Friday, February 24, 2012

Honey In Lent

This is an interesting slight problem I'm running into.  Honey.   Was honey, since it comes from bees, considered a meat product or, because Saint John the Baptist ate nothing but grasshoppers and honey while in the desert, is it considered a fasting food?

It's hard to tell.  All the recipes that are specific for Lent that use a sweetener, say sugar.  Even a lot of the older ones.   For example, this 15th C recipe for what is, basically, the creamy center of a Cadbury egg:

Take Eyroun, & blow owt that ys with-ynne atte other ende; than waysshe the schulle clene in warme Water; than take gode mylke of Almaundys, & sette it on the fyre; than take a fayre canvas, & pore the mylke ther-on, & lat renne owt the water; then take it owt on the clothe, & gader it to-gedere with a platere; then putte sugre y-now ther-to; than take the halvyndele, & colour it with Safroun, a lytil, & do ther-to pouder Canelle; than take & do of the whyte in the nether ende of the schulle, & in the myddel the yolk, & fylle it vppe with the whyte; but noght to fulle, for goyng ouer; than sette it in the fyre & roste it, & serue f[orth].
- Austin, Thomas. Two Fifteenth-Century Cookery-Books. Harleian MS. 279 & Harl. MS. 4016, with extracts from Ashmole MS. 1429, Laud MS. 553, & Douce MS 55. London: for The Early English Text Society by N. Trübner & Co., 1888.

In Modern American English:

Take Eggs, and blow out the yolks with a hole at the other end; than wash the shell clean in warm water. Then take Almond Milk, sit it on the fire. Take some cheesecloth, pore the milk on it and let the water run out. Take the cloth (with the almond remains) and put it on a baking sheet. Then put sugar in it. Take half of the dough and put some yellow in it, roll it in a ball, and roll it around in cinnamon (to make the yolk). Wrap the white dough around the middle yolk and put it back in the egg shell. Make sure it's not too full! Set it in the fire, roast it, and serve.

Sugar. Not honey. Hmm..

Another recipe from around the 14th/15th C also calls for sugar, not honey:

CXV Good tortellini made like white fritters for lent.
To make white tortellini for twelve people.  Take a pound of almonds, a quarter (of a pound) of hazel nuts and half a pound of sugar.  Take the well peeled almonds and hazel nuts and grind them together and mix in enough of the sugar to make a paste, this batter is used to make the fritters, and make them small.  Take flour and saffron and blend them with water so that it is a soft, yellow dough, and wrap the tortellini in this and fry them in good oil.  When they are cooked dust them with sugar and send them to the table before the other dishes. 

So, far now, until I can find something that says honey is fine during Lent, I'm going to stay away from it.  I'm good with sugar.  :-)


I found one recipe, in Dutch, from the 15th Century.

xxij Loesengen inde vastenen of daer buten

nemt bloemme huenich melc tempert

ende wriuet dynne ghelijc een blat

Teender taerten ende dan snijdet naer

Juwen wille ziedet inde vastenen

in olyen ende buten vastenen in smoute

vercoelse ende dan hebt wijn ende

huenich ende siedse in een panne

met sukere ende met een lettel wijns

dan heetse waerm

I don't know Dutch (let alone, middle Dutch like this is written in) but, according to the person who translated it, it calls for honey. I double checked and "huenich" or "HONICH" is the Middle Dutch word for honey. It doesn't look to be one of those can mean many things words (suiker or suker is the word for sugar) so this probably really did call for honey.

The problem is simple - if you needed a cough drop or a lozenge like this recipe is for, then you were probably sick. Even back then, there were exceptions made for the sick when it came to the Lenten fasting rules. Although it looks like I'm on the right track, I'm still not sure if honey is allowed or not.


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