Swinging kilts and flying saltires for St Andrew’s Day in Scotland

Swinging kilts and flying saltires for St Andrew’s Day in Scotland

Every year on November 30th Scotland celebrates its national holiday. St Andrew’s Day (or in Scottish Gaelic ‘Là Naomh Anndrais’) not only celebrates the country’s patron saint but it is also a day filled with traditional Scottish food, music, poems, and dance.

According to legend a monk named Regulus brought relics of St Andrew to Scotland where he was given land to build a church by a Pictish king. The settlement grew into the town of St Andrew’s, where the cathedral in Kinrymount, Fife, became an important place of pilgrimage and the university, the oldest in Scotland, was founded in 1413.

The Scottish flag, the Saltire, is steeped in history and legend and is thought to be the oldest national flag in Europe. The saltire is based on the X-shaped cross on which St Andrew was crucified on November 30, 60 AD. An ancient story tells that a St Andrew’s Cross was seen in the sky by the Pictish King Angus MacFergus on the morning of a crucial battle in 832 AD between the Picts and the Angles. The Picts were inspired by the symbol and were victorious in battle.

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The Saltire, Scotland’s National Flag

It wasn’t until the year 1320 that St Andrew was made the official patron of Scotland at the Declaration of Arbroath. In 1390, St Andrew began to appear on coinage; however, the saint’s relics were destroyed during the Scottish Reformation in the 1500s.

FACTS ABOUT SAINT ANDREW

  • Saint Andrew was a fisherman in Galilee

  • St Andrew was one of the twelve apostles (disciples of Jesus) and brother of St Peter

  • St Andrew is believed to have died on a diagonally transverse cross which Romans sometimes used for executions and which, therefore, came to be called St Andrew’s Cross

  • St Andrew’s Day is connected with Advent, which begins on the first Sunday after November 26

  • St Andrew is also the patron saint of Greece, Romania, Russia, and Ukraine

  • In Scotland, St Andrew’s Day is seen as the start of a season of Scottish winter festivals including Hogmanay and Burns Night

Among St Andrew’s many responsibilities, he is also the patron saint of unmarried women. Many folklore traditions surround this auspicious day. European girls would traditionally perform rituals, which might be anything from divining by pouring molten lead into water, to kicking a straw bed in the nude, while reciting the St Andrew’s prayer. While doing this they would, of course, look for a lucky sign of love.

ST ANDREW’S DAY AT HOME

Celebrate with a ceilidh! A popular form of social gathering in Scotland, ceilidhs were the traditional setting for dancing, singing, and storytelling. You and your family can celebrate your own feast. Let your main course be fish since St Andrew was a fisherman. Include some Scottish traditions, recite poems by Scottish poets, or recount the history of Scotland together as a family. If you’re feeling lively, get up and dance some traditional Scottish jigs!

Watch a short video about the patron saint of Scotland & the Scottish national holiday of St Andrew’s Day

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Pag Lacemaking, A Croatian Tradition

Pag Lacemaking, A Croatian Tradition

At least three distinct traditions of Lacemaking in Croatia persist today, centred on the towns of Pag on the Adriatic, Lepoglava in northern Croatia and Hvar on the Dalmatian island of the same name. Pag needle-point lace was originally used to make ecclesiastical garments, tablecloths and ornaments for clothing. The process involves embellishing a spider web pattern with geometrical motifs and is transmitted today by older women who offer year-long courses. Lepoglava bobbin lace is made by braiding thread wound on spindles, or bobbins; it is often used to make lace ribbons for folk costumes or is sold at village fairs. An International Lace Festival in Lepoglava celebrates the art every year. Aloe lace is made in Croatia only by Benedictine nuns in the town of Hvar. Thin, white threads are obtained from the core of fresh aloe leaves and woven into a net or other pattern on a cardboard background. The resulting pieces are a symbol of Hvar. Each variety of lace has long been created by rural women as a source of additional income and has left a permanent mark on the culture of its region. The craft both produces an important component of traditional clothes and is itself testimony to a living cultural tradition.

In 2009 UNESCO recognised lacemaking in Croatia as an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity

Tasty Traditions: Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte (Black Forest Cake)

Tasty Traditions: Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte (Black Forest Cake)

Schwarzwälder kirschtorte is named for the Schwarzwald or Black Forest region in southeastern Germany, so it’s often known outside the German-speaking countries as “Black Forest Cherry Cake” or “Black Forest Gateau.”

