Saturday, December 17, 2011

Feast Day

Feast day is an important date in Cornwall as it celebrates the founding of the parish church named for a particular saint. Our village is in the parish of St Mylor (originally St Meleor)  He was supposed to have arrived on a millstone. Celtic saints always seem to do things the hard way.  Though the church itself is Norman, there is a yew tree in the grounds that is far older and probably marks the original place of worship.  Anyway, the Feast. Preparations throughout the village differ only in scale.  The men were sent off to church or chapel in the morning to allow the women to get on with the cooking. In C18th and C19th farmhouses the farmer's wife and daughters, helped by those of the farm labourers, began preparations days in advance.  Fattened lambs were slaughtered and a maid was sent to the local brewery for additional yeast. Batches of loaves were made using wheat flour in honour of the occasion instead of the usual cheaper and coarser barley.  The spacious kitchen was fragrant with the scent of baking saffron cake, seedy cake, potato cake, gingerbread and scones.  Then into the range's oven went pasties, leek and pork pies, goose and parsnip pies, and fish and apple pies.  The special "lammy" pies required several huge deep dishes.  On a lining of thick pastry a layer of lamb, well seasoned with pepper and salt, was followed by a layer of shredded parsley; more lamb, more parsley, and so on until the dish was full. Thin cream was poured over to keep the filling moist and make a rich gravy, then the whole covered with a pastry crust glazed with beaten egg.
For dessert there were blackberry and apple pies served with clotted cream;  rice puddings flavoured with nutmeg; and perhaps an enormous buttermilk cake.

In smaller homes, where cooking was done over an open fire, a rump of beef, a couple of fowls and a piece of streaky pork would be cooked together in a large crock standing on a trivet in the hearth.  A cloam oven in the fireplace was perfect for baking a rabbit pie and a figgy pudding.  Turnips, carrots and other veg - in net bags for convenience - were cooked in the meat liquor and a pot of potatoes steamed over a few embers at one end of the hearth.  When ready the bags of veg were laid on crossed sticks above the crock to drain and keep hot.  The beef and pork were carved onto huge platters and the fowls dressed with a sauce of butter and parsley.

Feast Day was a time of celebration and no work (except for milking)  so second and third helpings were the order of the day. After a nip of brandy to settle the stomach, jugs of hot toddy were placed on the table along with a little tray of shag tobacco and long pipes.  In the scullery plates and cutlery were washed, crocks and pans put away. Leaving the men to smoke and yarn, the women withdrew to another room for a cosy chat.  Between 5pm and 6pm the big kettle would be refilled and placed on the trivet.  After plates of bread and butter, scones spread with jam and clotted cream, at least two different kinds of cake, and cups of strong tea everyone returned home.

Jane Jackson


Louise Allen said...

You are making me hungry, Jane! What a wonderful tradition

Jane jackson said...

Thanks, Louise. A similar pattern was followed at Christmas, Easter and Harvest Festival, though with additional special dishes according to season and occasion. Feast days provided a welcome and much-needed break from the hard work and demands of daily life.