Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Ember Wednesday in Lent

The background and origin of the Ember Days in the Church's calendar have always been something of a mystery to me and to most other Christians. Just this morning my dear friend, Fr. Leo Joseph, OSF, sent me a copy of his parish newsletter, in which he gives a wonderful summary of what Ember Days are all about. Plus a tempting Lenten recipe! I couldn't help but reproduce it here for the benefit of blog readers:

Today is Ember Wednesday!  Whenever confronted by an unfamiliar observance, a friend of mine years ago in New York City, would always say 'Oh my God! What ever should I wear?' I might have suggested a hair-shirt, but she never wore anything that did not have a designer label sewn in it. In fact, Friday and Saturday of this week are also Ember Days -- the Ember Days of Lent.   

It is often supposed that the ancient Christian church co-opted pagan feasts and reoriented them to Christian purposes, but that actually seems to be true in this instance. In pagan Rome offerings were made to various gods and goddesses of agriculture in the hope that the deities would provide a bountiful harvest. Others point to the  Celtic custom of observing various festivals at three-month intervals: Imbolc, Beltane, Lughnasadh and Samhain. 

The Christian observation of this seasonal observance of the Ember Days had its origin in Rome and from Rome the Ember Days gradually spread unevenly to Britain and the whole of Western Christendom. The English name for these days, 'Ember', derives from the Anglo-Saxon ymbren, a circuit or revolution (from ymb, around, and ryne, a course, running), clearly relating to the annual cycle of the year.  

We often find Ember Weeks and Days to be rarely celebrated or discussed amongst Anglicans, except maybe by seminarians who are reminded to write to their bishop this week.  Yet Ember Days are dutifully noted, four times a year, on our Episcopal liturgical  calendars and in the Book of Common Prayer.  But what is compelling is the purposes for which Ember Days remain in our calendar.  They mark the ebb and flow of the seasons with a pause for gratitude to God – not just the transition from spring and summer’s bounty to autumn’s harvest and winter’s rest – but from our birth in baptism, to life in the Eucharist, to anointing and death. Clergy are often ordained during Ember Weeks, to serve as the stewards of these sacramental mysteries.   Priests and deacons are charged to help the people make the bridge from things temporal to things eternal. By that same token, Ember Days allow us all to remember that we live by a different calendar in the Christian Church than that of the secular world.  As Christ’s own, we celebrate Ember Days as a seasonal pause for thanksgiving for God’s gifts, whatever they may be. The Collects for the Ember Days are found in the Book of Common Prayer on pages 205-206 (Traditional) and pages  256-257 (Contemporary) and are titled For the Ministry (Ember Days)...

Having said your prayers, you may now want to slip into the kitchen and prepare this special Ember Day treat that comes down to us from the Middle Ages! 

Ember Day Tart
Since Ember days were considered fasting days this recipe is meatless. Foods on the medieval table didn’t have the definite division  between savoury and sweet that today's foods do. This recipe is slightly sweet, even though it resembles  modern quiche. 

1 pie shell recipe (you may want to buy a good quality pre-made pie shell)  
2 medium onions,
3 eggs  
1 cup cream  
1/4 cup raisins  
1/8 tsp. cinnamon  
1/8 tsp. nutmeg  
Salt and pepper to taste  
1/8 tsp. saffron (optional)  
1 cup soft cheese, such as gruyere (optional)  
1/8 tsp ginger paste (or powdered ginger)  
2 tbsp. butter  
2 tbsp. sugar 
1 cup fresh parsley or cilantro (optional).

Roll out your pie dough and line a pie pan, crimping the edges. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Peel and chop your onions, not too finely. If you are using saffron, heat your cream in the mircowave or on the stove until just hot, then put in the saffron threads. Keep heating just until small bubbles form around the edges, then remove from the heat. 

Saute the onions in the butter until soft and slightly golden.
Spread in the pie shell. Sprinkle the raisins onto the onion layer. If you are using cheese, shred the cheese and sprinkle into the crust next. Break the eggs into a bowl and beat until foamy. Now you need to incorporate the hot cream into the eggs. 
While you are beating, add just 1/4 cup of the cream. When beaten together, add another 1/4 cup, beating constantly.
What you are doing is raising the temperature of the eggs without causing them to cook prematurely. Keeps adding the cream 1/4 at a time until all is added. Now you can add the spices, the sugar, and if you wish, the parsley, chopped finely. Carefully pour into the pie shell. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes, or until the center puffs up. (This shows you the eggs are completely cooked).

Now, wouldn't this be a perfect way to end a rough day of prayer and fasting!

Fr. Leo+

1 comment:

vj said...

Thank you Harry,
I am late reading this but better late than never
Blessings from Harwich