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Catholic Activity: St. Martha in the Kitchen

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The Feast of St. Martha, one of the most beloved New Testament saints, is a highlight during the summer months. As the patron of cookery and housewives, here are some traditions and suggested recipes related to St. Martha.

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Saint Martha, one of the best loved saints in the calendar, is called by the French la travailleuse de Dieu — the worker for God; this we know she was always and in more ways than one. The Italians know her as l'albergatrice de Cristo — the hostess of Christ.

She is the patron of cookery and of housewives. We all know the familiar story of how, as she was busied with preparing the dinner, her sister Mary sat at the feet of their Guest and listened to His words of love and wisdom. Martha, who was no doubt preparing a very special meal in His honor, needed help, and who, she reasoned, could better give it than Mary, sitting there with idle hands? Once the meal was served, she no doubt thought, there would be plenty of time to fold one's hands and listen to conversation — and perhaps her irritation came from the fact that she too wanted to hear the Words that were being spoken in the other room.

We are certain that every housewife, though she might; prefer being a Mary, has a sneaking sympathy for Martha. For is it not very true that there are more Marthas than there are Marys in the world? And if there were not, please tell us who would feed everyone, including the Marys? There is something touching in the complete forgetfulness of Mary, her total absorption in unworldly things. But what if Martha had added herself to the company and listened too? Instead she remained with her task, and we are sure produced a good meal for that reason, so it is to her that housewives ought to turn.

In honor of her feast why should we not reproduce some of the ancient Jewish dishes, prepared in the same way as they were in Our Lord's day?

The Jews have a Hebrew expression about good food in general, but about Purim sweets in particular, Tahm Gan Eden, which means the taste, or flavor, of the Garden of Eden. One of the Purim sweets is the Poppy Seed Cooky.

One of the traditional Jewish dishes always to be found at the Passover Seder is Charoses, a mixture of nuts and apples moistened with wine, to represent the morsel of sweetness to lighten the burden of unhappy memory.

There is a tradition that after Martha and Mary lost their beloved Friend, they were driven, with their brother Lazarus, from their own country and were placed with other followers of Christ on a little vessel which bore them through stormy seas safely to Provence. There, the story goes, Lazarus became a bishop and was eventually martyred. Mary became a contemplative, shutting herself away on the heights of La Baume, and giving herself to penance and prayer. Martha, however, remained with the people in the valley, and is said to have founded the first convent for women at Aix. We are told that she bent the knee a hundred times a day at her devotions and as many times during the night. At last she, too, had time to pray. For her day there is really no need of recipes since she is the patroness of all cookery. But here are three excellent hors d'oeuvre that hail from Provence.

Activity Source: Feast Day Cookbook by Katherine Burton and Helmut Ripperger, David McKay Company, Inc., New York, 1951

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