Monday, April 13, 2009

Rosemary and Our Lady's Teacake

This is the first in an occasional series relating to the Church, horticulture, and the care and decoration of churches that will be presented under the label "The Sacristan's Garden".

A sacristan is charged with the care of the sacred vessels and vestments, the altar cloths, the sanctuary lamp, the candles, the elements to be used in the sacraments, and the tabernacle. In the early days of the Church, the sacristan was often a priest. Even as late as 1917, the Code of Canon Law recommended that the sacristan of a cathedral be a priest.

Historically, the work of a sacristan was not limited to the care of the sanctuary. Monasteries usually had extensive gardens, one of which was the sacristan's garden. And, the sacristan of a parish church or cathedral often had a nearby garden where flowering plants were grown for church decoration and liturgical processions.

During medieval times, many flowers and other plants were known by names associated with Our Lady or the saints. One such plant was the rosemary. Legend has it that its flowers are blue because Our Lady once spread her veil over the plant and the pale blue color remained as a reminder. The Latin name for the plant -- rosmarinus -- may actually reflect the legend because it means "dew of the sea", while the Virgin Mary is associated with the sea. (One of her many titles is "Star of the Sea".)

Rosemary branches were often used in liturgical processions because of their pleasant odor. Rosemary is also a key ingredient of a delicious teacake. While it is baking, the rosemary fills the kitchen with a wonderful scent. Serving it seems particularly appropriate during Eastertide.

Our Lady's Teacake (Makes one 9" round cake)

1/2 cup golden raisins
1 cup milk
1 tb. finely chopped fresh rosemary or 1-1/2 tsp. dried rosemary
2 eggs
4 tb. butter or 1/4 cup extra light olive oil
3/4 cup sugar
2 cups flour
1-1/2 tsp. baking powder
Optional: 1/2 tsp. salt

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease the pan.
Combine the raisins, milk, and rosemary in a small saucepan and bring to a simmer. Cook gently for two minutes, then set aside to cool.
Beat the eggs in a large bowl until they are frothy, then stir in the butter and sugar. Mix well.
Stir and toss together the flour and baking powder (also the salt if you are using salt). Mix well, then add to the egg mixture and beat until the batter is smooth. It will be very stiff.
Add the cooled rosemary mixture and beat again until the batter is smooth.
Pour into the prepared pan and bake for about 40 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean.
Remove from the oven, and cool in the baking pan for 10 minutes, then turn onto a rack to finish cooling completely.

To serve: Garnish with sprigs of fresh rosemary, if available.

Recipe adapted from Marion Cunningham, The Fannie Farmer Baking Book (Knopf, 1984), p. 578

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