The Feast of St. Martin of Tours falls on November 11 or Veteran’s Day in the United States. Veteran’s Day is the time wherein we honor those who have served our country. In agrarian Europe, Martinmas was a time to honor the foods we harvest. And, St. Martin? My favorite piece of information states that he is the patron saint of drunkards and outcasts. He is also the patron saint of vintners and shoemakers.
November in New England is the time to rake leaves. All but the most stubborn oaks and beeches have dropped their leaves. I remember my dad raking leaves onto an old sheet, gathering up the ends and hauling it over his shoulder into the woods. We would “sneak” onto the sheet of leaves, and listen to his groans and complaints about the heaviness of the leaves before tumbling us out. I loved this game until a neighborhood kid suggested that there were snakes in the leaf piles. Kids can be so mean.
This year, Ed and I raked leaves into our compost pile (no kids around to toss in as well) and brought in the deck furniture. We gazed out at the grey, skeletal, Novemberish woodlands, and I commented “that’s our landscape for the next six months!” Our recent relocation from North Carolina made this concept stunning. “Well,” I amended, “maybe five months.” Ed looked dubious, but I held my ground. “By May 1, the apple trees are blooming!” I insisted.
Martinmas is also the time to load up on root vegetables and squashes. Over the weekend, Ed and I went to the Smiarowski Farm and purchased beets, parsnips, rutabagas, carrots, potatoes, leeks, and onions. For squashes, we picked up delicata, acorn, buttercup, and butternut. We couldn’t bring ourselves to purchase a head of cabbage as big as a giant’s head (only $1.50), but we did get a 1/2 peck of Cortland apples.
The Martinmas Feast is traditionally tied to harvest, slaughter and wine-making activities of Europe. Pork is a common choice, and one year we did prepare a roast. Earlier this year, we were inspired to make an incredibly delicious brined pork roast. The recipe, published in Bon Appetit, is from a Durham, NC restaurant. We served it with garlicky spinach and mashed potatoes–which would certainly work for Martinmas.
This year, we opted for beet soup and dark rye bread. I boiled two large beets for an hour, let them cool, and then engaged in the sensual experience of removing the skins. Holding those warm beets in my hand, with the magenta cooking water splattered about, was akin to holding something alive. The bread was outstanding (if I do say so myself). I knew by the way the dough was responding to kneading that it would be moist and dense.
The Soundtrack for Martinmas has endless possibilities if your aim is to recognize the contributions of drunkards and outcasts. Tom Waits featured heavily in our 2008 celebration. Consider the lyrics of November…
No shadow no stars
no moon no cars
it only believes
in a pile of leaves
and a moon
that’s the color of bone
No prayers for November
to linger longer
stick your spoon in the wall
we’ll slaughter them all
November has tied me
to an old dead tree
get the word to April
to rescue me
November’s cold chain
Made of wet boots and rain
and shiny black ravens
on chimney smoke lanes
November seems odd
you’re my firing squad
With my hair slicked back
with carrion shellac
with the blood from a pheasant
and the bone from a hare
Tied to the branches
of a roebuck stag
left to wave in the timber
like a buck shot flag
Go away you rainsnout
Go away blow your brains out
Entertainment for Drunkards & Outcasts is best served by reading poetry aloud. We pull out some books…the Beats are an obvious choice…and read at random.
Here’s a short one from The Basketball Diaries author Jim Carroll:
Some detectives in worn suits slide at my door.
They told me Eddie was dead on Lexington and 103
stabbed in the jugular at mid-day
outside two automated hospital doors.
He often walked East Harlem after dark, high
on reds, calling out the black man. Before the sheet
on his eyes he grabbed the nurse’s wrist
to check the blood was real, he signed one last paper
to donate properly his eyes.
And I salute you, my brother.