by Gordon Nary
When Martin was ten years old, he expressed interest in becoming a Christian. His father, a pagan Roman army officer, forced Martin into the army at fifteen to prevent him from receiving instructions in the Christian religion. Martin was assigned to a ceremonial cavalry unit that protected the emperor and rarely saw combat. Like his father, he became an officer and eventually was assigned to garrison duty in Gaul (present-day France).
Martin was eventually baptized and asked for a discharge from the army on the basis that he was a Christian and not allowed to fight. Accused of cowardice, Martin retorted with an offer to stand unarmed between the opposing lines. The offer secured his discharge and Martin's position as the patron saint of conscientious objectors. Martin then became a priest, founded the first French monastery, and was eventually appointed the Bishop of Tours in 374.
There are several other legends about St. Martin's life. The most popular is the story of how Martin was converted to Christianity. When Martin was eighteen, he rode by a beggar in rags when Martin's regiment was entering Amiens. It was a bitter cold day and Martin was sympathetic to the beggar's suffering. Since Martin did not have any money, so he drew his sword, cut off half his cloak, and gave it to the beggar. Later that night the beggar appeared in Martin's dreams and revealed himself as Christ.
Another legend relates a miracle that Martin performed when he was a bishop. When a young man who was taking instructions from Martin died before he was baptized, Martin laid on top of the dead body and brought him back to life. Just imagine what Tennessee Williams could have done with that story.
According to another legend, Martin was reluctant to become bishop and hid in a barn filled with geese. The noise made by the geese betrayed his hiding place and he was literally forced to be consecrated as bishop. This legend has made roast goose the traditional St Martin's Day feast in Europe similar to roast turkey on Thanksgiving in the United States. According to an old Hungarian saying,
"Who does not eat goose on St. Martin's Day, will be hungry
all year." Weather was predicted from a bone of the goose
eaten on St. Martin's Day: if it was long and white, winter was going
to be snowy, but if it was short and brown, winter
would be warm and muddy.
In many German-speaking countries, St. Martin's Day is a special children's celebration. Often hundreds of children parade through the towns, often with their parents, and occasionally with a man dressed as St. Martin who rides on a horse in front of the procession. Children visit neighboring houses with paper lanterns and candles, and sing songs about St. Martin in return for a some candy - somewhat parallel to children's Halloween customs in the United States.
In recent years, the lantern and candle processions (Laternenumzug) have become widespread even in Protestant areas of Germany and the Netherlands, despite the fact that most Protestant churches do not recognize saints
St. Martin's Day also celebrates the end of the agrarian year In Europe and the beginning of the harvesting. Like so many other Christian celebrations, St Martin's Day coincides with pagan rituals from the pre-Christian era. This falls at the same time as the early winter festivities of light and fertility celebrated by the pagans. The celebration of St. Martin's Day or Martinmas began in France and spread to Germany (where is was known as Martinstag) and later to Scandinavia and Eastern Europe. Martin Luther was purportedly named after St. Martin, as he was baptized on November 11 in 1483.
In eastern Hungary, the town of Nyíregyháza will celebrates the holiday with a two-day gastronomy show the Nyíregyháza-Sóstó Museum Village where guests will be greeted with bread slathered with goose fat (libazsíros kenyér) and wine. Visitors can participate in various Márton-related contests ranging from "barrel riding" to "wine stealing," and watch dance performances and a goose "beauty contest." Programs on Sunday start at the same time and will include a live rendition of popular children's tale "Ludas Matyi" ("Matyi, the Goose Herd"), baking of mézeskalács (gingerbread-type cookies made with honey) and candle-making.
In Germany, Austria, and Switzerland, November 11 also marks the beginning of the Karneval season (Fastnacht) giving the German-speaking countries a much longer celebration of Carnival than in most other countries. Officially it starts am elften elften elf Uhr elf (11 minutes past the eleventh hour on the 11th of November) and continues in a fairly low-key way for about three months before the Tolle Tage (Crazy Days) which climax on Rosenmontag (Rose Monday) the 42nd day before Easter. Rosenmontag is the highlight of the German "Karneval" and is on the Monday before Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent.
Karneval was a pre-Christian celebration and started as a ritual to drive out the winter ghosts of darkness.However. due to local traditions, the celebration has different names. It is called Karneval primarily in the Rhineland, Fastnacht around the city of Mainz, Fasnet in Swabia in the southwest region of Germany and in the southwest of the state of Bavaria,Fosnat in the northern Bavaria, and Fasching around Munich and in Austria.
In pre-Christian times, Karneval was kicked off with processions of people with horrifying face masks, and who made a lot of noise to drive the ghosts of winter away. Freya, the Goddess of fertility, was honored and the beginning of spring celebrated. When Christianity came along, the Church, as usual, and tried to alter these pagan rituals so Karneval or Carnival came to mark the beginning of Lent. However, the older pre-Lent form of the celebration continued in the German countries and Karneval celebrations usually include dressing up in fancy costumes, dancing, parades, and heavy drinking - similar to Mardi Gras.
The multimonth Fastnacht celebration is also marked by the enormous consumption of thousands of potato-flour doughnuts called fastnachts that help soak up the all of the alcohol consumed. Fastnacht is also celebrated by the Pennsylvania Dutch who possibly make the best fastnachts., but they confine it to a single day - Shrove Tuesday - the day before Ash Wednesday.
