Thursday, September 29, 2011


If you were a medieval farm laborer, you'd be getting paid today, for the last 3 month's work, as September 29th is a traditional Quarter Day, known in the Anglican calendar as the feast of St. Michael, or Michaelmas (pronounced "mikkelmuss" because, well, England). Fans of Thomas Hardy may remember Tess Durbeyville selling her services at a Quarter Day fair, and the drunken Michael Henchard auctioning off his family in an act that would come back to haunt him, decades later (hmmm, modern politicians would probably do well to re-read The Mayor of Casterbridge).

The Quarter Days--Lady Day (spring equinox), Midsummer Day (June solstice), Michaelmas (roughly the autumn equinox), and Christmas (winter solstice) and Cross-quarter days (Imbolc on February 2, May Day, Lammas (August 1), and Samhain (Halloween)--mark the ancient agrarian calendar.

Following these days puts you in rhythm with the earth and the ancestors, and reminds us that Hallmark and Macy's did not invent holidays, nor in fact did any modern religion. The holidays--holy days--are given to us by the universe, to mark the changing of the seasons and the passage of the earth around the sun. By focusing on the seasonal and celestial origin of these events, it becomes easier to resist the consumer culture that is consuming us, and to focus on the creative, the productive, and the holy.

It's traditional to make a goose on Michaelmas, although I'm making beef stew, since that's what I have in the house (and you see how out of rhythm I am? Why didn't I get a goose?) Other Michaelmas foods are carrots and other roots, and oat cakes.

The soup below is not very traditional, except inasmuch as it's made with a current harvest.

Cucumber Soup with corn and new potatoes
4-5 large cucumbers
1 large onion
1 T chopped fresh parsley
1 cup fingerling or new potatoes
niblets from 1-2 ears corn
2 T butter

1 tablespoon cornstarch (optional; for thickening. This recipe is from my MIL, who puts cornstarch in everything)
1 quart stock (chicken or vegetable; make sure it's a "white" stock or the soup will be ugly!)
>1 cup milk
2 cups half-half
2 yolks eggs
pepper and salt to taste

If any of the potatoes are larger than bite sized, cut them up, then boil them to al dente (not completely done!) and set aside.

Peel, seed and dice the largest cucumbers, leaving one for garnish. Dice onions and saute in butter with the parsley in the soup pot about 5 minutes (the cukes will turn a bright light green). Add water or stock, simmer 20 minutes. Mix cornstarch with milk, stir into the soup and bring it to a bare simmer, allowing to simmer for 10 minutes. Don't bring it to a full boil. Puree with an immersible mixer (or in a blender if you don't have a mixer; if you use a blender, let it cool a little before decanting it).

Lightly beat the half-half and egg yolks, pour a little boiling soup on to them, stirring at same time, then return it to the hot soup, stirring constantly; it must not boil again or it will curdle.

Add the potatoes and corn and heat; remember don't let it boil! Season to taste with white pepper and salt.


  1. I used to have a Wiccan Book of Days, which I wish I still had. I really liked the rhythm of keeping with the natural seasons/old customs. Blessed be!

  2. I actually try to stay aware, but when you're not supported by the larger culture, the festivals slip by without your noticing them a lot of the time.