As one of the most popular cakes in Germany, it’s interesting to note that the inspiration for the cake may have come from Switzerland instead. The kirschwasser, or cherry firewater, on which the cake is based, came from the area around the central Swiss lakes. This region is still famous for its kirsch brands Etter and Dettling. During the mid-to-late 1800s, kirschwasser began to be widely produced and used in the Black Forest region of Germany.

During the 1800s, desserts using cooked cherries, kirsch, and whipped cream or cream became a staple in the region. The first known kirschtorte appeared near Zug in Switzerland, where kirsch was distilled from the famous Zuger sour cherries.

Some folk traditions suggest that the cake is meant to resemble the traditional costume of

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Hand-tinted postcard of a young schwarzwald woman wearing the traditional bollenhut

the country girls in some parts of the Black Forest. The cake is said to represent their black or dark brown skirts, their white blouses, and their traditional hats covered with large cherry-red woolen bobbles.

The Schwarzwälder kirschtorte appears in recipes for the first time in the 1930s. Its popularity in Germany grew quickly and it’s now considered a traditional dessert.

In Germany, the baking industry works under regulations that require a kirschtorte to be made under specific guidelines. The rules define it as either “a cake made with Kirschwasser and whipped cream or with Kirschwasser and buttercream, or a combination of the two” — so without the kirsch, the cake isn’t genuine.  The presence of fruit is actually considered secondary to the presence of the kirsch, the flavor of which has to be clearly apparent. The layers — of a light Viennese cake or sponge — must contain at least 3% cocoa or chocolate (though there can be more), and the topping must be of either buttercream or whipped cream, and garnished with chocolate.

INGREDIENTS

For the cake:

  • 6 large eggs
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract or essence
  • 4 ounces unsweetened baking chocolate, melted
  • 1 cup flour, sifted

For the syrup:

  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/3 cup water
  • 2 tablespoons Kirsch

For the filling:

  • 1 1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar / icing sugar
  • 1/3 cup unsalted butter
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 2 tablespoons Kirsch

For the topping:

  • 2 cups canned sour cherries, drained
  • 2 tablespoons confectioners’ / icing sugar
  • 1 cup heavy cream, whipped
  • 8 ounces semisweet chocolate

DIRECTIONS

FOR THE CAKE: Beat eggs, sugar, and vanilla together until thick and fluffy, about 10 minutes. Alternately fold chocolate and flour into the egg mixture, ending with flour. Pour the batter into 3 8-inch cake pans that have been well greased and floured. (Do not use oil to grease the pans: use butter or Crisco or a similar solid fat. If you use oil, the layers will probably stick to the pans. Also: make sure you do the greasing and flouring even if you have nonstick pans.)

Bake the layers in a preheated 350 degree F. oven for 10 to 15 minutes or until a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool cakes in pans for 5 minutes; then carefully turn out on racks and allow to cool completely.

FOR THE SYRUP: Make syrup by mixing together sugar and water and boiling for 5 minutes. When syrup has cooled, stir in kirsch. Prick the cake layers and pour syrup over all 3 layers.

FOR THE FILLING: To make the butter-cream filling, beat together sugar and butter until well blended. Add egg yolk; beat until light and fluffy, about 3 to 5 minutes. Fold in Kirsch.

CAKE ASSEMBLY: To assemble cake, place 1 layer on a cake plate. Spread with butter cream filling. Using 3/4 cup of the cherries, which have been patted dry, drop cherries evenly over cream. Place second layer on cake. Repeat. Place third layer on top. Fold 2 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar into the whipped cream. Cover the sides and top of the cake with whipped cream.

Decorate top of cake with remaining 1/2 cup cherries. Grated chocolate is perfectly acceptable as a topping, but if you prefer to make chocolate curls from a chocolate bar, shave them off the bar (at room temperature) with a vegetable peeler. Refrigerate the curls until ready to use. Press the chocolate curls on sides of cake; sprinkle a few on the top. Chill the cake until serving time. Afterwards, because of the cream, keep the cake in the fridge until it’s finished.

NOTE:  The cake layers are made without any leavening agent such as baking powder so the only thing that makes the layers rise in the baking is the air you’ve beaten into the batter. You therefore have to concentrate on incorporating as much air as possible during the beating process. If using a mixer, make sure to use the whisk attachment instead of the normal cake beater. If using an egg beater or hand mixer, you may need to beat the basic egg and sugar mixture for longer than ten minutes to get it light and fluffy enough.

