‘Haligmonað’ – September.

The end of art is peace 
Could be the motto of this frail device 
That I have pinned up on our deal dresser— 
Like a drawn snare 
Slipped lately by the spirit of the corn 
Yet burnished by its passage, and still warm. 

From 'The Harvest Bow' RIP Seamus Heaney: 1939 - 30 August 2013

I’ve been on my travels and now it’s a new year – September always feels like that to me and I’ve done my plan of blog posts for the next couple of months. I’m going to be really busy so I’m reverting to something I did for a while at the beginning of writing this blog, which is to post the week’s event on Sunday night regardless of the date. So if the event is on a Wednesday for example it will appear the previous Sunday. It does mean you can check every Sunday and see what’s new and forthcoming.

It’s always interesting to learn something new isn’t it? I went to Dresden whilst I was away – it’s the major city of the German state of Saxony, and it was fascinating, but I’m saving it up for another blog post. It was the ‘Saxony’ bit that got me thinking. Saxony is in the old East Germany, landlocked and on the border of the Czech Republic. So how – I’m thinking - did the Saxons get to Britain in the fifth century and become the Anglo-Saxons? Ah well - different Saxons!

According to the Venerable Bede, writing in about 700AD and the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle of 890AD, the Germanic tribes who invaded post Roman Britain were the Jutes – from Jutland, the Angles – from the Angeln peninsula – also in Jutland and the Saxons from Lower Saxony – which is below Jutland and miles away from the Saxony in East Germany. This is what Bede said in his 'Ecclesiastical History of the English Nation', Book I, Chapter XV, 731 A.D.

"...from the Angles, that is, the country which is called Anglia, and which is said, from that time, to remain desert to this day, between the provinces of the Jutes and the Saxons, are descended the East Angles, the Midland Angles, Mercians, all the race of the Northumbrians, that is, of those nations that dwell on the north side of the river Humber, and the other nations of the English." 

So the Angles and the Saxons had a major impact on the history of England and eventually they became the English – English – Anglish get it? Or if you are Welsh – ‘Saeson’ or Scottish – ‘Sassenach’ – both words meaning Saxon. Eventually the languages of the invading tribes and the existing Britons melded to form Anglo-Saxon or Old English. Whilst I was in Saxony I went to visit some friends of friends and we were shown that every house has a ‘schuppen’ – a shed – usually a place for the men to go and have a beer, but it’s the same word as ‘shippen’ which means cattle shed – still a word commonly used on the farms of northern England.

The Anglo-Saxons called September ‘Haligmonað’ – holy month, and we know that because Bede (where would we be without him?) wrote a treatise called ‘The Reckoning of Time’ which sets out the Christian Festivals, but also refers to the Anglo Saxon Pagan Festivals that had gone before. Bede says Haligmonað was the month of pagan sacred rites and quite logically why wouldn’t it be? If your survival were dependent on your harvest  then you’d give thanks for it and pray for a good one next year.

The grain woulf be threshed with flails - back breaking work, but at least in the winter one that could be done inside a barn (or shippen) - like this:

(Timothy B. Husband, The Art of Illumination: The Limbourg Brothers and the Belles Heures of Jean de France, Duc de Berry, 2008)

The major Anglo Saxon harvest grain was barley – bære. I think that's the grain being threshed above - the upright stooks (another great northern word) seem to have the characteristic 'beards' that make a field of barley look like a heaving mass of water.  Barley was (and is) a multi-purpose grain  - good for fermenting into strong drink, making pottage and bread. I did find a reference to September also being called ‘grain month’ by the Anglo-Saxons and barley has entered into our world in another way too. Three barley grains laid end to end was an Anglo-Saxon ‘ynce’ - an inch and the weight of a barley grain eventually became the ‘gram’ and the foundation of the metric system. 

 So there we are – lots of new stuff.

I’ve made a German barley and sausage soup courtesy of Diana Henry which I altered a bit according to what I had.

15g (½oz) butter
1 large onion, finely chopped
200g (7oz) smoked bacon lardons
150g (5½oz) pearl barley
2 medium carrots, peeled and diced
125g (4½oz) celery chunked
1 leek, sliced
2 litres chicken, ham or vegetable stock
3 good-quality pork sausages - I used herby British pork sausages - but a continental sausage would be nice too.
Generous grating of nutmeg
Small bunch parsley, roughly chopped

I also added a pigs trotter because I happened to have one by me - as you do.

Melt the butter in a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan and sauté the onions for 12 to 15 minutes or until soft. Add the bacon and barley and turn up the heat a little. Cook for five minutes, turning the barley and bacon over in the cooking juices and fat. Add the vegetables and stock. 

Bring to the boil, then turn down to a simmer and add the sausages whole. Cook over a medium to low heat for about 40 minutes, until the barley is soft. Remove the pigs foot. Lift the sausages out of the soup and slice neatly, so you have slices to put on top of each serving (you can put the sausage back in the soup but they tend to break up on reheating). 

Stir in the nutmeg and parsley, season with pepper and serve.

Oh, still through summers and through springs
It calls me late and early.
Come home, come home, come home, it sings,
The wind that shakes the barley. 

From: 'The Wind that Shakes the Barley' by Katharine Tynan (1861-1931)

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Lucas Moore said...

In it there are many butter and calories but it seems very delicious. I like the way of cooking.

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Toffeeapple said...

Oh I do love to see a new posting from you, I know that I shall learn something new and edifying and get a good recipe too. Thank you.

I adore September now that I no longer have the discipline of school.

Liz Woods said...

Thank you!