Hollantide & Martinmas

Seth and I and our nephew descended upon my family home this past Saturday to visit my mom and sister for a Family Work Day. There were weeds to pull and lawns needing autumn fertilizer and there were rotted boards to replace and all manner of things to do, things that had been piling up for months. Mom, while we all did these things, cooked. She made us eggplant parmigiana for lunch… and she had a pot of mosto cotto brewing on the stove. U cutto we call it in our Lucerine dialect: “oo coot-oh.” It is a syrupy concoction that we use in all sorts of sweets at the end of the year. It’ll show up in Christmas cookies, and it made an appearance at All Souls Day in a dessert distinct to my grandparents’ region of Puglia that is made just for that night. My grandparents used to pour it over freshly fallen snow as a treat for the kids. It is, at its most basic, what’s left of the grape must after winemaking, boiled down with sugar to a reduction. It takes all day to cook, filling every corner of the house with its aroma, and it is prized by my people, its own sort of black gold.

U cutto would traditionally be made around the Nativity of Mary, which was in September, or around Martinmas, which is today. My mom wasn’t even thinking about that, though: it was just time to make it. It’s autumn, and her thoughts have begun shifting to holiday preparations, and making u cutto is a big preparation, and a time-consuming one. I suspect her making it yesterday was more instinctual than anything else: it is November, and this is what we do in November… a culinary tradition handed down from time immemorial.

Martinmas has a lot to do with wine, for it is time for the first tasting of the wine that was put up to ferment in September. It’s also when the young new Beaujolais wines of France are released. This has to do with timing and with St. Martin of Tours, who lends his name to Martinmas, being a patron saint of winemakers. It is also the last big religious feast before advent, that time of preparation for Christmas. In earlier days, advent was a season of fasting, and so Martinmas was a very big deal, a chance to indulge. Traditional Martinmas foods include goose and turkey, and also chestnuts and very hard biscotti, some of which are baked not just twice but three times. The extra baking makes them hard as rocks, but with good reason: Biscotti di San Martino are meant to be dunked in that new wine that we’re drinking on his day.

In the parts of Europe that most thoroughly celebrate St. Martin’s Day, it is often a time of warmer weather, the last bit of it before the full onset of winter. Kind of like Indian Summer in America, it’s known in Italy, for instance, as l’estate di San Martino (St. Martin’s Summer). But this mild weather tends to be fleeting. Colder nights lie ahead and with Martinmas we find ourselves, by traditional reckoning of time, at the natural start of winter. It is, until Yuletide, a time of increasing darkness. The living world continues its process of shutting down and receding into itself: going underground. Trees are no longer growing above, but roots below the surface still are growing. And so the connexions are strong, these darkening days, between the world of the living and the underworld of the dead.

Of course we honored these days of the dead at the start of the month with Halloween and All Saints and All Souls. But the connection of Martinmas to the days of the dead is just as strong, through memory. Before the change to the Gregorian Calendar, the 11th of November was Samhain, the Celtic New Year. Another name for Martinmas is Hollantide, and just as Halloween is a corruption of the words All Hallow’s Eve, so is Hollandtide, which comes from Hallowtide: the time of the sacred, the holy––those who have gone before. Many of our contemporary Halloween traditions come out of Hollantide traditions: the carving of turnips (replaced by pumpkins here in America) into Jack o’Lanterns and the going door to door in search of soul cakes, which has evolved into the trick-or-treating we know today. The day is also a traditional weather marker: If ducks do slide at Hollantide, At Christmas they will swim. / If ducks do swim at Hollantide, At Christmas they will slide. / Winter is on his way / At St. Martin’s Day.

Finally, it is, of course Veterans Day, when we honor all who have served in the military. The day was formerly known as Armistice Day, for it was on Martinmas in 1918 that the treaty ending what would later be known as World War I was signed. The day is known as Remembrance Day in many places, but here in the US, Veterans Day became the day’s official name in 1954.

St. Martin also was a veteran. He served in the Roman army, until his conversion to Christianity and to pacifism, for which he was imprisoned. Upon his release, he went to France and founded a monastery. The best known legend about good St. Martin is his happening upon a shivering drunken man on a cold winter’s day. Martin tore his own cloak in two and gave one half to the drunken man to warm him. The legend makes St. Martin a patron saint not just of winemakers, but also those who love wine (including those who love it too much).

And so we continue turning inward at this time of year, gathering in, preparing for winter. What’s a good way to mark this Martinmas evening? Certainly with wine. Light a fire while you’re at it. The Celts would have lit huge bonfires on Samhain to welcome in the new year, and in our case, a small celebration involving a fire in the hearth or in the fire pit in the back yard is just as good, made even better with mulled wine and good company. Good St. Martin himself would have it no other way… especially if the year’s new cutto––the mosto cotto––is already brewed and bottled and being kept cool in the fridge. Our time of Christmas preparation lies ahead. For now we pause and delight in the small things of this earth.

