Him in a rapture with a shout.