Friday, September 29, 2023

Michaelmas Treats

The great feast of St. Michael the Archangel is upon us, and it behooves us, in the tradition of our ancestors, to honor him in food and drink.

Having a drink has long been a customary part of Michaelmas festivity. Michelsminne, or St. Michael’s Love, was the name given in some parts of northern Europe for wine consumed on St. Michael’s Day. The custom has been especially popular in Denmark.
In addition, we give you permission to drink the love of St. Michael in the form of a cocktail, such as our Drinking with the Saints concoction, St. Michael’s Sword. According to an old Irish legend, when St. Michael cast Lucifer out of Heaven, the devil fell on a blackberry bush and cursed and spat on the blackberries, thereby rendering them sour after September 29. Consequently, folks would eat blackberries on Michaelmas but not after. The legend gave rise to another nickname for Michaelmas: Devil’s Spit Day.
The St. Michael’s Sword Cocktail nods to this legend with blackberry brandy, as well as Jim Beam’s Devil’s Cut Bourbon. The “Angels’ share” is the portion of the whiskey that escapes into the air during distillation, but the “Devil’s cut” is the portion that seeps into the wood of the barrels. Jim Beam’s claims to have stolen this cut back from the Devil, and so we gratefully offer this portion to St. Michael for a job well done.
St. Michael’s Sword
1½ oz. Jim Beam’s Devil’s Cut bourbon
¾ oz. blackberry brandy
2 dashes orange bitters
1 cherry for garnish
Pour all ingredients except cherry in a shaker with ice and shake forty times. Strain into a cocktail glass. Use a cocktail spear (St. Michael’s sword) to transfix the cherry (the Devil, red with shame and rage).
And for those who are abstaining from strong drink (very angelic of you!), we have a mocktail that also hearkens to the Irish blackberry tradition.
St. Michael’s Dagger
1 oz. blackberry syrup
½ oz. fresh lemon juice
4-6 oz. sparkling water
Pour syrup and lemon juice in a shaker with ice and shake forty times. Strain into a cocktail glass and top with sparkling water. Garnish with a cocktail sword and a red cherry to symbolize Michael’s victory over Lucifer, who like the cherry is red with rage and shame.

There are several culinary traditions surrounding Michaelmas. One is to make waffles baked in a gaufrette iron (if you do not have a true French gaufrier, you can use an American waffle iron). Crown your achievement with a blackberry syrup—made, of course, from blackberries picked before September 29.
In Scotland, the treat of the day was St Michael’s Bannock or Struan Micheil. This large scone-like cake is traditionally “made from cereals grown on the family’s land during the year, representing the fruits of the fields, and is cooked on a lamb skin, representing the fruit of the flocks.” When the eldest daughter of the family made the Bannock, she prayed: “Progeny and prosperity of family, Mystery of Michael, Protection of the Trinity.” You can honor this tradition by borrowing the Bannock recipe for Lammas Day.
As for side dishes, Scottish women would harvest carrots on this day with a three-pronged mattock, digging triangular holes. (No doubt they did so in honor of the Holy Trinity whom St. Michael serves so well, but the mattock can also symbolize a trident in the hands of the Archangel.)
And the main course was roasted goose. On “Goose Day” (another Michaelmas moniker), farmers held “goose fairs” and brought their geese to market. A Michaelmas goose was an appropriate way to celebrate the end of the harvest in Ireland and England, especially when the bird in question was a “stubble-goose,” an adult that had grown plump on the stubble of autumn wheat fields. A large-winged creature makes a fitting tribute to an angel, and a nice fat goose auspiciously evokes the financial hopes of the quarter days. Hence the old superstition:
Eat a goose on Michaelmas Day,
Want not for money all the year.
Michaelmas geese were popular in Ireland and England and have recently experienced a minor comeback in Great Britain. But since roasting a goose is too much of a hassle for most Americans (even with the promise of money!), how about a delicious duck? Duck was also a popular option for Michaelmas in medieval times. An when it comes to duck recipes, ours is a sure-fire, easy, and delicious way to get the duck crispy yet juicy, savory and yet sweet, and quickly prepared for a hungry family. A well-feathered duck evokes the tradition of St. Michael leaving a feather from his angelic wings as a relic for people who have a devotion him. The orange zest brings about a deeper citrus flavor, while the orange juice helps to flavor the gravy. The bright colors from the oranges and carrots are reminiscent of Michael’s pointed spear that is ablaze with the fire of God’s justice, while the carrots pay homage to the old Scottish tradition of carrots for Michaelmas.
Side Note: In this year of Our Lord 2023, Michaelmas falls on a Friday. If you are reluctant to have meat on this day, transfer the culinary component of Michaelmas to tomorrow. That will give you more time to go shopping, for I assume that you don't have duck in your refrigerator at the moment.
Roasted Duck with Oranges and Carrots
Cooking Time: 2.45 minutes
Serves 4-6 people
1 duck, approximately 5 lbs, cleaned and at room temperature
2 large oranges, zested and juiced
2 cloves of garlic, finely minced
2 tsp salt
2 tsp black pepper
2 tsp paprika
1 Bouquet Garni (tied up herbs of 1 rosemary, 4-5 sprigs of thyme, 3-4 sage leaves, 4-5 parsley stems)
2 Tbsp of butter
1 cup of chicken broth 4-6 carrots, pealed but kept whole
2 tsp flour
1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees
2. Make the bouquet garni by using cooking twine to tie up the herbs listed in the ingredients and set aside
3. In a small bowl, combine the orange zest, garlic, salt, pepper and paprika and mix together. Rub this all over the duck, inside and out. Any left over, place inside the duck.
4. Place the duck legs upward on a roasting rack inside a roasting pan
5. Insert the bouquet garni inside the cavity of the duck
6. Place in the oven for 45 minutes
7. While the duck is roasting, use a small sauce pot to melt the butter and the chicken broth and bring it to a boil
8. Use this broth to baste the duck after 45 minutes
9. After 1 hour and thirty minutes, carefully remove the duck from the oven and and place the carrots in the roasting pan underneath the duck so that the melted duck fat can confit the carrots
10. Return the duck and cook for another 30 minutes
11. The duck should be dark golden brown with crispy skin with an internal temperature of 160 degrees. At that point remove the roasting rack and set aside for the duck to rest
12. Remove the carrots and place in a saute pan and cook until it begins to caramelize, 2-3 minutes and set aside
13. Make duck fat gravy by carefully removing about 2 tablespoons of duck fat and place in a small saucepan over medium heat. Add the flour and whisk together to make a paste and cook for 1-2 minutes. Add the basting broth, a little at a time to the saucepan, whisking constantly to incorporate the flour with the broth. Use about ½ cup of broth to saucepan. Add the orange juice and whisk together to make a gravy. Add a pinch of salt to taste.
14. To present the duck, remove the bouquet garni from the cavity and discard.
15. Serve the duck over a bed of arugula greens, with the carrot spears around the duck and a gravy boat with the orange infused duck fat gravy.
Food for Thought
During dinner, raise a glass and say, “May St. Michael the Archangel defend us in the day of battle.”
The cocktail recipe is taken from Drinking with the Saints; the duck recipe is taken from Dining with the Saints; and the mocktail recipe will, God willing, appear in a forthcoming book tentatively titled Abstaining with the Saints.

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