Archive for the ‘advent’ Category

Lo, He comes on clouds descending!

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The Bridegroom soon will call us

The Bridegroom soon will call us,
Come, all ye wedding guests!
May not His voice appall us,
While slumber binds our breasts;
May all our lamps be burning,
And oil be found in store,
That we, with Him returning,
May open find the door.

There shall we see delighted
Our dear Redeemer’s face,
Who leads our souls benighted
To glory by His grace;
The patriarchs shall meet us,
The prophets’ holy band,
Apostles, martyrs, greet us
In that celestial land.

They will not blush to own us
As brothers, sisters dear,
Love ever will be shown us
When we with them appear;
We all shall come before Him,
Who for us Man became,
As Lord and God adore Him,
And ever bless His Name.

Our Father, rich in blessing,
Will give us crowns of gold
And, to His bosom pressing,
Impart a bliss untold,
Will welcome with embraces
Of never ending love,
And deck us with His graces
In blissful realms above.

In yonder home shall never
Be silent music’s voice;
With hearts and lips forever
We shall in God rejoice;
The angels shall adore Him,
All saints shall sing His praise,
And bring with joy before Him
Their sweetest heav’nly lays.

In mansions fair and spacious
Will God the feast prepare,
And ever kind and gracious,
Bid us its riches share;
There bliss that knows no measure
From springs of love shall flow,
And never changing pleasure
His bounty will bestow.

Thus God shall from all evil
Forever make us free,
From sin, and from the devil,
From all adversity,
From sickness, pain, and sadness,
From troubles, cares, and fears,
And grant us heavenly gladness
And wipe away our tears.

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And so it begins–at the end.

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On Puddings

Reblogged from Notanda

Well, it is the first Sunday in Advent as I write this, so I hope that the Christmas pudding that you boiled on Stir-Up Sunday is now aging happily, safe from rodents–particularly squirrels, who seem to have a mad passion for suet.

Suet in Excelsis

Suet in Excelsis

What’s that you say? The previous sentence was almost unintelligible?  You have no idea of what I write?  You are unacquainted with that most magnificent feature of English cookery?


Let the late Patrick O’Brian, in whose novels puddings feature in gluttonous abundance, explain the magnificence of the pudding race (to paraphrase the poet Burns).  Dividing the genus of puddings into three parts, he touches on the herb-pudding, a sort of super-dumpling designed to fill a large family before the meat arrives; second, those puddings which are eaten as the main part of the meal, such creations as haggis, or steak and kidney pudding; and finally, those served after the meat has been cleared.  This is what Americans might call dessert; but the English–those free of Americanisms–properly refer to that course as pudding, synonymously with their great creation. O’Brian explains the paragon of that name thusly:

[Pudding is]…the end and the crown of a dinner, reaching its apotheosis at Christmas, when the plum-pudding, a wonderful mixture of dried currants, raisins, rum, candied peel, spices, small silver charms, and of course the essential suet, comes to the table, blazing with brandy and topped with holly. Second only to that of Christmas we find a series of others, all founded upon that happy marriage of flour (two parts), suet (one part) and sugar consummated in a cloth or basin surrounded by boiling water. In Spotted Dog, for example, the dough is liberally sprinkled with fine bold currants and the cloth is tied tight, so that when the pudding is turned out on the dish its exterior is firm and relatively dry; in the version known as Drowned Baby, on the other hand, the cloth is somewhat looser, so that the resultant surface is agreeably glutinous. Plum duff is much the same, but prunes, sultanas or even dates take the place of currants (when it is made with raisins it is known as figgy-dowdy in the West of England). Then there is roly-poly, in which the dough or paste is rolled out, spread with jam and rolled up again before being put into its cloth and boiled; and to this day a square in Lisbon is called after it, because the elegant paving has much the same pattern.

Other sweet dishes sometimes reach the table at the end of the meal, and by extension they too are called puddings; but although there are respectable tarts, pies and preparations based on rice, most of the custards, sillabubs, flummeries and other kickshaws do not deserve the name at all, which should be reserved for nobler objects altogether, the true heroes’ delight.

Note that O’Brian describes the pudding as being boiled.  This, to be sure, is not completely necessary.  Steamed puddings are perfectly acceptable; perhaps my favorite pudding, the Sussex Pond, is steamed and I think would be hard to produce by boiling it.

What is not in question–or shouldn’t be–is suet.  Pudding is indeed the happy marriage of flour, sugar and the particularly pure beef fat loaded in around the kidneys of contented and well-fed cattle.  This is a very fine shortening, and nothing can really be used as a substitute.  If you doubt this, read this article from The Daily Telegraph. (It was really quite amazing to me that of four “traditional” Christmas pudding recipes tried by the author, the only one calling for suet was from the 1840′s…things are worse in England than I thought.)

The result of this marriage of suet and flour is a kind of cake; but a cake made without leavening, and unlike other kinds of cake actually moist and delicious.  Face it, cakes are usually a disappointment.  Puddings rarely are.

