valentine’s day

The Austen Tea Room

A Tale Of Two Valentines, my first post about Valentine’s Day, was about love and death and the history of the day. As we move toward another Valentine’s Day, the shadow of death moves with me.

Someone very dear to me passed away just after xmas. Although neither of us were Eastern Orthodox any more, we were both born into that religion and some of the traditions still have special significance for me. One such tradition is the ritual performed on or around the 40th day after a death.

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In Orthodox theology, the soul of the departed stays on earth for 40 days after death. The soul wanders around, visiting their home and places of personal importance. Many rituals are performed during this period to help the soul on its journey. On the 40th day, the soul leaves the earth. This final departure is celebrated with family and friends. Rituals are performed culminating in a meal, usually eaten at the grave or at the home of the departed. Traditional funeral foods and the favourite foods of the departed are served. It is a time of celebration and the ending of the official mourning period for most involved.

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As the 40th day approached, I wondered what I would to do to honour this ritual. A visit to her grave was a must. But what about food? It was an important part of our relationship. We loved going out to eat and we spent most of our visits together talking about food and recipes. I thought about making one of her favourite dishes and bringing it to the grave but it didn’t feel right. Then, while doing research for an unrelated event, I found the perfect solution – The Austen Tea Room – a tearoom honouring the late and great romantic writer Jane Austen. Located halfway between my home and the cemetery, it was the perfect place to have a a celebratory funeral meal.

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The Austen Tea Room brings us right back to Valentine’s Day. What could be more romantic than dining under the watchful gaze of the creator of Mr Darcy! I had a toasted cheese and ham sandwich with coffee followed by scones with jam and cream and a pot of tea. The surroundings in the cafe section were informal but the rooms where the high teas are served were incredible. I am definitely going back for high tea.

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I must admit that I have read only one of her books – Northanger Abbey – but I do love the television and movie versions of Pride and Prejudice – especially Pride, Prejudice and Zombies! I also own the Tarot of Jane Austen 🙂

The scone recipe below is not traditional, but you can serve it with traditional jam and cream. I wanted something different so I went with butter and maple syrup which works really well with sparkling wine.

Sparkling Scones

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Ingredients
2 + 1/2 cups self raising flour
200ml cream
200ml sparkling wine
butter for serving
pure maple syrup for serving

Method
Preheat oven to 225C / 440F.
Line a baking tray with baking paper.
Sift flour into a medium sized bowl. Add cream and sparkling wine. Mix together until just combined.
Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Knead into a 4cm thick square. Using a sharp knife, cut into squares.
Place scones so they are just touching on baking tray.
Bake for 12 – 15mins or until golden brown and cooked through.
Serve with butter and maple syrup or your choice of accompaniments.

 

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Valentine Treats

It’s nearly Valentine’s Day. I never used to pay much attention to the day, mainly because I thought it was invented to encourage couples to spend money on gifts and cards. But after researching the history of the holiday, I found its roots stretched back into Roman history and ancient Pagan festivals. I wrote about this history last year in A Tale Of Two Valentines.

To celebrate this year, I worked on a Valentine’s Cupcake and Anne Belov did some gorgeous Cupid Panda illustrations to go with it. If you want to see Anne’s adorable pandas and my recipe, it has been published on They Draw and Cook.

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pistachio and cranberry cupcakes with passion fruit frosting

Apart from eating cupcakes, I’ll be celebrating Valentine’s Day by spending time with some of my favourite animals. What will you be doing?

A Tale Of Two Valentines

Many years ago I spent Valentine’s Day reading not about love, but about death. As I researched the history of Victorian cemeteries I was saddened, but not surprised, to find the high rate of infant mortality, mother’s dying in childbirth and men killed in wars. What struck me though was the small, yet significant number of couples who died within days of each other, seemingly of broken hearts. What was even stranger is that they often left behind their children to follow their loved ones into the next realm. It was then that I realised the significance of the day and decided to let my thoughts flow on to Valentine’s Day and the meaning of love.

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Valentine’s or Saint Valentine’s Day is celebrated in many parts of the Western world on February the 14th. It is a day for lovers to express their feelings by giving cards and gifts to each other. Hand written or printed cards, fresh flowers, red roses, chocolates, teddy bears and jewellery are traditional Valentine gifts. Romantic dinners, a night at the movies or an overnight stay in a hotel are popular ways of celebrating. Cupid, the baby God of Romantic Love, is the dominant image.

