Martinmas and Veterans Day 2013

Navy Pilot Bob Seelye - my dad in 1944
Navy Pilot Bob Seelye – my dad in 1944



November 11th is Veteran’s Day in the United States.  I am very proud of my long family tradition of service stretching back to the 1600’s.  To my grandnephews, nephew, sister, father, uncles, grandfathers, grand uncles and cousins, I extend my heartfelt thanks for your service.


St. Martin of Tours sharing his cloak with a freezing beggar
St. Martin of Tours sharing his cloak with a freezing beggar

November 11th is also known as Martinmas and celebrates another soldier, Martin of Tours.  Martin was born in Hungary and educated in Italy in the late 4th century.  He became a Roman Army soldier for Constantine.  While stationed in Amiens, France, he found a beggar dying of the cold in a snowstorm.   Martin slashed his cloak in half with his sword and gave it to the man to keep him warm.  Legend has it that Christ appeared to him in a dream wearing this same garment, causing Martin to convert.  He became a monk and led a peaceful life, and he was known to be kind to the sick and the poor.
He is the Patron Saint of Beggars, Drunkards, Innkeepers, Equestrians, Harvests, Horses, the Military, New Wine, and Tailors.


(Movie trivia: for those of you that are fans of the 1985 Rutger Hauer movie called “Flesh and Blood”, this is the St. Martin they followed.)

Many countries celebrate this festival with bonfires, marching through the streets with lighted lanterns, and singing for cakes and other goodies.  The mal de Saint Martin refers to the stomachache resulting in too much of a good thing on this holiday.

Harvest Festival
This day marks the end of the agrarian year and the beginning of the harvest. His feast day coincided with harvest and wine festivals as well as farm hiring fairs where laborers got new jobs.  Trees bloomed (in November) at his funeral, and a warm spell in November in the UK is still called “St. Martin’s Summer”, similar to what might be called “Indian Summer” in North America.   It is the last big feast before the long fasting stretch of Advent.

Beef, pork, goose, duck, venison, game birds, sausages and more, it is the time of year for butchering.  One saying is “His Martinmas will come as it does to every hog,” referring to the inevitability of time. 

Christmas Goose with Chestnut Dressing 1984,  with my late father and husband
Christmas Goose with Chestnut Dressing 1984, with my late father and husband

A popular legend associating Martin with geese says that although he never combed his hair, the people of Tours demanded that he be made Bishop. Trying to avoid being ordained, he fled and hid in a goose pen, until the honking of the geese betrayed his whereabouts. A goose is among his emblems, and a roasted goose is traditionally served on Martinmas, although in many areas roasted duck is served as an alternative.   In Germany the traditional roasted Martinmas Goose is served with red cabbage and dumplings.

St. Martin is credited with spreading winemaking throughout France and planting many vineyards, and His feast day coincided with many harvest and wine festivals when the New Wine was ready to be drunk.   He is credited with introducing the Chenin blanc grape variety.  Wine shops and restaurants around Prague pour the first of the St. Martin’s wines at 11:11 a.m.
St. Martin’s Horseshoes are crescent-shaped cakes to remind children of the saint and the horse he rode upon.  Some are croissants, some are pretzels.
In Sweden, a traditional goose dinner on Martinmas includes Apple Charlotte.  (Apple Charlotte featured in an episode of Downton Abbey when Mrs. Patmore the cook’s eyesight was going.  Here is their recipe for the Apple Charlotte that should have been.)

Children are given bags of fruits and nuts along with a St. Martin’s bread roll and this poem:

Ġewż, Lewż, Qastan, Tin
Kemm inħobbu lil San Martin.
(Walnuts, Almonds, Chestnuts, Figs
So much I love Saint Martin.)

“Rogale”, “rugelach”, or ‘St. Martin’s Croissants” are rolled pastries filled with white poppy seeds, almond paste or walnuts, baked and judged in local contests.
Switzerland – Rebenlichter -“The Turnip Festival” is held for Martinmas. Children hollow out turnips and carve patterns on them, then light them with candles. On the Saint’s day at 8pm., the lanterns are hung along balconies and houses, and carried around by paraders.

How can you celebrate this year?

  • Take your favorite veteran out to eat!  Several restaurants offer free meals on Nov 11th (and some throughout the month of November) to veterans.
  • Enjoy some Beaujolais Nouveau 2013
  • Stock up on croissants and rugelach
  • Carve a turnip lantern
  • Try a roast goose or duck for dinner!

A goose produces a lot of grease, so be prepared with a baster bulb to remove excess grease as it accumulates, but don’t throw it away!  Duck and Goose fat make great fried potatoes and other meats and vegetable fritters.

My favorite method for roasting a duck is to prick the outer skin all over, sprinkle with allspice and stuff the cavity with two halves of an orange.  Roast at 425 degrees for 15 minutes, then turn down the heat to 350.  Turn the duck on its side and roast for another 20 minutes, turning to the other side for another 20 minutes.  Finish with the breast up for the last 20 minutes until skin is crispy.  Medium rare duck will show a bit of pink in the juices, well done will run yellow.  Squeeze the juice of the orange over the duck before carving.  Serve with a tangy fruit sauce.

In “Mastering the Art of French Cooking“, Julia Child says, “Goose is roasted exactly like duck, the only exception being that the goose is basted every 15 to 20 minutes with boiling water to help in the dissolution of its subcutaneous fat, which is more copious for goose than for duck.”

Christmas Eve Menu 1984 - Roast Goose, Chestnut Dressing,
Christmas Eve Menu 1984 –
Roast Goose with Black Cherry Sauce
and Chestnut Dressing

Happy Armistice Day, Remembrance Day, Veteran’s Day, and St. Martin’s Feast Day!


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