As O’Brian describes, the varieties of pudding are sometimes just a question of a slight change in preparation, or a change of ingredient.  These slight alterations can however make quite a difference, and the result is that the number of possible puddings can be quite dizzying, given also that those variations are also sometimes dependent on regional traditions.  An old website at W.W. Norton promoting a cookbook featuring many of the foods described in O’Brian’s novels, a fantastic work of culinary history bearing the still more fantastic title Lobscouse and Spotted Dog:  Which It’s a Gastronomic Companion to the Aubrey/Maturin Novels, offers a few useful pictures to show the difference between various pudding constructions.

How pudding vanished from American cooking is something I can’t yet adequately explain, but here’s my best guess.  I suspect that it fell away as American middle-class homes all began to have a bake oven. In the eighteenth century, just about all common cooking was done over an open fire, over which things were either boiled or roasted. (For the essential part of this story see More Work for Mother:  The Ironies of Household Technology from the Open Hearth to the Microwave.) People ate a lot of stew.  And roasted meat.  And boiled meat.  And puddings, legendarily boiled in the same pot as the Sunday joint of beef. Though, perhaps, those puddings were O’Brian’s aforementioned herb puddings.  Keen as I am on puddings, I do not think that a spotted dog done in beef broth would be quite the thing.

Good wood-burning stoves made bake ovens within reach of the middle class, and early industrial chemistry soon provided cooks with leavenings other than yeast, viz., baking soda and baking powder by the end of the nineteenth century.  With those ingredients there was no particular reason why puddings should remain in American cookery. Finally, I also suspect that puddings had a certain specificity to English ethnicity that was overwhelmed by other immigrant cultures in the United States.  I mean, why should the Germans learn how to make puddings?  Don’t they already have enough dessert?

But thank goodness that the English stubbornly held onto the pudding.  True, even in England it has become threatened if not endangered–witness the failure to use suet discussed above.  But there are, as one might expect, centers of resistance from which puddings might yet again burst forth to save England in her time of peril. In the meantime, study, go to school on puddings, consult WikiPudia, and make your own.  True, you might have some difficulty in finding an actual butcher who knows what kidneys are, let alone suet.  But the end result is well worth it.


A bit larger than you can conveniently boil at home

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I often imagine attending the Council of Nicea.  Don’t you?  Well, not often, but I have, once or twice.  It would be a splendid occasion, I’m sure. Everyone there from the Emperor Constantine on down looking just like their own Byzantine icon…all gold leaf with serene expressions, mitres, robes, and requisite accessories.  And there in the midst of them their confrere–the patron of Greece, Switzerland, various bits of Italy, Belgium, Germany, and divers other countries, as well as sailors, coopers, children, apothecaries, shoeshine men and pretty much most of the population– small Bishop Nicholas of Myra:  a right jolly old elf, with twinkling blue eyes, a tummy that wiggled like a bowl full of jelly, white beard, red wool suit trimmed with ermine, and a glowing pipe that he rapped against the side of his long black boots after a lengthy session on the filioquequestion, before stepping outside to check on his reindeer.

Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus, and he was at the Council of Nicea.

What he did, or said, is lost to us.  He was almost certainly Trinitarian; Arians, those who followed the teaching of Arius, Bishop of Alexandria, that Christ was a divinely anointed human, not God–certainly had their saints, but those were removed from the calendar after the Trinitarians prevailed.  If Nicholas had been one of those Arians, we wouldn’t be celebrating his feast day.

It’s tempting to invent stories….Hey, did you know that Santa Claus had the whip before the reindeer?  Yep, that’s right;  Nicholas, Scourge of the Arians, always shown with a whip due to the way he beat up on heretics.  The reindeer got grandfathered in later on to explain the whip, dontcha know.  (See how easy that was?  A story designed to explain a story, and it’s even based on a legend that Nicholas once slapped Arius in the face for his blasphemy. Don’t do this kind of thing at home, kids!)

But,  to return the question at hand, no, Virginia, don’t know anything of Nicholas’ trinitarian views, or whether he delivered a stemwinder of a speech at the Council, or anything.  But it’s good to emphasize that Nicholas was an actual, historical figure, who did incredibly boring things like (probably) attending church conferences. Even though this was one of the most important church conferences of two thousand years, I am sure Nicholas wished that Coca-Cola had been invented before 325.  And tobacco, come to that.

Despite, or perhaps because of Nicholas’s presence in Nicea, he became one of the most popular saints on the calendar.  As his generosity and love of children were both legendary, his holiday is celebrated with great vim and vigor by many children, even the very small.

Woot! Check out my St. Nick's loot!

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“Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel.” Isaiah 7:14
O Emmanuel, Rex et legifer noster,
exspectatio Gentium, et Salvator earum:
veni ad salvandum nos, Domine, Deus noster.
O Emmanuel, our king and our lawgiver,
the hope of the nations and their Saviour:
Come to us and save us, Lord, our God.

And the first shall be last…

O come, O come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear

Rejoice! Rejoice!
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

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