21 December: Montol

'Then came the merry makers in
And carols roar’d with blithesome din;
If unmelodious was the song
It was a hearty note and strong.
Who lists may in their mumming see
Traces of ancient mystery.'

From ‘Marmion’ by Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832)

If you watched Rick Stein's 'Cornish Christmas' recently you'll know that I shall be out on the town tonight. It's the Montol Festival and Penzance will be thronged with masked revellers, guise dancing and bearing burning torches in the River of Fire Procession. Guise dancing is the Cornish equivalent of mumming; a celebration of mischief, misrule and topsy turvey. The famous Penzance ‘obby ‘oss ‘Penglaz’ will be there to lead us through the streets to the music of the Turkey Rhubarb Band.

We meet first to see who will be the Lord of Misrule – picked by the old custom of drawing a bean from a bag. He or she, and we won’t know which, will be our leader for the procession. We will all be disguised, masked and wearing extraordinary costumes or tatters so no one will know who we are – young and old, up town and down town - we’ll all be there – what licence!

Late tonight we will congregate on Lescudjack Hill, the site of an iron-age fort overlooking the town, to chalk the figure of a man on the Yule Mock before it is burned, when we look forward to the death of the old year and the birth of the new.

Montol is like many festivals of this sort, the revival of a very old tradition, but it’s amazing how brief the non-observance of Montol was. It was only discontinued in 1914 – probably for obvious reasons, but we know lots about it and we have William Botterell’s report from ‘Traditions and Hearthside Stories of West Cornwall’ published in 1870:

‘During the early part of the last century the costume of the guise dancers often consisted of such antique finery as would now raise envy in the heart of a collector. The Chief glory of the men lay in their cocked hats which were surmounted with plumes and decked with streamers and ribbons, The girls were no less magnificently attired with steeple crowned hats, stiff bodied gowns, bag skirts or trains and ruffles hanging from their elbows’

The word ‘Montol’ was first translated from Cornish to English in 1700 and means ‘balance’, it means the point when the year balances between dark and light – the solstice in other words, so Montol balances the midsummer Feast of Golowan that we celebrated in June, as well as being the tipping point of the year.

It’s going to be chilly out there, so we need a winter warmer to give us some internal central heating before we go. Here it is.

Spicy Parsnip, Squash and Apple Soup with Hog’s Pudding.

Hog’s pudding is a dense white spicy sausage particular to Cornwall and Devon. I love it and I’m a black pudding girl at heart. This soup uses hog’s pudding as a delicious crouton on the top. Black pudding would do as well – although it would be different, as would ordinary croutons if you're a veggie.

I was going to make just parsnip and apple - but the squash has been lurking about for some time...

Spice mixture - I used 1 tsp each of whole cumin and coriander, plus 4 cardamom pods de-seeded, a dried chilli and 1 tsp each ground turmeric and ginger

1kg mixed root vegetables - anything really - I just happened to have parsnip and squash. Peel them and chop roughly.
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 onions finely chopped
1 large Bramley apple
2 cloves garlic
1.5 litre stock - veg or chicken
Fresh coriander

Roast the whole spices then grind with the powdered ones. Cooked the onions and the garlic in the oil until translucent, then add the spices and the vegetables and the peeled apple roughly chopped. Turn it all round to coat with the spice and sweat for a few minutes, taking care it doesn't catch. Add the stock and simmer until all is soft. Then blitz with a stick blender. Fry your croutons - whatever they are, add the coriander to the soup, top with the croutons and serve.

'Dance then, wherever you may be
I am the Lord of the Dance, said He!
And I'll lead you all, wherever you may be
And I'll lead you all in the Dance, said He!'

From 'Lord of the Dance' Traditional tune, words by Sydney Carter (1915-2004)

Nadelik Lowen ha Blydhen Nowydh Da


Dom at Belleau Kitchen said...

your festival sounds so wonderful... am very jealous... our Christmas Festival was cancelled this year due to the bad weather... im surprised yours is still on!... oh and I adore your star shaped croutons, very festive!

Liz said...

No snow here - a beautiful sunny day in the south-west...(just trying to make you more jealous)

Gerry Snape said...

this is a wonderful one Liz. Even at this minute printing off the recipe for lunch.!