Images: At top, Cici Cutto (pronounced “chee-chee coot-oh”), the traditional dessert for I Morti, or All Souls Night, that comes from my grandparents’ city of Lucera in Italy. It is a strange concoction of cooked whole wheat berries, pomegranate, chopped toasted almonds, and chopped chocolate. U cutto, infused with cloves and cinnamon, is poured over it. Second photo: Mamma’s pot of u cutto simmering on the stove last Saturday; it’s now packed in jars in the refrigerator, ready for use. She makes it just once each year.

 

COME SEE US!
We’re popping up at quite a few local South Florida venues in November & December!

Sankta Lucia Festival & Julbasar (Christmas Bazaar)
Saturday November 23 from 11 AM to 3 PM
First United Methodist Church
625 NE Mizner Boulevard in Boca Raton
Our pop-up shop will focus on traditional European advent calendars and advent candles, plus handmade Christmas ornaments and decorations from Sweden, as well as our full line of Shaker herbs & teas and more (like my mom’s famous candy wreaths). It’s a beautiful event, complete with a Lucia with a wreath of candles on her head! Brought to you by SWEA, the Swedish Women’s Educational Association.

Harvest Makers Marketplace
Sunday November 24 from 10 AM to 4 PM
Florida Atlantic University
Boca Raton
We’ll be transitioning toward Christmas with a pop-up shop of traditional German advent calendars and advent candles from England, plus handmade Christmas ornaments and decorations from Germany, Sweden, and Mexico and our full line of Shaker herbs & teas and more (like my mom’s famous candy wreaths). Plus there’s live music almost all day: The Lubben Brothers from 11 AM to 1 PM, Rio Peterson from 1 to 4 PM. It’s going to be a good one!

Christkindlmarkt
Saturday & Sunday December 7 & 8 (2 to 9 PM on Saturday; 1 to 8 PM on Sunday)
at the American German Club
5111 Lantana Road in Lake Worth
Convivio Bookworks will be part of this old time German Christmas market in suburban Lake Worth. At our booth you’ll find traditional handmade German Christmas items, and we’ll throw in some other handmade items from our Swedish and Mexican collections, too, as well as Shaker herbs & teas, some letterpress goods, and my mom’s famous handmade candy wreaths.

More markets to come beyond this, too!

 

Carriage House, or Your November Book of Days

November has thrown us for a loop this year, but here, finally, is your Convivio Book of Days calendar for the month. It’s autumn, and it has just today turned a bit cooler here in Lake Worth, and that may explain how we have finally gotten the calendar published for you. Things suddenly feel in sync. We are in the midst of the days when we remember those who have passed before us, making it a very beautiful time of year. Cover stars for the calendar: Carriage House and Maple Tree at the Sabbathday Lake Shaker Community in Maine. The Carriage House predates the Community itself, which was established in 1783. It’s a graceful old building that stands next to the grand barn, the barn that to stand in it makes you feel like you are in a cathedral of sorts.

If all goes as planned, I’ll be writing again to you tomorrow to remind you about Martinmas, also known as Hollantide. It’s a time important to winemakers, and it concludes our annual sojourn with the dead, and we turn our sights toward winter. Speaking of: before things get way too Christmasy out there, the Advent season will begin on the First of December. We’ve got traditional Advent calendars from Germany and handmade daily Advent candles from England to help you mark the season and keep things at your own pace. Now happens to be a great time to order. Free domestic shipping when you spend $50 at our catalog; if you don’t make it to $50, it’s a flat rate of $8.50, which is also not at all bad. Or come see us at these November events; there are more coming in December––I’ve included the first one here:

SANKTA LUCIA CELEBRATION
Saturday November 23 from 11 AM to 3 PM
at First United Methodist Church
625 NE Mizner Boulevard in Boca Raton
A traditional Swedish Christmas with dancing round the tree and Sankta Lucia in a crown of candlelit evergreen. We’ll be there with our traditional artisan made Christmas decorations from Germany and Mexico, plus our new Christmas collection from Sweden, as well as Shaker herbs & teas and my mom’s famous handmade candy wreaths, as well as German advent calendars and candles.

HARVEST MAKERS MARKETPLACE
Sunday November 24 from 10 AM to 4 PM
at Florida Atlantic University
777 Glades Road in Boca Raton
Follow the blue & white MAKERS MARKETPLACE signs on FAU campus roads to Historic Building T6. Free admission, free parking, live music with Rio Peterson and the Lubben Brothers, and lots of great local makers. Our boutique will include all our Christmas artisan items from Germany, Mexico, and Sweden, plus Shaker herbs & teas, German advent calendars and candles, and my mom’s famous handmade candy wreaths.