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Externsteine: Sacred Stones of Germany

Externsteine: Sacred Stones of Germany

Externsteine is a mysterious rock formation near Ostwestfalen-Lippe in northwest Germany. In an area that is largely void of massive stone structures, the uniqueness of these soaring columnar rocks is what makes them especially interesting. Many theories abound about this very interesting site located on the northeastern slope of the Teutoburger Waldthe place that the Romans were defeated by the Germans in 9 CE.

The formation of multiple free-standing stone pillars stretches for several hundred meters. In total, there are 13 stone structures. The etymology of the name Extern- is unclear (-steine meaning “stones” or “rocks”). The Latinized spelling with x is first recorded in the 16th century, but became common only in the late 19th century.

The oldest recorded forms of the name read Agistersten and Eggesterenstein, both dated 1093. Other forms of the name include Egesterenstein (12th century), Egestersteyn(1366), Egersteyne (1369), Egestersten (1385), Egesternsteyn (15th century), Eygesternsteyn (151), Externsteine (1533), Egesterennstein (1583), Agisterstein (1592).

In a popular tradition going back to an idea proposed to Hermann Hamelmann in 1564, the Externsteine are identified as a sacred site of the pagan Saxons, and the location of the Irminsul idol reportedly destroyed by Charlemagne.

One thing is for certain, from the very earliest times this place was a very sacred spot for many tribes. Archaeological excavations have yielded some Upper Paleolithic stone tools dating to about 10,700 BC from 9,600 BC. Beneath a rock overhang on rock VIII, microliths from the Ahrensburg culture such as arrow heads or blades were found. Evidence of fire sites was also found. Further adding to its sacred connection, Externstein is associated with archaeoastronomical speculation; a circular hole above the “altar stone” in the Höhenkammerhas been identified in this context as facing in the direction of sunrise at the time of summer solstice.

Externsteine Teuteburger Wald

It is thought that perhaps the Goddess Ostara/Eostra was worshiped here and it has been suggested that the Bruchterian prophetess/oracle Veleda (from a tribe along the lower Rhine) about whom The Roman historian, Tacitus, wrote, resided, unseen by men, in the upper sanctuary – a space where men were not allowed to enter. This upper temple on the rock pinnacle – the only one of the rocks that has retained its original peak – was probably originally an enclosed cave-chamber within which the prophetess studied the heavens, the movements of the stars, moon and sun, through the circular opening in the rock wall. This space was an observatory and has an almost exact northeasterly alignment.

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The roof of this rock-chamber was either deliberately destroyed or it eroded naturally and it is now only semi-enclosed. But considering that (according to the Carolingian annals) the “Irminsul” was destroyed, or broken off by Charlemagne in 772 AD one can be excused for thinking that it was deliberate. This pinnacle was, according to legend, the site of the sacred “Irminsul,” the Saxon spiraling Tree Pillar. The oldest chronicle describing an Irminsul refers to it as a tree trunk erected in the open air.

After the Externsteine was purged of its pagan influence by Charlemagne, hermit monks began to settle into caves at the base of the rocks. Their task was to Christianize the site and to “drive out evil influences.” During this period, the monks, with the help of local bishops, began to render carvings into the rocks to memorialize their Christian influence in the area. There is no doubting the powerful symbolism of represented in the central bas e39028797f16e411d9001edfced6faf3relief, the largest of its kind in Europe. The famous carving depicts the Tree of Life,  a pagan representation of Earth power, bowing down beneath the body of Jesus Christ being taken from the cross. Converts would have immediately understood the various symbols represented, especially the weeping sun and moon, both important pagan fertility images of the masculine and feminine. They would have seen the ancient tree of pagan knowledge being changed to represent the Christian Tree of the Cross. This carving is unique because it is the only known German sculpture showing a distinct Byzantine influence.

The hermits eventually abandoned the site in the fifteenth century, the chapel they built left to ruin, and the site was transformed to a small fortress. When this system of fortification was outdated, the counts of the region used the site for court banquets. After the death of Count Adolf in 1666, everything fell into decay.

Over time, the legend of Externsteine inspired a great number of books, essays, paintings, and novels. In 1824, the author Goethe wrote an essay on the descent from the cross carving, even though he never visited Externsteine himself.

The Externsteine is now a recognized pagan center and mystical site. It has been inhabited by pre-Germanic people, the Saxons, Christian monks, and today it is a popular New Age destination. Today, between a half to one million people annually visit the stones, making the Externsteine one of the most frequently visited nature reserves in Westphalia.

Because of its reputation as “pagan sacred site” in popular culture, there have often been private gatherings or celebrations on the day of summer solstice and Walpurgis Night. Despite the varying views on the origins and significance of this site to prehistoric peoples, there is no doubt that the Externsteine is a magical place to behold!

