Category Archives: The Ice Saints

Ramadan & the Ice Saints

With tonight’s new moon this 15th of May, the holy month of Ramadan begins. For those of the Muslim faith, it is a month of prayer, almsgiving, and most especially fasting. During the daylight hours, not even water is taken. But this daily period of deprivation is rewarded once the sun has set with good nighttime meals. A common food to break the fast each night is Harira, a traditional Moroccan soup made from chickpeas, lentils, tomatoes, and onions in a broth spiced with cinnamon, ginger, turmeric, chiles, and cumin. Harira is served all year long, but it is especially plentiful at Ramadan. I plan on making some this week, and maybe you’d like to, as well. There are many variations, some with meat, some vegetarian, some with egg and some with noodles, and all manner of spices. But here’s the recipe I’ll be using:

1 onion, chopped finely
Olive oil
1 can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
8 cups chicken broth
1 cup dried red lentils
2 cans chopped tomatoes
Dried chiles, for a little heat (or 1 teaspoon chili powder)
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon ginger
1 teaspoon turmeric
Salt & Pepper
Flat leaf parsley, chopped
Lemon wedges

In a large pot, cook the onion in some olive oil until it is translucent. Add the chickpeas and the broth. Bring to a boil, then add the lentils, tomatoes, and spices. Season with salt & pepper to taste. Bring to a boil again and simmer for a half hour or so, until the lentils are mushy and the soup has thickened. Ladle into bowls, finishing off each serving with a bit of fresh olive oil, chopped parsley, and a lemon wedge for squeezing. This recipe makes about 6 to 8 servings.

In places like Morocco, this simple yet hearty soup is often the first thing folks take to break their fast with the setting sun. It is a bit of spiritual and physical nourishment. Other wonderful things follow, and often the feasting goes on well into the night. And then to bed… until the tabbal, the drummer, wends his way through the dark and empty streets to awaken everyone for the final meal before sunrise, usually bread with mint tea. And so each day goes in this month of fasting until the next new moon.

This year, the start of Ramadan coincides with the arrival of Cold Sophie, who, according to German legend, brings a blast of cold weather, winter’s last hurrah. But they say it’s been such a long and cold winter that I’m not going to give Sophie any attention at all. She and her fellow Ice Saints have had a ball of it this year, so enough of that. She can have some Harira with us if she wants, but that’s it. We’ve got our sights set on summer.

Image: My husband may be a potter, but I still can’t help buying bowls I like from other potters, too. These porcelain bowls are brand new additions to our collection. They’re by local potter Nena Escobar. I found them just last week, and I suspect we’ll be eating Harira out of them this week. Oh and if you do want to read more about Cold Sophie and the Ice Saints, well… here’s an earlier Book of Days chapter about them.


The Ice Saints & Cold Sophie

It rained here last Friday, the sort of rain we get when a cold front comes through, a wide swath of it coming down diagonally across the peninsula. We won’t be seeing much of this for a while, not while summer is here. Friday’s may very well have been the last cold front we’ll see until next fall. In its wake came perfect weather: cool and dry. It lasted for days and days and still it is pretty pleasant out, to be honest. I like to think it was our brush with Cold Sophie and the Ice Saints. Maybe they came a bit early this year.

May 11, today, is the feast day of St. Mamertus. Tomorrow, the 12th, St. Pancras. On the 13th we remember St. Servatius and on the 14th, St. Boniface, and then on the 15th, Cold Sophie herself: St. Sophia. In old German weather lore, this group of saints, led by Sophia, are known as the Ice Saints, die Eisheiligen. Kalte Sophie or Cold Sophie is their ringleader, and she and the Ice Saints are thought to bring one last blast of cold air before summer finally settles in. And so today they begin to make their entrance on the scene. If you live in a place that is more temperate than ours, you may experience colder temperatures than you have been, and if you do, you can give a nod to Cold Sophie and the Ice Saints. Cold Sophie may have come early to Lake Worth this year, but for all of you in cooler climes, take care. Avoid planting cold-sensitive crops until after the days of Cold Sophie and the Ice Saints have run their course. A good story, and good common sense, too.

Image: A fresco from St. Sophia Church in Ohrid, Macedonia. Circa 11th century. [Public domain] via Wikimedia Commons.


Cold Sophie & The Ice Saints

Very Cold at Paris

Most all of these Convivio Book of Days chapters come to you from a small wooden cottage built in 1949 in Lake Worth, Florida. Lake Worth has had numerous slogans over the years, but one of the earliest was this one: Where summer spends winter. This is a town that knows summer. Even our coldest months of the year are filled with days that will remind any northerner of a beautiful summer’s day back home. It’s a tough life, I know. But we pay for it dearly each summer with heat and humidity like you wouldn’t believe. It’s not unbearable, but it does take some getting used to. A Florida summer is not for the faint of heart.

There was one summer many years ago that found a car with Alaska plates parked on North Palmway, one of the neighborhood roads. I drove by that car every day after work, and each time I did, I thought of the person who drove it here from Alaska, and I wondered how they were faring. Was it the poor soul’s first summer here? Were they drinking enough water? Were they languishing in bed each morning as the thick, almost liquid summer air poured into their lungs? Did they dream of moose and white pine?

Yesterday, as I began writing this, it was a hot one. It is mid May and summer is gaining its foothold here in this strange green land. And yet we come now to a few days devoted to a group of saints who are known as the Ice Saints, or in German (for this is a legend of Northern Europe) as die Eisheiligen. They are Saints Mamertus, Pancras, Servatius, Boniface, and Sophia, their ringleader. Their feast days begin about now: on May 11th for St. Mamertus, and they continue on this week, each saint to his or her day, through to St. Sophia on the 15th. She is known in Germany as Kalte Sophie: Cold Sophie. In Central Europe, particularly Slovenia, you might hear her called Poscana Zofka… Pissing Sophie, for there, she is associated with rain. The days of Cold Sophie and the Ice Saints are traditional weather markers, and it is a fool indeed who would plant crops before Cold Sophie had time enough to wend her way through the land. She represents winter’s last hurrah, and even if it’s been warm and summery, tradition warns of a blast of cold air from the North at this time of May.

And there seems to be some truth to this. It may have been a hot one here in Lake Worth yesterday (and probably will be today), but we have just come out of a spell of amazingly beautiful weather. It rained cats and dogs last Thursday, and on Friday, we awoke to an azure sky, not a cloud to be seen, with temperatures in that absolutely perfect range where the sun is warm but the air is cool and dry. It was downright chilly at night. This lasted for days, up until just the day before yesterday. It was, I’d say, an early brush with Cold Sophie and the Ice Saints. It’s not very likely they’ll be back, not until our Lake Worth summer has played out. But it was lovely while it lasted.

Image: “Very Cold at Paris,” a hand-colored etching by an anonymous engraver, published by R. Ackermann, March 1, 1806. [Public domain] via Wikimedia Commons.