'Of fayre Eliza, be your silver song,
That blessed wight:
The flowere of Virgins, may shee florish long,
In princely plight.'
From 'The Lay to Eliza' by Edmund Spenser (c1552-1599)
On the 20 July 1588 the Spanish Armada was sighted off the coast of Cornwall by Cornish fishermen - a huge crescent shaped formation of tall ships heading for England.
The Spanish Armada had set off with the aim of overthrowing Queen Elizabeth the First. King Philip of Spain believed that if Mary Queen of Scots had still been alive to succeed Elizabeth, he would have succeeded Mary and during his reign he could have ensured Britain reverted to Catholicism. Mary unfortunately, or fortunately, depending on your point of view, had been executed the year before. Philip was not happy. Nor was he very taken with the fact Elizabeth was supporting Dutch Protestants, given that at the time Holland belonged to Spain.
It had taken Spain months to prepare a huge naval force – about 130 ships including 22 fighting galleons. Secrecy was impossible and in any case Philip believed that there would be panic once the news of his ‘Great Enterprise’ was known in the population. The plan was to sail up to the Netherlands and then take on board a huge army of fighting men and convey them across the channel to invade England.
The English with their genius for organisation had a system of beacons to warn of the coming invasion. I don’t know where the first one was lit but eventually a row of warning fires had been lit all the way to London. On the 21 July Francis Drake fired on the Armada as they sailed up the Channel but initially with little effect - maybe he shouldn’t have finished his game of bowls on Plymouth Hoe.
The English however continued to harry the Spanish over the next couple of weeks, their ships were more manoeuvrable and they had better fire power – the Spanish had more priests on board than gunners. On August the 8th the Queen went down to Tilbury.
‘…..I know I have the body of a weak and feeble woman; but I have the heart and stomach of a king — and of a King of England too, and think foul scorn that Parma or Spain, or any prince of Europe, should dare to invade the borders of my realm; to which, rather than any dishonour should grow by me, I myself will take up arms — I myself will be your general, judge, and rewarder of every one of your virtues in the field. I know already, for your forwardness, you have deserved rewards and crowns, and, we do assure you, on the word of a prince, they shall be duly paid you.’
By September the main invasion threat was over and the Spanish were facing the extreme danger of being driven by heavy westerly gales onto rocks off the Scottish and Irish coasts. Many were wrecked.
But this was not the end. The war with Spain continued, and in July 1595 Spanish troops landed in Cornwall. The soldiers and sailors seized supplies, raided and burned Penzance and and several surrounding villages, killed Squire Keigwin outside his house in Mousehole, held a mass – where? and sailed away before they could be confronted.
Then in 1597 England was spared a Spanish invasion via the port of Falmouth by the intervention of the weather. This time a huge Armada had been assembled, with over 140 ships carrying 9,000 men. The English fleet was absent and the approach of the Armada was unforeseen. Fortunately, a gale caught the Spanish Fleet thirty miles off the Lizard, scattering it and sinking 28 of the ships. The first inkling the English had of their near escape was when one of the Spanish ships was forced into St Ives for repair – I wonder what sort of reception they got?
So July is the month of invasion in Cornwall, and it’s still the case, but these days it’s the more benevolent and welcome sight of German tourists in coaches and visitors from all over the UK and Europe in their cars and camper vans.
So - something summery I think...
Raspberry Orange Shortcakes
These are really delicious. First make some orange flavoured shortbread biscuits
6oz plain flour
2oz caster sugar
4oz butter - if you can get it I prefer the sort of butter specifically sold for baking, it gives a 'shorter' and crisper result, alternatively use a dense low moisture butter like Lurpak or President
graded zest of one orange.
Soften the butter until it's very soft but not liquid. Mix into the flour and salt add the sugar and orange rind and mix with a wooden spoon until you have a smooth dough. Chill. Now roll out thinly to about 1/8th inch thick and cut into rounds, bake at 150c for 25 minutes. You don't want them too brown. Cool.
Whip some double cream and layer the biscuits with cream and fruit, I used raspberries and some wonderfully juicy black cherries. Sprinkle with icing sugar.
Eat soon, before the biscuit goes soft.
I saw Eternity the other night
Like a great Ring of pure and endless light,
All calm as it was bright;
And round beneath it, Time, in hours, days, years,
Driven by the spheres,
Like a vast shadow moved...
From 'The World' by Henry Vaughan (1621-1695)
Just in case you're wondering - and I'm sure you are, I took the photos on Penzance Promenade at the World Record Attempt for the most pirates in one place (8,734) on June 26th 2011. The lovely picture of a tall ship near The Mount was taken earlier this summer.
I thought Shrove Tuesday was just about pancakes – a way of eating up leftovers before the start of the Lenten fast. However Miss Courtney in ‘Cornish Feasts and Folk Lore’ published nearly 100 years ago, tells us that there were lots of other goings on today. This what she says about Penzance;
’ …large quantities of limpets and periwinkles are gathered in the afternoon by the poor people to be cooked for their supper. This is called ‘going a-trigging.’
In East Yorkshire the church warden rang the pancake bell at 11.00 am to signify the start of the holiday for workers and school children and the time to start making the pancakes – pancake makers obviously didn’t get holidays. My friend Alex told me recently of the tradition of feeding the last pancake to the family cockerel. This had to be done by the daughter of the house. The number of hens who ran over to get a piece of the action – or pancake, signified the number of years before she would get married! This would seem to be particularly rough if you have a large flock of chickens…twenty five years, thirty years?? Don’t do it.
I’ve never been very keen on savoury pancakes; I’ve always found the combination of pancake and thick sauce too rich and starchy. However I’m going to combine the two traditions and make light seafood pancakes. This recipe has a number of stages, but it’s easy to do over the course of the day and the sauce freezes well.
We’ll start with a green pancake mix. Make this as thin as you dare.
Penzance Seafood Pancakes
For the pancakes:
2 oz melted butter Milk to mix.
Handful of wild garlic leaves or chives, parsley, French tarragon, dill, fennel – whatever soft green herbs are available. I used wild garlic to maintain the ‘gathered’ food theme and parsley.
Butter for frying – clarified butter is best. (Melt some butter and skin off the milky solids)
Make the batter in the usual way, (I put all the basic ingredients into my liquidiser and zapped them) pour the batter into a jug and add a generous handful of very finely chopped fresh herbs. Let stand for at least 30 minutes.
For the filling:
2 cloves of garlic
2 tbsp olive oil
A 2” long piece of orange rind
2 bay leaves
I tsp dried thyme
1small glass white wine
1 tin crushed tomatoes – usual size
½ pint fish stock (I used a fish stock cube)
For the fish I used 8oz of mixed cooked seafood – scallops, prawns, mussels and squid and I didn’t go down to the beach for them. You can use chunks of raw fish and just cook it a little longer.
Finely chop the garlic and sauté in the oil with the orange peel and herbs. Add the wine and boil to reduce for a couple of minutes. Add the tomatoes and the stock and the mushrooms. Simmer in an open pan until the sauce is thick and chunky. You can leave it at this stage. When you’re ready, add the cooked seafood.
Make the pancakes and layer between baking paper whilst you use all the batter up. When the pancakes are cool, put a couple of tablespoons of the seafood and sauce on each one and roll up. Place side by side in a buttered gratin dish. Cover with foil and bake at 180c for about half an hour. You could grate cheese over – I didn’t.
This cries out for a big glass of fruity white wine with it.
We often have this as a seafood stew without the pancakes and with a bowl of white rice – it’s very comforting. I make it with whatever fish seems good on the day.
Don’t forget the hens.