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In 1926, the Externsteine were declared “one of the oldest and most important nature reserves in Lippe,” and were placed under protection. 

 

Tasty Tuesday: Kaiserschmarrn, A Deliciously Sweet Treat!

Tasty Tuesday: Kaiserschmarrn, A Deliciously Sweet Treat!

Kaiserschmarrn or Kaiserschmarren (Emperor’s Mess) is a shredded pancake, which has its name from the Austrian emperor Kaiser Franz Joseph I, who was very fond of this kind of fluffy shredded pancake. It is a popular meal or dessert in Austria, Germany,  Hungary, Slovenia, and northern Croatia.

The name Kaiserschmarren is a compound of the words Schmarren (shredded pancake) and Kaiser (emperor). Schmarren is a colloquialism used in Austrian and Bavarian to mean “trifle, mishmash, mess, nonsense and folly.” Kaiser Franz Joseph’s love for this dish was referred to humorously as his “folly.” The word “Schmarren” is related to scharren (to scrape) and schmieren (to smear). Its Slovenian name is “cesarski praženec” or “šmorn.” Its Hungarian name is “császármorzsa;” its Czech name is “trhanec” or ” kajzršmorn.”

Kaiserschmarren is a light, caramelized pancake made from a sweet batter using flour, eggs, sugar, salt, and milk, baked in butter. Kaiserschmarren can be prepared in different ways. When making Kaiserschmarren the egg whites are usually separated from the yolk and beaten until stiff; then the flour and the yolks are mixed with sugar, and the other ingredients are added, including: nuts, cherries, plums, apple jam, or small pieces of apple, or caramelized raisins and slivered almonds. The last mentioned ingredients (nuts, cherries, plums, apple jam, or small pieces of apple, or caramelized raisins and chopped almonds) aren’t in the original recipe and just additions made by some cooks based on their personal preferences. In the original recipe there are only raisins (before cooking they are soaked in rum.)

HISTORY

It is generally agreed that the dish was first prepared for the Austrian Emperor Francis Joseph I (1830–1916). There are several stories. One apocryphal story involves the Emperor kaiserfranzjosef1853-1and his wife, Elisabeth of Bavaria, of the House of Wittelsbach. Obsessed with maintaining a minimal waistline, the Empress Elisabeth directed the royal chef to prepare only light desserts for her, much to the consternation and annoyance of her notoriously austere husband. Upon being presented with the chef’s confection, she found it too rich and refused to eat it. The exasperated Francis Joseph quipped, “Now let me see what ‘Schmarren’ our chef has cooked up.” It apparently met his approval as he finished his and even his wife’s serving.

Another story is that Francis Joseph and his wife were traveling the Alps and stopped by a farmer’s home for lunch. The farmer was so nervous that he threw all the fanciest ingredients he had into a pan to make a delicious pancake; worse yet, due to his nervousness and shaky hands he scrambled the pancake. Hoping to cover up the mess he then covered it with plum jam. Luckily, the kaiser thought it was scrumptious.

RECIPE

Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup raisins
  • 1/4 cup rum
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 5 eggs, separated
  • 1/4 cup white sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 tablespoon butter, melted
  • pinch of salt
  • 1/4 cup confectioners’ sugar, plus more for dusting
  • plum preserves or peach preserves for serving

Directions

  1. In a small bowl, combine raisins with rum and let soak 30 minutes, then drain.
  2. In a medium mixing bowl, beat together the milk, eggs, white sugar, vanilla, and salt. Gradually whisk in the flour to make a smooth batter. Stir in the drained raisins.
  3. In a large skillet, melt 2 tablespoons butter over medium heat. Pour the batter into the skillet and cook 5-6 minutes, or until the pancake has set and the bottom is golden brown.
  4. Using a spatula or two forks, tear the pancake into bite-size pieces.
  5. Drizzle in the melted butter and sprinkle with confectioners’ sugar.
  6. Turn up the heat to medium high and use a spatula to gently toss the pieces for 5 minutes, or until the sugar has caramelized.
  7. Sprinkle with additional confectioners’ sugar and serve with the preserves of your choice.
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Enjoy Kaiserschmarrn for breakfast, lunch, or dinner!

 

 

Legends of the tombs of Ireland.

Legends of the tombs of Ireland.

Ireland is a magical place full of megalithic tombs. Some say that these tombs were probably built before the arrival of the Celts, who called them fairy mounds and believed that the spirits of ancient people–bold heroes and brave maidens–lived there. The Celtic creator gods, the Tuatha de Danann, were known to be extraordinarily good at building things, and perhaps it was they who constructed the tombs dotting the countryside.

