Eating Over The Sink: Happy Low-Carb Mother’s Day
It’s May. Whether or not we frolicked around a May Pole with flowers and long ribbons, we had better start thinking about Mother’s Day.
Not originally a Hallmark Moment, people who know about these things say that the first celebrations in honor of mothers were held in the spring in ancient Greece. The gatherings paid tribute to Rhea, mother of the gods and goddesses. Not to be outdone, the Romans had Mother’s Day festivals dedicated to the worship of mother goddess, Cybele. Funny enough, the Cybele celebration was known as Hilaria.
You didn’t know that I am so conversant with all this history stuff, did you? But, clever as I am, I can’t tell you what people did to honor their mothers between those ancient times and the 16th or 17th century. However, I do know that sometime during the 1500s to 1600s, people in England started observing Mothering Sunday.
Mothering Sunday took place on the 4th Sunday during Lent. Some say it was adopted by the church to venerate Mary. Others say it was to substitute Mother Church for those old mother goddesses. In any event, it involved young men and women going home to see dear Mom, and bringing along small trinkets or cakes.
Which brings us to furmety, carlings, and simnel cake
Furmety, carlings, and simnel cake are three terrific reasons for all of us to be glad we live low carb.
Furmety, alternately spelled furmity, frumety, and frumenty, was a sort of rice pudding dessert, only it was made with grains of wheat instead of rice. People foisted this off on their unsuspecting Mamas, like modern Gen-Xers presenting their Moms with so-called gourmet chocolates. No doubt cooked up due to guilt for not having phoned the poor dear for months and months, furmety was made from whole wheat that was cooked in water until the grains burst. This formed a sort of jelly in which the grains were held in suspension. Sugar and spices were usually added, and sometimes milk, eggs, or dried fruit. Sometimes, if they didn’t have wheat, they’d use barley.
Moms, and just about everyone else, liked this stuff. In fact, it could have been sponsored for the honor of National Dish. It was celebrated in poem, legend, and song. In an old poem, we are treated to the verse “As I went over the water; the water went over me. I heard an old woman crying: will you buy some furmety?” And, in a 17th century song called ‘The Foolish Kind Husband,’ the words declare “a very pretty girl who was forced to wed, did kindly wash his face with furmety.”
Sounds like just the proper use for the stuff, to me. And apparently agreeing, in their own times, were one Scandinavian King Olafr, who mixed ashes in the furmety and fed it to his hounds, and another wise soul who went on record as mixing it with mustard, loading it into an earthen pot, and putting it in a hole in the ground.
Then, there were carlings, made by the Scots to honor their mothers. This dish took its name from the Old English word for ‘mourning.’ Now, be sure to note that this was not the state of mind the Scottish mothers were in after eating it; it was because the dish was first served in memory of the suffering of Jesus.
Anyway, carlings were sort of pancakes made from soaked peas, then fried in butter. And, the Scots took this alleged treat so seriously, they called the mother’s day holiday, Carling Sunday. Remember that the Scots are the same folk who brought us haggis. I rest my case.
Simnel cakes, on the other hand, were large fruitcakes that were boiled in water, then baked, and finished off with an icing flavored with almonds. These giant pastries were presented to Mom on the mid-Lent Sunday, but kept around until Easter. I already told you in these pages last December just what we think about fruitcakes in the Grady household. In this regard, The History of the World According to Zack clearly sees this simnel cake thing as the origin of today’s fruitcakes. Made in August, kept lying around in rum or brandy until December, and then given to people who use it as a doorstop. Odd as that might sound, consider this: they say that simnel cakes were so strange and hard that one mother, not realizing she was supposed to eat it – come Easter – used hers for years as a footstool.
But, as usual, I digress. I’m trying to tell you about Mother’s Day.
In the US, the idea of Mother’s Day was started by the woman who wrote the words to the song The Battle Hymn of the Republic. (As in, “Mine eyes have seen the glory.”) Julia Ward Howe was her name, and in 1872 she started talking about celebrating motherhood on a day dedicated to peace. But, she was destined to be remembered for the song, not the holiday. A spinster lady named Anna Jarvis of Philadelphia is credited with bringing about the official observance of Mother’s Day.
Anna’s campaign to establish a holiday to honor moms began as a remembrance of her own mother who had died in 1905, and who had tried in the late 1800s to bring about “Mother’s Friendship Days” as a way to heal the scars left after the end of the Civil War.
Miss Jarvis, who was never a mother herself, had been extremely attached to her own mother. About 1907, she was moved to undertake a massive campaign to get the government to adopt a formal holiday. She said that children often neglected to appreciate their mother enough while she was still alive, and that it was certain that a Mother’s Day would increase respect and strengthen family bonds.
In 1910, two states started recognizing Mother’s Day, and by a year later, nearly every state officially marked the day. In 1914, President Wilson officially proclaimed the second Sunday of May as a holiday to fly flags, and show public expression of our love and reverence for the
mothers of our country.
You might think that Anna would have been one happy camper, but having no living mother to give furmety, carlings, or simnel cakes to, she became embittered by the almost instant commercialization of the holiday. In fact, in 1923 she filed a lawsuit to stop a Mother’s Day festival, and was even arrested for disturbing the peace at a war mothers’ convention where women sold white carnations to raise money. It was the carnations that pushed Anna over the edge, they being her mom’s favorite flowers, and all. Just before she died in 1948 at age 84, Anna told a magazine reporter that she was sorry she had ever started Mother’s Day in the
Charles Dickens observed that, “The virtues of mothers should be visited upon children, as well as sins of fathers.” Celebrate the virtues of your own Mom. Send her some flowers, and give her my regards.
ZACK GRADY writes from Southern California, where he used to give comic books to his mom for Mother’s Day.