Admittedly Bartholomew is not on the Apostle A-list. He is usually identified as Nathanael, who is mentioned at the beginning of John’s gospel. Told by his pal Philip that the Messiah was in town and that He was from Nazareth, Nathanael quipped “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” (Which, considering that Nathanael was from Cana, was like someone from New Brunswick looking down their nose at a preacher from Newark. Or West Orange.)
The only remotely direct foody link to Nathanael/Bartholomew are in Jesus’ words to him. When finally Nathanael meets Jesus, he is amazed when told that Jesus had seen him sitting under a fig tree. Maybe that fig tree was a place of meditation; maybe it also indicates, given that the fig tree was one of the symbols of Israel, that Nathanael was un vero Israelite. Whatever the case, I am sure that he ate those figs. This is, alas, difficult to do for those in the northern part of the United States, since ficus carica does not like a cold winter. Our southern brethren traditionally were crazy about figs, though even amongst traditionalist Virginian gardens it is difficult to find them. But the Cult of the Fig still exists in Louisiana, where one of its greatest exponents is the genteel John Besh; this recipe is taken from his awesome My New Orleans: The Cookbook.
Old-Fashioned Fig Preserves
5 pounds fresh figs
5 pounds sugar
- Wash the figs, trim off the stem ends. Place figs in large pot, cover with sugar, and let sit for three hours.
- Heat figs and sugar, stirring constantly, over medium-low heat. Once sugar has dissolved, increase heat to high, and bring to boil.
- Reduce heat to medium-low, gently boil for 40 minutes. Stir frequently.
- Preserves are done when the foam on the surface has dissipated, and syrup coats the back of the spoon.
- Can preserves according to your best Ball corporation instructions.
Bartholomew is variously said to have been martyred in India, or in Armenia, where he was legendarily skinned alive. In the Middle Ages, with that sort of charming matter-of-fact gruesomeness that characterizes the age, Bartholomew was the patron saint of tanners.
He was also the patron saint of numerous fairs, which began on or around his feast day in late August, the most prominent of which in England was London’s Bartholomew Fair, which took place each August 24th from 1133 to 1855. The Lord Mayor of London began the festivities on St. Bartholomew’s Eve by accepting a cup of sack from the Governor of the Fair. In addition to the sideshows, musicians, acrobats, wild animals, pick-pockets, etc., it was originally an important venue for the sale of cloth.
It was, by all accounts, a heck of a party, which is why it was banned in 1855.