St Nicholas’ Day has brought a mint tea we cannot finish. We managed nine-tenths of a cup before giving up on it, give or take. The second cup was a non-starter. The thing of it is, we do like mint. In chocolate creams, in the Girl Guide cookies no one else will buy, as a savoury herb…we’ve even had it in teas we’ve enjoyed. This is called Moroccan Mint, which may make a difference. We vaguely recall that there’s a way you brew Moroccan tea that isn’t the same as other teas, but we don’t know what it is; it’s not something we drink much of. Oolongs and black teas are our defaults -oh, and Silver Needle and rare Jasmines in decadent moods.
Part of the problem is that with nothing else to ballast the mint, it looses its freshness in tea all on its own. That’s our opinion and we’re sticking to it. We’d be curious to see how this Moroccan Mint tasted iced, because we’re tolerably sure that would improve the taste. Ask us again in the summer. We’re not icing anything until it’s the weather for it. Except Bishop’s bread.
In fact, Bishop’s Bread is one of our home-grown traditions from living in Scotland, although in fact we inherited the recipe from Judy Plum, she of Pat of Silver Bush. Well, doesn’t everybody go hunting for the recipes mentioned in passing in the book of the moment? Just us? No one else was inspired to try lobster courtesy of Jo March’s failure with it, or find out what Susan Baker’s Orange Shape was? (It’s a coloured blanche-mange, in the event you were and hadn’t met with an answer yet.)
Admittedly, how Bishop’s Bread isn’t fruitcake in a loaf shape with a fancy name is still unclear to us. We differentiate it by marking it with a marzipan mitre and crozier. Oh, and we bake it while listening to Britten’s St Nicholas Mass, which we don’t do when baking Christmas Cake. If you don’t know your Britten, then you may not know this piece, which is a shame; it’s still the most fun we’ve ever had as a chorister, and we’re including Gerontius’s demons in that list. Here’s our favourite of the choruses for your St. Nicholas Day.
We freely admit that Pickled Boys aren’t for everyone though, much as we love singing its Alleluias. So here, to leven it, is a poem for today. We’d love to give you a St Nicholas one, but alas they would all appear to be twee. Now, maybe that would counteract the poor pickled boys, but even so, we can’t stomach it. Really, where is The Church Year in Limericks when needed? Instead, because Nicholas and children go hand-in-hand rather nicely, here’s a poem by Robert Louis Stevenson. Nothing about winter, but it’s certainly the time of year when we’d welcome a lamplighter at the door, what with departing for work in the dark and coming home in the same. Oh, and for an added bonus, it’s not overly twee!
Robert Louis Stevenson
My tea is nearly ready and the sun has left the sky.
It’s time to take the window to see Leerie going by;
For every night at teatime and before you take your seat,
With lantern and with ladder he comes posting up the street.
Now Tom would be a driver and Maria go to sea,
And my papa’s a banker and as rich as he can be;
But I, when I am stronger and can choose what I’m to do,
O Leerie, I’ll go round at night and light the lamps with you!
For we are very lucky, with a lamp before the door,
And Leerie stops to light it as he lights so many more;
And oh! before you hurry by with ladder and with light;
O Leerie, see a little child and nod to him to-night!
We’re determined to send you away singing though, or maybe just to introduce you to Britten’s St Nicholas. So to close, here’s the second movement. It’s written for children, the rhythm won’t stay put, and the words are devilishly hard to get right at the pace you’re supposed to sing them. But it’s good fun, and we guarantee you’ll be singing it, or trying to, for days to come.