Wednesday, February 18, 2015

sackcloth and ashes

Mardi Gras will be over by the time i publish this -- you'd better have finished up all the goodies that might spoil over the next six weeks, cuz it's LENT!  ;-)

I've long suspected that back when people were eating mostly what they (or nearby farmers) grew for themselves, by mid-February the cupboard was getting pretty bare.  The green stuff was LONG gone, the cow was dry, and the chickens stopped laying some time before;  the ham, bacon and salt beef probably getting scarce, the apples, turnips, carrots, etc were doubtless pretty dry and shriveled -- you were lucky if you still had some sauerkraut, i imagine.  What a perfect time for the church fathers to choose for a group fast:  you're making a virtue of necessity!

Ah, fasting!  I've heard it said that it was the secret behind the Mediterranean dietary practices which Ancel Keys thought to be so miraculous.  I see it in myself -- any time i get stuck in a social setting in which i have to primarily eat carbs or go hungry for an extended period (i.e., when i'm obliged to accept the hospitality of clueless relatives for a whole day), the horrible bloat and malaise i suffer goes away much more quickly if i follow it up with 24 hours of nothing but coffee.

Intentional fasting has been a part of religious traditions since before the Pharoahs.  Unintentional fasting has a much more lengthy history.  Until comparatively-recent transportation came on the scene, our forebears progressively tightened their belts as the winter months passed because the choices were so limited.  They dreamt of the first dandelions of spring because those were the earliest greens available.  My mother tells stories from her childhood, how my grandmother looked forward to them, and also how she used to park the car by the side of the country road because she knew where watercress was to be found (even though it required trespassing).

My old Picayune Creole Cook Book lists over two dozen concoctions in a dedicated chapter entitled Lenten Soups/Potages Maigres, and there are quite a few more appropriate recipes in the gumbo chapter, the section discussing fresh local fish, TWO chapters on shellfish (including frogs and green turtles), and the one which speaks of salted and canned fish (things not caught in local waters, like salmon, cod, mackerel, etc).

As you see, in places like the American gulf coast, the southwest, and in the Old World warm spots like around the Mediterranean, fast-days weren't austere by necessity, but by "choice."  It's amusing to me that the American branch of the Roman Catholic church's move from meatless meals ALL THROUGH Lent (plus most Fridays throughout the year), to only going meatless on Ash Wednesday and Lenten-season Fridays, came about when good fresh foods from all over the world became widely available....  [evil grin]

The history of fasting for spiritual as well as for therapeutic reasons is long, complicated, and interesting.  We're just beginning to learn the details of HOW therapeutic fasting actually works in the body, but it has been understood for quite awhile that it IS so -- understanding which obviously came from observation and trial-and-error.

I suspect we ALL can benefit from some kind of fasting, whether it be days-long, or just the elimination of between-meal indulgence.  And if you find that the religious-world's support and encouragement helps, this MIGHT be a very good time to go ahead and eliminate items from your diet that you know you shouldn't be consuming anyway -- analogous to using AA to help a drunkard give up booze.  Six weeks is an excellent amount of time to find out that you really do feel better without your personal "forbidden fruit."

Just try to abstain from your local church's Friday Fish Fry special!  ;-)  Here in historically-Catholic St. Louis, just like the New Orleans of that creole cookbook, there are posters advertising the FishFries EVERYWHERE -- more than once every year they're an inspiration to me to fry fish at home ... in paleo-approved batters, crumbs, and fats of course.


  1. Lean Soups et Cuisine Maigre.

    Yes, I recall nursery rhyme:

    "Jack Sprat could eat no fat
    His wife could eat no lean
    And so betwixt the two of them
    They licked the platter clean."

    As did Maid Marion & Friar Tuck.

    Here in Dublin many peeps 'ave got themselves 'AshTagged - 'cos nuns don't do hash!

    Paul Simon did "legalise his lows" on Fat Tuesday with many a Jelly Roll (Morton)!


    1. merci, mon ami! ;-) i wasn't familiar with that tune....

      is it the ish-ish hash that the nuns don't do, or the MEATY kind?

    2. -ish, -ish dey don' do!

      Dey cud settle anyone's hash - 'course dey never done brownies!

      Léon Idas (to Gweeks)

  2. Louis Jordan did a song about a Saturday night fish fry:

    1. Mmmm, yes. Nice find.

      But "Is you is, or is you ain't" ?

      Lurve dat muted horn.

    2. And Gras Domino's Blueberries!

      You were mah trill!

  3. In my native country the worst lent ingredient was and is a sunflower oil. Meat is substituted with dry mushrooms and fish of all varieties. Actually, buckwheat with sauteed onion with reconstructed and sauteed mushrooms, salted herring with boiled potatoes and marinated sliced onions , beets with vinegar and spices, shredded carrot with oil and garlic, reddish in all forms are all very tasty foods, and bread is not limited. Sugar is substituted with honey. My former husband is very religious now, he complains he usually gains weight during long fasting.

    1. you bet -- i could easily pile on pounds eating the kind of things others describe as "abstemious"! (and the things you list sound absolutely delicious!) it's a very good thing that i actually PREFER roast beef and raw oysters and broiled lobster and stuffed mushrooms and creamy coffee and.... :-)