Eventually, the spirits inhabiting the fairy mounds transformed into the little people of later Irish legends–leprechauns and fairies and brownies, whose spirits are said to haunt the land.

Many of these tombs are called passage tombs because they contain passages leading to burial chambers underneath the mound. The walls of the passage and chamber are made of rock that is elaborately carved.

Court tombs, or cairns, have an open, roofless courtyard in front leading into two, three, or four chambers at back. Archaeologists have found human remains in them but think they might originally have been built as temples. They tend to be evenly distributed about three miles apart instead of clustered like modern graves; generally structures that are spaced

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Creevykeel Court Tomb in Co Sligo, Ireland

like that are places of worship, but there’s no way to tell for sure how the people of ancient Ireland used them. Court cairns are considered the oldest types of monuments in Ireland. They date from around 4000 BC and the most well-known are found at Creeveykeel and Deerpark in Co Sligo, Rathlackan in Co Mayo.

Wedge tombs also occur primarily in the northern part of Ireland. These tombs have stone walls and roofs; the roof gets lower and the passage narrower as one goes into the tomb, hence the name wedge. Most of them face west or southwest, toward the setting sun.

Wedge tombs are numerous; there are about 500 of them all over the northern part of the country, although some can be found on Ireland’s eastern coastline. Human remains have been found in the tombs that have been excavated, along with some pottery, which suggests they were made toward the end of the Neolithic period.

Labbacalle (“Hag’s Bed”), in County Cork, is an excellent wedge tomb. It got its strange name because it contained the skeleton of a headless woman when it was first opened.

Portal tombs, also called dolmens, consist of several large upright stones topped by a giant capstone. Putting these rocks in place must have been a stupendous effort–some capstones weigh as much as 100 tons. These dolmens were originally surrounded by mounds of earth, and people were buried inside them. A giant dolmen at Poulnabrone, County Clare, had more than 20 people buried in it over a 600-year period; this might mean that only royalty was buried there. There are dolmens all over Ireland, as well as in Wales and Cornwall. The Kilclooney More dolmen in County Donegal is particularly cool–its capstone is almost 14-feet long.

Some of the most spectacular archaeological sites from the Neolithic period are in the Boyne Valley in County Meath. These sites are called Brú na Bóinne which means palace of the Boyne. They consist of large stone tombs built around 3200 BCE, several centuries before the great pyramids of Egypt. The three main components of this site are Newgrange, Knowth, and Dowth.

People have known about these tombs for centuries; Vikings plundered them, while Victorians hunted treasures there and carved their initials on the walls. The sites gradually deteriorated and were even quarried at one point.

The tombs at Newgrange are built inside a huge, grassy mound of earth. The stones at the entrance and some of the stones holding the tomb together are elaborately carved with spirals. The stones that were used were not local; some of them came from Wicklow, 50 miles away, and others from northern Ireland. This indicates that whoever built them was very organized.

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The Tomb at Newgrange, Ireland

The Newgrange tomb might have been surrounded by a ring of giant stones, though only 12 of these now remain. Inside the mound is a long passageway leading to a subterranean burial chamber. Inside the chamber are three recesses for holding remains. The front door of Newgrange is a solar observatory.

When Newgrange was first excavated by experts, archaeologists found the remains of at list three cremated bodies and some human bones. Offerings of jewelry were probably once there as well, but these were stolen long ago.

No one knows exactly why these mounds were built. They might have been burial places for kings; ancient legends certainly suggest that as a possibility. Or they might have served as calendars. Many megalithic sites are constructed to catch the sun at particular times of the year, and they are astonishingly accurate!

Newgrange is the best-known example of this. Every year during the winter solstice (December 19-23), the rising sun shines through a slit over the entrance and lights up the burial chamber for 17 minutes. At the time the tomb was built, the sunlight would have shone directly onto a spiral design carved into the wall.

Similar phenomena happen at other megalithic sites. The light of the setting sun at winter solstice illuminates one of the chambers inside Dowth. At Knowth, the eastern passage seems to have been designed to catch the rising sun of the spring and autumn equinoxes, while the western passage might have caught the setting sun on those same days.

The River Boyne, which flows past these mound tombs, has long been very important spiritually to the Irish people. Legend says that the first occupant of Newgrange was named Elcmar. His wife was Boann, the spirit of the river.

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Newgrange Passage Tomb With Carved Spirals