14 February: St Valentine's Day

‘..The phrophecys of coming joys to hark
Of wandering lovers stealing thro’ the dark
Dropping their valentines at beauty’s door
With hearts and darts and love knots littered oe’r...'

From John Clare ‘Valentine Eve’

I have a special affinity with St Valentine because it’s my birthday. It was fun as a teenager to go to school and say blithely I had received 15 cards that morning!

Saint Valentine was a priest in Rome who was condemned to death on February 14th 269 A.D. for helping Christians and secretly marrying couples according to Christian ritual. As so often however, the church calendar follows an earlier pagan one and February 14th was the eve of the Roman Feast of Lupercalia, when the names of girls were written on slips of paper and placed into a jar. Young men would draw out the name for their partner for the festival and maybe love would follow….

The custom of sending Valentines is very ancient. The Paston letters which give a fascinating insight into the world of a 15th century Norfolk family, include a reference in 1479 to ‘my right wele-beloved Valuntyne John Paston,' and even earlier, Chaucer writes in 'The Parlement of Foules' published around 1382 '... seynt valentynes day, whan every foul (fowl)cometh there to chese his mate'. Poor St Valentine was removed from the Roman Catholic Calendar of Saints 1969, on the grounds of dubious authenticity, but it matters not, he lives on.

I’m going to be with my family on Yorkshire for my birthday this year and someone else will be making my birthday cake. However here are some heart-shaped macaroons to make and give to your loved one. It’s an adaptation of an Alistair Hendy recipe

Macaroon Hearts
300g ground almonds
350g caster or vanilla sugar
Grated zest of one lemon
1 tsp almond essence
2 egg whites beaten until just foamy
1 tablespoon clear honey
Icing sugar

Thoroughly mix the ground almonds with the sugar, then mix in the lemon zest, vanilla, egg whites and honey to form a dough. This is easy to do with your hands. Dust the worktop with icing sugar and roll out the dough until 2cm thick. I covered the dough with cling film and rolled on top of it, so it didn’t stick to my rolling pin. Cut into heart shapes.

Line a tray with rice paper. Place the hearts on top, sugar side up and bake at 180c for 20 minutes on the lower shelf. Do not brown – and they should still be a bit soft inside. My fan oven is quite fierce and they came out browner than I would have liked after 15 minutes. Put on a wire tray and dredge with more icing sugar when cool, then break off the rice paper round the edges. These are lovely freshly baked but I like them when they are a chewy two or three days old...

‘Familiar acts are beautiful through love….’

Percy Bysshe Shelley from 'Prometheus Unbound'

1 comment:

kate said...

just checked in here and as always it is a delight to read. Happy Birthday for tomorrow Liz! love Kate x