Catholic Recipe: St. Martin's Horseshoes
"Saint Martin comes riding on his white horse," shout Polish youngsters when the snowflakes begin to fly on November 11, Saint Martin's Day. Feasting and giving thanks for harvest foods are traditional to all parts of the country, but in some places mothers make rich little cakes shaped like horseshoes, to remind children of Saint Martin.
Probably few saints are more universally beloved or merrily remembered than the fourth-century Saint Martin, who reputedly was born in Hungary of pagan parents. In 371 he became bishop of Tours and later, the city's patron saint. An early nineteenth-century English balled describes the seasonal festivities in this way:
It is the day of Martilmasse, Cuppes of ale should freelie passe; What though Wynter has begunne To push down the summer sunne, To oure fire we can betake And enjoye the crackling brake, Never heedinge Wynter's face On the day of Martilmasse.Many legends about Saint Martin, friend of the needy, patron of wine growers, reformed drunkards, knights, and tailors, have come down through the centuries. Probably the tale that associates him with beggars is best known. The youthful Martin was riding his horse toward Amiens. Just outside the city gates he saw a naked beggar shivering with cold. Instantly the young man stopped his horse, drew out his sword, and slit his own rich cape from neck to hem. He gave half of the garment to the beggar, kept half for himself, and rode on into the town.
Saint Martin set the pattern of sharing that characterizes his festival. The British have a saying that if you fail to invite Saint Martin to share your goose this year, you will have no goose next year. In other words, those who refuse to divide, as Martin did his cape, will have nothing left to divide. Roast goose is as traditional to Europe's Martinmas as turkey to America's Thanksgiving. Each country has its own explanation for devouring the bird: some say Saint Martin was hiding in a barn when the loud cackling of a goose betrayed his presence. "That's why the bird lost his neck and we eat him on Mortensaften," say the Danes.
In many countries children celebrate the festival with bonfires, marching through the streets with lighted lanterns, and singing for cakes and other goodies.
In France, where Saint Martin is especially popular, his name appears in many well-known expressions. L'ete de Saint Martin is Indian summer, while foire de Saint Martin, Saint Martin's fair, is what French people call Martinmas feasting. And mal de Saint Martin, Saint Martin's sickness, applies to the upset stomachs that are prevalent at this season.
All over the Netherlands the young go about singing ancient ditties and asking for firewood and gifts "for Saint Martin's feast." One of the jolliest begging songs begins:
Saint Martin! Saint Martin! Calves wear tails, Cows wear horns, Churches wear steeples, Steeples wear bells, Girls wear skirts, Boys wear breeches, Old women wear aprons. In this house a rich man lives.No matter in what country you are on Saint Martin's Day, you will find feasting and merriment and sparkling new wine. You will also find many of the little cakes that children beg for and adults nibble over black coffee and village gossip. Of all the delicious cakes you taste, few are more cheerful reminders of a genial saint than St. Martin's Horseshoes.
Cream butter and sugar. Add the other ingredients and mix until thoroughly blended. With fingers shape into horseshoes about 3 inches long and 1 inch thick. Place on greased cookie sheet and bake 35 minutes in a slow oven (300° F.). Cool. Roll in confectioners' sugar.Recipe Source: Feast-Day Cakes from Many Lands by Dorothy Gladys Spicer, Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1960