28th November: Thanksgiving

The weary Pilgrim slumbers,
His resting-place unknown;
His hands were crossed, his lips were closed,
The dust was o'er him strown;
The drifting soil, the mouldering leaf,
Along the sod were blown;
His mound has melted into earth,
His memory lives alone.

From: 'The Pilgrim's' Vision' by Oliver Wendell Holmes (1809-1894)

William Tyndale was the first man to translate the Bible into English. He wanted ordinary men and women to be able to read the Bible for themselves, but his view was so heretical it lead directly to his death at the hands of the Holy Roman Empire. He was betrayed by a secret agent and burned at the stake in Belgium in 1536. Even as he lay in prison awaiting his death he begged the governor for his Hebrew lexicon so that he might continue his life's work.

Tyndale gave his life for his self appointed cause and his impact on the living language of English is immense. He used simple, direct monosyllabic words so that even a plough boy (his exemplar) would be able to read his Bible. But Tyndale was a subversive too and he knew that translation is a subtle art. Two words stand out. The Greek word for 'church' Tyndale wrote as 'congregation' and the word meaning 'priest', he translated as 'elder'.

Tyndale broke the mould. He let the genii out of the bottle. The Church was not the clergy, it was the congregation, the leaders were not the priests but rather the respected elders of the Church community. The word of God could be read by anyone who was literate - and many people, especially girls were allowed to become literate in order to do just that.

This simple switch of emphasis - from the clergy to the worshipper, was a written example of the revolutionary mindset that led in 1620, to the presence of a nervous group of people waiting on the edge of a muddy creek on the south bank of the broad Humber Estuary.  They must have looked at the choppy brown water and anticipated the weeks ahead, crossing the Atlantic to a future that they could barely imagine. They called themselves 'Separatists' or 'Brownites' definitely not 'Pilgrims'. Separatists dissented from the beliefs and practices of the Church of England to the point where they wished to 'separate' from it. 'Puritans' on the other had wished to purify the Church from within. I didn't know that before writing this.

The River Trent is unusual in England in that it flows north through the wide flood plain it has made over the millennia to tumble out into the Humber Estuary at Trent Falls. The Trent valley has always been a major route from the south to the north of England, the Great North Road runs through it, as did the Roman Road, Ermine Street. The river itself was a major navigation route to and from Europe, the Anglo Saxons and the Vikings invaded via the Trent, and the Pilgrims went out that way and they came, many of them, from the Trent Vally itself. 

It's interesting to speculate why this was the case. Maybe the Trent valley was far enough from the centres of power to allow dissent to flourish, but connected enough for ideas to travel. The practice of pluralism (i.e. absent clergy) in many parishes encouraged devout believers to find a church where there was an active incumbent and he might be more likely to be fired by evangelical zeal. It was a legal requirement to attend Holy Communion - you were fined if you didn't and ironically this might have encouraged those of a dissenting frame of mind to come together.

Following the Mayflower expedition, more groups of parishioners crossed the Atlantic lead by radical clergy. The Vicar of Rowley in East Yorkshire, the Reverend Ezekiel Rogers was expelled from the church for dissent and he lead a party of parishioners to America aboard the ship 'John' which also set sail from the Humber in 1638.

The Wampanoag tribe of what is now New England, grew a handy vegetable they called  askutasquash. It could be stored all winter and the settlers must have rapidly seen its enormous value as a source of nutrition through those harsh early winters. I took the photo above this week outside my local greengrocer.  Recipes for fritters go back to the middle ages and there is one in the 'The Williamsburg Art of Cookery or Accomplish'd Gentlewoman's Companion' first published in Virginia in 1742. This is a modern version.

Pumpkin or Squash fritters with cinnamon sugar.

500g of pumpkin or butternut squash, peeled and chunked
40g very soft butter
30g caster sugar 

A good pinch of salt
¼ tsp vanilla essence
½ tsp cinnamon
1 large egg, 
90-100g self-raising flour,
½ tsp baking powder

Optional – a dessertspoonful of maple syrup or a dessertspoonful of orange flower water in the batter ( add a little more flour if you use these)

Rape seed or other taste-free oil for deep frying

To coat: 50g caster sugar
 and 1tsp ground cinnamon

Cook the pumpkin until tender, then drain and blend in a food processor, leaving to cool. You can boil it or bake it, I think having made this I’d favour the latter. It would make for a less wet batter.

Put the rest of ingredients except the flour, BP and oil in a food processor and blend briefly until smooth. Add the flour and baking powder and blend again briefly, you should have thick dropping batter. Do a test fritter to see if it holds together and if it breaks up add a little more flour.

Preheat about 8cm of oil to 160-180C in a large, thick-bottomed. I used a thermometer to check. Drop desertspoons of the mixture into the oil, a few pieces at a time, turning them as they cook with a slotted spoon and fry until crisp and golden brown.

Remove the fritters from the oil, drain for a few minutes on some kitchen paper and then gently toss in a bowl into which you have put the sugar and cinnamon.  

We ate these warm with our fingers, but you could have them hot with cream and maple syrup….

I made these about four hours before we ate them and warmed them gently in the oven before serving – they were really good.

November is my last, for Time doth haste,
We now of winters sharpness 'gins to tast.
This moneth the Sun's in Sagitarius,
So farre remote, his glances warm not us.

From: 'The Four Seasons of the Year' by Ann Bradstreet (1612-1672)

1 comment:

Toffeeapple said...

Thank you, another marvellously informative post; I do enjoy reading your blog.