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Thursday, 3 December 2009
ST BARBARA'S DAY
“All religions must be tolerated for every man must get to heaven his own way.” - Frederick the Great
December 4th is St Barbara’s Feast Day. When I was young I used to really like our religious instruction classes as we were taught the lives of the saints. I used to especially enjoy those saints’ lives where a great deal of torture and adversity featured prominently, and the saint always used to come shining through like some superhero, foiling the torturers’ plans of wicked malfeasance. It was like a religious Batman and Joker episode. I used to retell these stories adding my own “sauce”, making the trials and tribulations of the saint more varied and lurid, the stories more adventurous, and the rescues more phantasmagorical through the intervention of angels, other saints and occasionally quite impressive acts of God where the almighty came in and through magnificent acts of deus ex machina saved the tortured saint. Really good boy’s own adventure stuff!
Well, here is the story of St Barbara, without any of my added sauces. St Barbara was a beautiful young princess who was imprisoned in a high tower by her father, so that her many suitors were discouraged from pursuing her (some authors inject a dash of incestuous jealousy on the father’s part). One of Barbara’s handmaidens smuggled in some Christian books to her and she embraced the Christian faith with much fervour. When her pagan father learned of her conversion he handed her over to be tortured as she would not renounce her new faith. No matter what the torturers devised, St Barbara could not be harmed and her faith preserved her body. In the end, her father, became so incensed that he beheaded her himself, upon which he was instantly struck dead by lightning. Therefore, St Barbara is invoked against tempests and storms and she is the patron saint of artillery men and gunners, makers of fireworks and explosives.
In Greece, on St Barbara’s feast it is a fast day (the Lesser Lent before Christmas) and a special sweetmeat is made, which is suitable for the fasting Feast Day. It is called “Várvarra” after the name of the saint, which is “Varvárra” in Greek. Here is the recipe and it is of very ancient (pre-Christian) provenance:
GREEK VÁRVARRA DESSERT Ingredients
500 gr whole wheat grains
500 gr sugar (may be substituted by honey)
2 pinches salt
2 cups of sultanas
1 level tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1 cup plain flour, sifted
250 gr chopped dried figs
250 gr chopped dried apricots
250 gr chopped walnuts
Icing sugar for dusting
Soak the wheat grains overnight and the next morning, rinse them and boil them in much water until the grains are fully cooked and split open. Add the sugar (or honey) and salt and continue to heat, being careful to add some more water if needed, to maintain the consistency of gruel. Add the sultanas when the mixture is fairly viscous and allow them to heat right through. Remove from the heat and allow to become lukewarm.
Heat a pan and add the flour and spices and stir until it becomes golden brown. Remove from the heat and add the flour mixture to the wheat mixture slowly, stirring all the while until it all has been incorporated. Heat the mixture over low heat, until it becomes fairly viscous (no too much as it will become firmer when it cools – if it is too viscous add some hot water to the mixture). Add the chopped figs and apricots and stir through.
Put in a large serving bowl and allow to cool. To serve, prepare the topping by separating the pomegranate seeds, mixing them with the walnuts and spreading all over the top of the dessert. Spoon into dessert bowls and just before serving, dust with icing sugar.
I have been blogging daily on this platform for several years now. It is surprising that I have persisted as the world is changing and "microblogging" is now the norm. I blog to amuse myself, make comment on current affairs, externalise some of my creativity, keep notes on things that interest me, learn something new and to surprise myself with things that I discover about this wonderful, and sometimes crazy, world we live in.
I sometimes get the impression that I am on a soapbox delivering a monologue, so your comments are welcome.