Wednesday, 25 July 2012

My James

James, the son of Zebedee, and brother of John. Without delay He called him, and he left his father in the fishing boat with the hired men. 

Jesus always takes with him Peter, James and John. He takes them when he heals Jairus' daughter; they 
climb the mountain with him and witness his transfiguration; Peter recognises Jesus as the Christ, James and John ask for the best seats in heaven; it is Peter, James and John who pray with him near the end, at Gethsemane, and run away when things get tough.

James, at least my James, is not a quiet Apostle. Jesus names him, and his brother John, 'Boanerges', 'Sons of Thunder'. I am guessing that is not because they were meek, quiet and retiring. They followed, yes, but they questioned, and fought,  and battled to understand. Sometimes they didn't understand, sometimes they were wrong, sometimes they ran away. And, that was okay. They kept listening.

James, of course, is said to have travelled to the Iberian peninsula to preach during his lifetime. After his death in Jerusalem (he was beheaded), his remains were carried by boat back to Galicia, where he was buried at the city now named in his honour: Santiago de Compostela. Last year I was sad to report that a very precious document, the Codex Calixtinus had been stolen from the Cathedral. This year, however, I am happy that, in answer to many prayers, it has been found again - in a garage. I hope it is restored to its rightful place soon. The Codex Calixtinus is a 12th Century guidebook for medieval pilgrims following the Way of St. James. It is a practical document that gives advice to those making the journey to his tomb. It also contains homilies and sermons in his honour. It is simply beautiful, a testament to the many millions of people who have followed in the footsteps of James - battling their way to faith and understanding, seeking answers to the many questions, queries, confusions and doubts that rise up along the way.

There was an elderly priest on the camino, near San Juan de Ortega, I think. Everyday, and on the day I walked up the hill to his church, he stood, watched and waited for all the pilgrims of the day to arrive. I arrived in the middle of the afternoon, in the heat of the day. He invited me to drink water from the cold fountain, and sit in the cool of the Church. He was tiny, very tanned, dressed in a dusty black soutane. He had small round glasses which framed his elvish features, and wore brown sandals on his small dusty feet. He smiled and was gentle in his approach, but you did what he asked, and he made clear what he wanted. Others arrived after me, and all the while he stood and waited until at last he could see no one travelling up the hillside. It was early evening when he gathered everyone together in the Church, welcomed them and announced that he was going to hear confessions. He spoke Spanish, but said that God spoke every language - just do your best, he said. A rather surprised group of pilgrims arranged themselves, and took their turns. It was a lengthy process, but the priest did not mind, he was not in a rush. He did the same thing everyday - helped people fumble through confession in Spanish. When everyone had received absolution, he came out and announced, 'Now, Mass'. He celebrated a short, simple mass, gave the final blessing and looked up to say, 'You are hungry. Go outside, and there will be soup and bread.' His sister, also well into her 80's had prepared garlic soup and fresh bread, which we ate on benches at long tables underneath the trees; the priest brought wine, and served it to each of us in clay brown cups. He brought a bowl of hot soapy water out, at the end of the meal, and washed each of the dishes, laying them on the table to dry. As each group approached with their crockery he said, 'Come to night prayer, then take your rest'. At around 9.30pm everyone filed back into church, and after compline, laid out their sleeping bags on the floor of the old church hall and took an early nights rest. No one minded, everything seemed to be under control. That was one of the stranger evenings I had one time I walked with St. James. I often wonder about that priest, it is many years since I walked the camino now. Is he still there? He would be in his 90's now, at least. I wonder if he is still alive, or has he reached the heaven he worked so hard for. I would love to go back there, but am frightened I would find the place changed.

I could make any number of things in honour of St. James, and would take great delight in doing so. One of the things I remember most fondly though, are the little Magalenas I used to have, very early in the morning, in quiet cafes. The night shift workers would be drinking little beers. It would be that darkest dark before the dawn, around 4am, and this, just before the sunrise, would brighten up the day.

Honey Magdalenas

120g unsalted butter, plus a little extra for greasing
50g Spanish honey
3 medium eggs 
100 caster sugar
100g self raising flour, plus extra for dusting the tins
25g ground almonds

I make these in Magdalene Tins, the scallop shell shape a the symbol of St. James, and a reminder of how they looked in the cafes, but you can just as easily make them in an ordinary fairy cake shape. 

Place the butter in  a small pan and melt it gently. Allow it to cook so that it begins to brown slightly. As soon as it turns a light caramel colour, remove it from the heat and stir in the honey to halt the cooking process. Set aside to cool.

Place the eggs and sugar in a bowl and whisk until light and fluffy with an electric whisk. This will take 10 - 15 minutes. Sift the flour and ground almonds together and fold them into the mixture with a large spatula. Fold in the honey and butter mixture also.

Cover and place in the fridge for 30 minutes. Grease the Magdalene tins with butter and dust them lightly with plain flour. When the batter has chilled, divide the mixture up between moulds. Let it rest for 10 minutes at room temperature whilst you preheat the oven to 160C.

Bake for 10 minutes until light and golden and springy to touch. Allow them to cool for 2 - 3 minutes in the tin, and then place on a cooling rack. They store in an airtight container for up to 4 days (if they last that long).

Serve in the morning with cafe con leche. Do it properly, with hot milk, strong coffee and sugar.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Silvana has left a new comment on your post "My James":

James and John had a strong mother. She wanted the best for her sons - in heaven if they couldn't have it on earth - and wasn't afraid to ask for it. But, in one Gospel, she is named as one of the women who stood at the foot of the cross, with Jesus all the way. So Magdalenas - in honour of her companion on Calvary - seem very appropriate!