In parts of Maryland, Fastnachts are called Kinklings, and is only sold in bakeries on Shrove Tuesday. The German version is made from a yeast dough, deep fried, and coated or dusted in sugar or cinnamon sugar; they may be plain, or filled with fruit jam. Pennsylvania Dutch fasnachts are often made from potato dough, and may be uncoated, or powdered with table sugar or dusted with confectioner's sugar
Martinsgans mit Apfelfüllung (Martin's Goose with Apple Stuffing)
1 ready-to-cook goose (8 to 10 pounds) 2 cups water 1 medium onion, sliced 1&1/4 tsp salt 6 cups soft bread crumbs 3 Granny Smith applies apples, pealed, cored, and chopped 2 stalks celery (with leaves), chopped 1 TB grated lemon rind
1 TB grated orange rind 6 prunes, pitted and chopped 1 medium onion, chopped 1/4 cup butter, melted 2 tsp salt 1/2 teaspoon ground thyme 1/4 tsp freshly ground pepper 1 tsp salt 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
Trim excess fat from goose.
Heat giblets, water, sliced onion and 1&1/4 tsp salt to boiling; reduce heat. Cover and simmer until giblets are done, about 1 hour. Strain broth; cover and refrigerate.
Chop giblets; toss with remaining ingredients reserving 1 teaspoon salt and the flour.
Rub cavity of goose with 1 teaspoon salt. Fold wings across back with tips touching. Fill neck and body cavities of goose lightly with stuffing
Fasten neck skin of goose to back with skewers. Fasten opening with skewers; lace with string. Tie drumsticks to tail. Prick skin all over with fork. Place goose breast side up on rack in shallow roasting pan.
Roast uncovered in 350° oven until done, 3 to 3&1/2 hours, removing excess fat from pan occasionally. Place a tent of aluminum foil loosely over goose during last hour to prevent excessive browning. Goose is done when drumstick meat feels very soft. Place goose on heated platter. Let stand 15 minutes for easier carving.
Meanwhile, pour drippings from pan into bowl. Return 1/4 cup drippings to pan. Stir in flour. Cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until smooth and bubbly. Remove from heat. If necessary, add enough water to reserved broth to measure 2 cups. Stir into flour mixture. Heat to boiling, stirring constantly. Boil and stir 1 minute.
Serve goose with apple stuffing and gravy.
WINE NOTE: To make the celebration more appropriate, I'd suggest a Touraine Chenin Blanc or the traditional Hungarian wine, Szent Márton bora traditionally served on Márton nap(St. Martin's Day). There is another legend that the vineyards of Touraine were founded by St. Martin who planted the first Chenin Blanc vine in France after smuggling it out of Hungary inside a hollowed horse's thigh bone. St. Martin is also credited with teaching the French the art of pruning their grape vine.
Fastnachts (Potato Doughnuts)
1 cup hot mashed, unseasoned potatoes 2 cups sugar 1 cake yeast 1 cup warm water or potato water 7 cups of flour 1 cup warm water or scalded and cooled milk
3/4 cup melted butter 3 large eggs 1 tsp salt 3 cups powdered sugar oil for frying
Combine the hot mashed potatoes, 1 cup of the sugar, the yeast, warm water or potato water, and 1 cup of the flour. Beat until smooth and let rise until dough is light and full of bubbles.
Stir the mixture down and add the remaining 1 cup sugar, the warm water or scalded and cooled milk, melted butter, eggs, salt, and the remaining 6 cups flour.
Beat together, add more flour if necessary to make a firm dough. Brush with butter, cover, and let rise until doubled. Punch the dough down and turn out onto a floured board. Knead lightly.
Roll out and cut with a doughnut cutter, or cut with a knife into the traditional diamond shapes. Let sit for about 20 minutes.
Fry in deep fat at 375º F until browned. Roll in powdered sugar when done.
This recipe makes from 5 to 6 dozen doughnuts
Mézeskalács (Hungarian Honey Cookies
These Hungarian cookies are made in a variety of shapes. However, on Márton nap (St. Martin's Day), they bare often shaped into a horse and rider and decorated with colored icings.
2 cups flour 1/2 cup granulated sugar 1/2 cup honey 1 stick unsalted butter 1 tsp each of ground cinnamon and nutmeg 4 level tsp baking sodagrated zest of 1 lemon grated zest of 1 orange 1 egg extra egg(s) for egg wash red food coloring
Sift together the flour, sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, and baking soda. Melt together the butter and the honey, and zests. Pour over the flour combination and stir to mix. Add 1 egg and knead together. The dough should be soft (add a bit of lukewarm water if necessary), since it will harden a bit during its resting period.
Cover the dough in a bowl and let it rest at least one day at room temperature.
Roll out the dough between two pieces of waxed paper. Cut desired shapes out of the dough (about about 3/8 in. thickness on average)
Place cut out pieces of dough on a cold, greased cookie sheet. Brush with the yolk of an egg to which a few drops of red food coloring have been added. Bake in a preheated 350º F oven for about 6-8 minutes. Thicker pieces may need a longer time (ovens temperatures also vary).
These cookies are sometimes decorated with icing.
Makes 12-24 mézeskalács, depending on size.
To accompany these Martin's Day celebratory treats, I viewed Martin's Day (1985)which was awful, and may have been Richard Harris's only bad film. So instead, I recommend A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints (2006) which has nothing to do with St. Martin or any other saint. unless Robert Downy, Jr, and Channing Tatum who starred in the film can earn Hollywood sainthood for their recent film grosses.
© 2017 Gordon Nary