Catholic Recipe: White Gingerbread
Of Saint Bartholomew it is said in The Golden Legend that he went to India to convert the pagans, as is told also of another Apostle, Saint Thomas. He was later martyred in Armenia, after telling the king who ordered him to adore the idols, "I shall fritter thy gods and thou shalt believe in mine." And at his words, the image of Baldach, the god, fell to the earth in its own temple. According to some, Bartholomew was beheaded, others tell that he was flayed alive and then crucified. On account of this latter legend, we often see him represented in art, as in the Last Judgment of Michelangelo, holding in his hand his own skin. Bartholomew's remains, the story continues, were tossed into a casket and set afloat and came ashore in Sicily, and after many centuries they were brought to Rome and are thought to be preserved in the Church of Saint Bartholomew-on-the-Island.
According to an Austrian legend, many years after his death Saint Bartholomew was seen walking through a field where a woman was working on his feast day. He chided her for this, but the woman was so upset to see the saint bleeding profusely and with his flayed skin over his shoulder, that she ran into the house and brought back some butter to anoint Saint Bartholomew's skin. Since that day Saint Bartholomew's butter is blessed on his feast in Austria.
In medieval times, Saint Bartholomew's Day was the occasion of a famous fair in England, first held in 1133. Henry the First granted a charter to hold this fair to a former minstrel who had become a monk and founded the Priory of Saint Bartholomew near London. It was opened on the eve of the feast and lasted for many days.
In later years, Barthelmy's Fair became a more raucous celebration, the center for strolling players to present their shows, and the rowdy merrymaking became so unrestrained that in the eighteenth century the fair was discontinued. But for many years it was a great occasion of fun and feasting. Carts and booths at the fair were heaped high with cakes and comfits; two specialties were gilt gingerbread and spiced nuts which the swains bought for their maids and the crofter for his wife and bairns.
Sift the flour, ginger, and soda. Cream the butter with the sugar; add the eggs, then the sifted flour, and finally the milk. Let dough rest for a half an hour after mixing well, and bake at 350° F. for about thirty-five minutes.Recipe Source: Feast Day Cookbook by Katherine Burton and Helmut Ripperger, David McKay Company, Inc., New York, 1951