Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Lady Day Feasting

March 25 marks the Solemnity of the Annunciation of Our Lord, another of our highest feast days, a Solemnity, right in the middle of Lent. We bring to mind the Incarnation, the exact moment when the WORD became Flesh. How beautiful the message of our Faith that we revere God in Mary's womb at the moment of conception.

The main food associated with this feast is waffles. Just like pancakes or doughnuts, waffles (or wafers or gaufres) are usual feast day fare. This is Våffeldagen or Waffle Day in Sweden. One website said the name Vaffla, meaning waffle, originated from Var Fru, Our Lady, and that in time the two words became slurred and corrupted, first into Vaffer, then to Vaffla. The waffles are served with whipped cream and lingonberries (or cloudberries). You probably have some lingonberry preserves left over from St. Lucy's feast.

In our house I'm serving those special frozen waffles that are safe for my son's allergies, and put a good dose of safe whipped cream. But for those that can make them, Evelyn's Vitz's Swedish Waffles recipe from A Continual Feast would be perfect:
Swedish Waffles

Here are Swedish waffles for the Annunciation. Light and crisp, these make excellent dessert waffles. They are traditionally eaten with whipped cream and cloudberry preserves. Cloudberries are first cousins to our raspberries.

1 3/4 cups heavy cream, well-chilled
1 1/3 cups flour
1-2 tablespoons sugar
Pinch of salt
1/2 cup cold water
3 tablespoons melted sweet butter

Whip the cream until stiff.
Mix the flour, sugar, and salt in a bowl. Stir in the water to make a smooth batter. Fold the whipped cream into the batter. Stir in the melted butter.
Heat the waffle iron. (If it is well seasoned, it will not need to be greased.) Fill the grid surface about two-thirds full of batter. Bake until golden brown.
Place on a rack to keep crisp while you make the rest of the waffles.
Yield: about 8 waffles

Another interesting food tradition is found in Britain, the Tichborne Dole, which is a form of charity or dole started by Lady Tichborne and given every Lady Day.

Seeds plays a large role on this feast. Father Weiser's The Holyday Book explains the connection:
In central Europe the farmers put a picture representing the Annunciation in the barrel that holds the seed grain. While doing so they pronounce some ancient prayer rhyme like this one from upper Austria:
O Mary, Mother, we pray to you;
Your life today with fruit was blessed:
Give us the happy promise, too,
That our harvest will be of the best.
If you protect and bless the field,
A hundredfold each grain must yield.
Having thus implored the help of Mary, they start sowing their summer grains on the following day, assured that no inclement weather will threaten their crops, for, as the ancient saying goes,
Saint Gabriel to Mary flies:
This is the end of snow and ice.
Thinking of the "seed" planted in Mary, a seed cake is also another traditional food. Marian Devotions in the Domestic Church shares a good recipe for a seed cake, with a variety of options for the seeds.

Another approach is presenting foods is the theme of wreath or circle forms. A Cook's Blessing by Demetria Taylor (1965) points out how this feast is one that falls in the Temporal (Time) Cycle, not Sanctoral (saints). Traditionally this feast was pivotal, marking the beginning of the year, occurring nine months before the Solemnity of Christmas. Father Weiser elaborates on how important marking the time:
In the early Christian centuries March 25 was observed in a special way as the Day of the Incarnation. In order to make the Lord's life on earth an exact number of years, even down to the day, an early tradition claimed that it was also the date of the crucifixion. This fact is mentioned in many ancient martyrologies (calendars of feasts) and in the sermons of various Fathers of the Church. Soon other events of the history of our salvation were placed on this day by legendary belief, and thus we find in some calendars of the Middle Ages the following quaint "anniversaries" listed for March 25:
The Creation of the World
The Fall of Adam and Eve
The Sacrifice of Isaac
The Exodus of the Jews from Egypt
The Incarnation
The Crucifixion and Death of Christ
The Last Judgment
It was an ancient custom of the papal Curia (executive office) to start the year on March 25 in all their communications and documents, thus calling it the "Year of the Incarnation." This practice was also adopted by most civil governments for the legal dating of documents. In fact, the Feast of the Annunciation, called "Lady Day," marked the beginning of the legal year in England even after the Reformation, up to 1752.
Recalling the year as a circle of days, reminders of eternity, the cycle of the Year of Our Lord, serve foods in the shape of wreaths or rings or circles. Wreath cookies, Angel Food Cake (double duty, reminding us of the Angel Gabriel), doughnuts with a hole, cakes baked in tube or Bundt pans, Coffee Rings would all be appropriate to serve today. Last Annunciation, Michele posted a Annunciation Pineapple Upside Down Cake with this same theme.

With the tradition of seed cakes and the circular form, I thought this recipe from The Year and Our Children by Mary Reed Newland would be perfect:
Ukrainian Poppy Seed Cake

We like to bake this Poppy Seed Cake for Easter because it reminds us of the whole lesson of Lent, the seed thrust into the ground to die, that it might live. The circle of the cake, baked in the tube pan, is like the circle of eternity — and that is the point of death to self: to live forever.

You may sift powdered sugar over it, or ice it with a thin confectioner's sugar icing, or serve it plain. It is nice plain, rather like a pound cake.

3/4 cup poppy seeds
3/4 cup milk
3/4 cup shortening (or butter or coconut oil)
1-1/4 cup sugar
3 eggs
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups sifted flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon vanilla

Soak the poppy seeds in milk 5 to 6 hours. Cream shortening and sugar. Add 1 egg yolk at a time and beat well after each addition. Add vanilla, milk with poppy seeds, then flour sifted together with baking powder and salt. Mix well. Add egg whites beaten stiffly. Bake at 375° about 30 to 40 minutes in 9" tube pan.
I have a few non-food traditions and ideas on my blog, but not exhaustive. I also have a post at CatholicCulture.org. Today is such a beautiful feast to contemplate. A happy Lady Day to you all!

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  1. How timely for me. Thanks for posting.

  2. What a wonderfully thorough blog! My children really enjoyed this post as we finished a LadyDay bruch: coincidentally we had pineapple!

  3. Very well documented article JennGM, congratulation to all of you for a inspirational reading.

    Pray with us

  4. These are great suggestions and traditions! Thank you for such a well-researched post!


  5. I just found your blog and it's wonderful! I'll be back for more. Keep up the good work :)

  6. Such a great post -- timeless! We will enjoy your waffles tonight for dessert. :-)