June 24 St. John the Baptist's Feastday Midsummer Day

by Gordon Nary


John the Baptist is regarded as a prophet by four religions: Christianity, Islam, Mandaeanism, and the Bahá'í Faith. The story of his life and death is one of the best known biblical tales. His mother, Elizabeth, conceived him when she was in her sixties and John left home as a teenager to live a hermit's life in the desert. According to St. Matthew (3:5), he clothed himself in a camel hair caftan and subsisted on "locusts and honey."

After several years in the desert, John became an itinerant fire and brimstone preacher, warning his followers to "Do penance: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.". Many of his followers believed that John was the long-awaited Messiah, but when John began to baptize his followers, he insisted that he was only the forerunner of the Messiah

Later in his preaching, John incurred the wrath of Herod Antipas who married his half-brother's wife, Herodias. John was confined to prison where apparently he was found irresistible to Salome, Herodias's daughter. Because John would have nothing to do with her, Salome obtained a drunkenly excited promise from Herod during his birthday party as the result of her seductive dance. When Salome came to claim her reward, she asked for John's head on a platter, which Herod reluctantly presented to her.

John's desert diet of locusts and honey may seem nauseating to some. Most biblical scholars believe that the term 'locusts' did not refer to the insect, but to the locust bean, also known as St. John's Bread or carob. Carob pods are between four and eight inches long with a brown leathery covering. However, they have a fleshy fruit of nearly 50% sugar and a taste similar to chocolate which has made the fruit a very popular chocolate substitute for health fadists and people with chocolate allergies. Carob is also used in the production of commercial cough syrups


John the Baptist's feastday is also celebrated as Midsummer Day in many European countries as well as in Brazil. Midsummer Day is traditionally celebrated with bonfires, often with the celebrants singing traditional songs. In Denmark, it is called Sankt Hans aften ("St. John's Eve") and occasionally includes the burning of a witch effigy in remembrance of the church's witch burnings. In Finland, after the traditional bonfire, celebrants often go to a communal sauna. In Latvia, Midsummer is called Jāņi (Jānis is Latvian for John) and there is a unique tradition in the town of Kuldīga, where revelers mark the holiday by running naked through the town at three in the morning.


In Great Britain. there was an old Celtic superstition that the sun would spin in the sky on Midsummer's Day.  In Cornwall, when the bonfire is lit on Midsummer's Day a specified group of forty herbs and spices were thrown into the fire as an ancient protection against witches. The herbs and spices were eventually made into cakes which were then toasted in the fire s. These little cakes became the forerunners of spice cookies which have become a traditional treat on Midsummer's Day. Here are two versions of these celebratory cookies


Since I have two recipies today, I am recommending two applicable celebratory films. There are more than seventy films and TV productions featuring John the Baptist, many of them imagining the psychosexual relationship between John and Salome and his beheading including a film version of Richard Strauss's opera Salome. One of the great over-the -top old Hollywood films is Salome (1953) with Alen Badel as John and Rita Hayworth as the princess that asked for John's head. But in the spirit of Midsummer Day, what could be more perfection than the film adaptation of William Shakespeare's   A Midsummer Night's Dream (1999)?


St. John's Cookies


Ingredients

1/2 lb butter 3/4 cup firmly packed light brown sugar 3/4 cup granulated sugar 1 tsp vanilla 3 TB rum 2 eggs 2 &1/2  cups flour

1 tsp salt 1 tsp baking soda 1/2 tsp freshly grated nutmeg 3 TB grated orange zest 2 cups carob, chopped in small bits 2 cups white raisins 2 cups black walnut pieces


Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 325º F.

  2. Cream butter and sugars, Add vanilla and rum, Beat until smooth

  3. Sift flour, baking soda, salt, and nutmeg. Add 1 egg to batter, then add half of flour mixture. Beat well. Then add second egg and balance of flour mixture. Beat well.

  4. Mix in carob, raisins, zest and walnuts. Drop by spoonfuls on cookie sheet and bake for 10 to 12 minutes.

Makes about 8 dozen cookies


Midsummer Spice Cookies

Ingredients

I cup shortening 1 cup sugar 1 egg 1 cup molasses 2 TB vinegar 5 cups flour l&1/2 tsp baking soda 1/2 tsp salt 1/2 tsp ginger 1/2 tsp cinnamon 1/2 tsp freshly grated nutmeg 1/2 tsp ground cardamom 1/2 tsp ground cloves 1/2 tsp freshly ground white pepper 1/2 tsp freshly ground gingerroot 1 TB grated orange zest

Instructions

  1. Cream shortening and flour. Beat in egg. molasses, and vinegar.

  2. Sift flour, soda, spices. Beat in well. Mix in gingerroot and zest. Chill 4 hours or overnight.

  3. Preheat oven to 375º F.

  4. Rollout dough on floured board. Cut with cookie cutters into shapes Bake about 1 in apart for about 6 to 7 minutes. Remove from oven. allow to cool slightly then finish cooling on rack.


Makes about 5 dozen cookies


© 2012 Gordon Nary

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