'Moder & mayden
was neuer non but che –
wel may swych a lady
Godes moder be'
From 'I syng of a mayden' an anonymous carol from the Sloane Manuscript in the British Library circa 1400
For believers, Advent is a time of hope, anticipation and preparation. In the Orthodox tradition Advent is a forty-day fast starting in November on the feast of St Phillip the Apostle and ending on Christmas Eve, which is of course the 6th of January in the Julian calendar.
The fasting rules are quite strict, although not as strict as during Lent and because the Orthodox Church places great emphasis on the connection between the soul and the body, there must also be an effort to restrain from covetousness, greed, anger and other sinful thoughts or habits. This is because fasting should be seen as a time of spiritual renewal when ones thoughts are on higher things than the appetite. I have to say that when I am fasting (aka dieting) I think about food all the time. It’s only when I’m not that I don’t, if you see what I mean.
However, since Advent seems to consist these days of wall to wall encouragement for us to do nothing but get and spend; restraining from covetousness seems like quite a good idea to me – beneficial to both the planet and the pocket – or maybe I’m just stingy….
In the Eastern Orthodox Church, the Advent fast means not eating red meat, poultry, eggs, dairy, fish, oil, and wine. Fish, wine and oil are allowed on Saturdays and Sundays, and oil and wine are allowed on Tuesdays and Thursdays. The fasting rules are relaxed on about half a dozen days during the forty when there are saint’s feasts.
The most important of these occurs on December 4th (Julian calendar again) this is ‘The Entry of the Most Holy Theotokos into the Temple’ one of the twelve so called Great Feasts of the Orthodox Church. I didn’t know until researching this post that the Orthodox Churches have a different name for Mary – Theotokus – literally the ‘Mother of God’. Anyway, without going into too much religious detail, the Orthodox tradition says that her parents presented Theotokus at the Temple as an offering to God when she was only three years old – the dedication of course making her fit to be the Mother of God later on. This is an eighteenth century icon made up of over a hundred smaller icons of Theotokos - how beautiful it is.
But let’s get back to food. I’ve been doing masses of preparation in hope and anticipation of lots of customers at my stall at the Morrab Library Christmas Craft Fair on Saturday 4th December. In other words encouraging others to get and spend in a good cause.
My Mum is still staying so we’ve been working hard making lots of Christmas goodies. My cousin Jane gave me this recipe for spiced oranges - she makes them every Christmas. I like making foodie presents and these tangy and beautiful pickled oranges are absolutely ideal. I’ll be talking about family Christmas food traditions later, but as part of your Christmas Advent preparations try these. It really does fill you with joy to see them glowing on the shelf.
Jane Lineker’s Spiced Oranges
They're really easy to make, a bit fiddly to put in jars but worth it and they mature when kept.
4lb thin skinned oranges
11/2 pints cider vinegar
21/2 lb sugar
2 sticks cinnamon
2 tsp allspice berries
2 tsp coriander seeds, lightly crushed
6 cardamom pods, lightly crushed
6 blades of mace
Slice the oranges into 1/4" slices. Put in a large pan and just cover with water.
Simmer, covered, until the peel is just tender - about 45 mins. Meanwhile, dissolve the sugar in the vinegar and spices and boil for a few minutes.
Drain the oranges but keep the liquid. Put them back in the pan with the vinegar, spice and sugar mixture and add enough of the saved liquid to just cover the fruit. Simmer, covered, for 35 mins. Remove from the heat and leave, uncovered for 24 hours, turning the oranges in the syrup once or twice. Be careful not to break the slices.
Next day, bring to the boil. Put the oranges into jars with whole slices against the sides of the jar. Bring the syrup back to the boil and boil hard to thicken slightly. Pour over the slices in their jars, sharing the spices between them. Seal and keep for a few weeks to mature. Best to under cook the slices rather than ending up with mush!!
'The Advent wind begins to stir
With sea-like sounds in our Scotch fir,
It's dark at breakfast, dark at tea,
And in between we only see
Clouds hurrying across the sky
And rain-wet roads the wind blows dry'
From 'Advent 1955' by John Betjeman (1906-1984)