CHRISTKINDLMARKT
Saturday & Sunday December 7 & 8 (2 to 9 PM on Saturday; 1 to 8 PM on Sunday)
at the American German Club
5111 Lantana Road in Lake Worth
Convivio Bookworks will be part of this old time German Christmas market in suburban Lake Worth. At our booth you’ll find traditional handmade German Christmas items, and we’ll throw in some other handmade items from our Swedish and Mexican collections, too, as well as Shaker herbs & teas, some letterpress goods, and my mom’s famous handmade candy wreaths.

More markets to come beyond this, too!

 

 

Spirited Tales: A Halloween Invitation

And now, we approach some of my favorite days of the year, days I love as a Halloween traditionalist. I have always been more interested in the mysteries of Halloween. Horror movies of the blood and gore sort and tales of axe murderers: none of this stuff interests me. These, along with sexy nurse costumes and other such frivolities, are the unfortunate things we have attached to Halloween in recent decades. As a Halloween traditionalist, my role is to help you tune into the old ways of celebrating––ways that have their roots in the older spelling of Halloween, the one with an apostrophe: Hallowe’en. This version does a better job of reminding us that the holiday’s original name was All Hallows Eve. Say it and already the mystery increases tenfold.

One of my great pleasures each Halloween, for many years now, is to write a gently ghostly story and send it out to the world via email. It’s the Convivio Dispatch for Halloween. This year’s Halloween Dispatch will go out in the next night or two to subscribers of the Convivio Dispatch, which is a different animal from this blog. If you’d like to make sure you receive the Halloween Dispatch, please subscribe right here. On that same subscription page, you will also find a link to the Halloween Dispatch from two years ago. One of my readers liked it so much she sent it off to Nowhere Magazine, and they published it there, which was awfully nice.

If you’d rather get just this next Halloween Dispatch without subscribing, let me know in the comments below. Leave your email address and I’ll send it. Or email me directly at mail@conviviobookworks.com to say you’d like the story. But don’t be afraid to subscribe… the Dispatches from Lake Worth are very few and far between, and you’ll meet an interesting cast of characters from our hometown and beyond. (This year’s story takes us all the way to Finland.)

I wish you a fine Halloween, filled with good spirit and mystery, and not so much of the other stuff.
John

 

COME SEE US!
We’re popping up at quite a few local South Florida venues in November!

Florida Day of the Dead Celebration
Saturday November 2 from 2 to 11 PM
Downtown Fort Lauderdale
We’ll be near the stage at Huzienga Park on East Las Olas, where the procession and the festivities begin. We’ll be in a tent with a pop-up shop of traditional Mexican handicrafts for Dia de los Muertos from about 2 to 7:30 PM. (Once the procession leaves and heads over to the west side at the river, we’ll start packing up, so it’s an early night for us!)

Dia de los Muertos Lake Worth Beach
Saturday November 2 from 3 to 9 PM
Hatch 1121 and Downtown Lake Worth, west of Dixie Highway
Our hometown celebration of this day means a great deal to us. It’s beautifully community focused. Find us in our usual spot in the courtyard at Hatch 1121 with a pop-up shop of traditional Mexican handicrafts for Dia de los Muertos, Christmas, and everyday. We’ll be there for the full length of the celebration. (Face painting, by the way, begins at 1:30 at City Hall, and then there’s a procession to Hatch before 3.)

Sankta Lucia Festival & Julbasar (Christmas Bazaar)
Saturday November 23 from 11 AM to 3 PM
First United Methodist Church
625 NE Mizner Boulevard in Boca Raton
Our pop-up shop will focus on traditional European advent calendars and advent candles, plus handmade Christmas ornaments and decorations from Sweden, as well as our full line of Shaker herbs & teas and more. It’s a beautiful event, complete with a Lucia with a wreath of candles on her head! Brought to you by SWEA, the Swedish Women’s Educational Association.

Harvest Makers Marketplace
Sunday November 24 from 10 AM to 4 PM
Florida Atlantic University
Boca Raton
We’ll be transitioning toward Christmas with a pop-up shop of traditional German advent calendars and advent candles from England, plus handmade Christmas ornaments and decorations from Germany, Sweden, Italy and Mexico and our full line of Shaker herbs & teas and more. Plus there’s live music almost all day: The Lubben Brothers from 11 AM to 1 PM, Rio Peterson from 1 to 4 PM. It’s going to be a good one!

 

Image: Jack O’Lantern pair, on the front porch, last Halloween. Seth’s is on the left; mine is on the right. That’s pretty much how our lanterns look each year.