Increasingly however, Valentine tokens can be given to express non-romantic love such as the love between work colleagues, parents and children and friends. Pet lovers are also joining in the fun, and it is a testament to the popularity of this day that pet owners are warned not to give their pets traditional gifts such as chocolate and flowers as they may be toxic to certain animals. Instead, fancy clothes or a day at a spa are suggested gift ideas.

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So who is the mysterious Saint Valentine, and how did these rituals begin?

As there are numerous Christian martyrs named Valentine, most of whom are not linked to romantic tales, it is difficult to assert who the real Saint Valentine is. The reason why the mystery Saint Valentine is associated with romance is also difficult to establish, but there are two main Valentine stories that may shed a light on Valentine’s Day rituals.

The first story speaks of a Roman priest named Valentine who married couples in secret. Some say the couples Valentine married were Christian and such unions were forbidden at that time in ancient Rome. Others say that Valentine wed couples after marriage was outlawed by an ancient Roman leader who believed that single men made better soldiers.

The second story speaks of a Valentine who was a prisoner in ancient Rome. Valentine fell in love with a young woman, possibly the daughter of his jailer. Before he was executed he wrote her a love letter signed “from your Valentine” thus penning the first Valentine note. The date of February 14 is said to be the day on which the legendary Valentine of both stories died or was buried.

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But before Saint Valentine, February 14 and 15 were the dates of two popular Roman Pagan festivals that celebrated love and fertility. The Juno Februata was celebrated on February 14 in honour of Juno, the Goddess of fertility and marriage. It was famous for its “lover’s lottery” in which young women would place their names in a cauldron to be picked by the male that they would partner for the duration of the festival or for the year. The Lupercalia, a fertility festival dedicated to Faunus, was celebrated on February 15.  After sacrificing a goat and donning its skin, the men of the village would hit the women with strips of skin to encourage fertility. Both these festivals point to a Pagan foundation beneath the Christian celebration.

Pagan influences in Valentine’s Day are also obvious in the rituals and superstitions that surround this day. Special significance is placed on the types of bird an unmarried woman first sees on this day. A robin indicates a marriage to a sailor, a sparrow to a poor man while a goldfinch predicts marriage to a rich man. A dove offers happiness and a kind hearted man, whilst spotting an owl means the woman will be a spinster. An interesting tradition involves writing the names of young ladies on slips of paper and placing them in a bowl. The eligible bachelor wears the name of the girl he has drawn on his sleeve for a week. This harkens back to the Juno Februata and is believed to have led to the saying “to wear one’s heart on one’s sleeve”.

Interestingly, some Valentine’s rituals are similar to Halloween rites with their emphasis on the power of the apple. Reciting the names of prospective partners whilst twirling an apple by the stem will allow you to know who is the chosen one. The name spoken when the apple falls off the stem is the one. Carefully peeling an apple skin in one piece, then throwing the peel on the floor and studying the shape it makes should reveal the initial of your loved one. The bravest, and most ghoulish ritual is for a young girl to run twelve times around a graveyard at midnight on the Eve of  Saint Valentine’s Day whilst singing a prescribed chant. This action should conjure up the appearance of her future spouse. This ritual eerily reflects my initial reason for researching this special day; the link between love and death. What I discovered is that Valentine’s Day has a rich Pagan and Christian culture that is almost forgotten, but worth remembering.

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Sadly, the diverse mythology of Valentine’s Day history is shrouded by the commercialism that the holiday attracts. Many of the fun, folky and quirky Valentine’s traditions have been buried under the weight of desperate consumerism. Does this mean the day is totally worthless? Not necessarily so. Valentine’s Day has moved beyond the celebration of romantic love embodied by a couple, so why can’t we? Why not forget the consumerist aspect with the candy, cards and fake hearts and reinvent this day of love?

This Valentine’s Day, let’s explore the amount of love we have, and with how many we can share that love. Remember all those we love in our lives and think about those that we can love. Let’s open our hearts to the forgotten people of the world and even include fauna and flora. So if you want to gift your loved ones why not buy them a present that lasts longer than a day. Why not sponsor a child, animal or tree. The planet can surely do with more signs of our generosity and love. And the world certainly needs more festivals that celebrate love in all its forms and for all of its creatures.