From Pat: The Wordwenches thought they'd share a few Valentine thoughts with you on this romantic holiday. Although, if you heard the comments backstage, you might think us a curmudgeonly, unromantic bunch, especially when it comes to artificial card-giving holidays! Still, we do truly appreciate real love and romance on a daily basis. So here's our Valentine's gifts to our readers!
Here is a recipe for Orange Flower and Pink Champagne Jelly, a special Valentine's Day dessert to complement Andrea/Cara's chocolate cake, perhaps! This was made in 1817 for a banquet for the Prince Regent by his chef Antonin Careme. If you don't fancy the jelly version just have the pink champagne – because you're worth it! A very Happy Valentine's Day to everyone!
Orange Flower and Pink Champagne Jelly
12 ounces sugar
Orange Flower Water
Cover 12 ounces of sugar with water and bring to the boil. Remove from the heat and add orange flowers. Allow to infuse, then when the liquid is cold, strain it through silk. Add one ounce and two drams of isinglass* and mix this and the strained syrup with a bottle of pink champagne. The juice of a lemon may be added and a drop of cochineal to increase the pink colouring. Tiny drops of pink dye should be added before the jelly sets in order to give a marbled effect. Set in glasses and decorate with orange blossom.
*If re-creating the recipe these days, it would probably be better to use gelatine instead of isinglass which was a dried substance made from the swim bladders of beluga sturgeon!
Call me a curmudgeon, but I'm not a big fan of commercial holidays, where the traditional spirit of things seems to have been lost amid the hollering to buy something to prove our sentiments. As a kid we handmade Valentine's Day cards for our parents and classmates. It was fun and joyous, cutting out colored paper and gluing on fancy lace doilies and other inventive trim. Then there was composing the right message for each person. For me, that's worth a lot more than all the manufactured stuff.
That said, a heartfelt hug to all our friends. And in keeping with the spirit of the day, I've designed a special PDF downloadable chocolate cake recipe, inspired by the Vienna setting of my latest release, and posted it on my website as a little treat for everyone. (Note, you have to scroll down a bit to the little picture icon of the recipe. Just click on it and it will download.) I may rail against crass materialism, but chocolate is above criticism!
Traditional Viennese Sacher Torte
In researching To Tempt A Rake, I discovered that Vienna has long been a city that loves its pastries. One of the real historical figures who makes an appearance in the story is Prince Metternich, who helped create one of Vienna’s most legendary desserts! Enjoy a little taste of sinful decadence! (photo: backaldrin)
From Mary Jo:
Our current version of Valentine's Day seems designed to make people without dates feel like losers, so I prefer the original celebration, which was a broader kind of love. The story I read when young was that the imprisoned Bishop Valentine had a lilac bush growing outside the small window of his prison cell. He plucked off the heart shaped leaves and scratched "I love you" on them, and doves carried the messages to the members of his congregation.
The chances of any of that actually having happened are close to nonexistent–but as a legend, it's lovely. And I've always adored lilacs.
I suspect I'm the Valentine Grinch. When I was growing up I thought it was a quaint custom I read about in old books, and in stories like Anne of Green Gables — I think it mentioned Valentines, didn't it? Nobody I knew gave or received Valentines. It's a relatively recent thing here, and getting bigger every year, and we Grinchly types see it as something wished on us by US TV shows and cynical commercial forces who try to guilt people into spending money…
I don't like obligatory demonstrations of love. I think they should come naturally, spontaneously and unexpectedly, and not according to the calendar. I subscribe to the "Love Actually" theory of love — that it's everywhere at all times, in different forms, and I'll celebrate it whenever I come across it.
Red roses are beautiful, but the red roses that proliferate on Valentine's Day have no scent, and to me, that's symbolic. A rose without scent is worse than no rose at all. Give me a blowsy, tattered, bug-nibbled rose that smells glorious over a pristine, tightly furled perfect scentless rose any day. One is real, the other is all for show.
That said, some friends of mine got married on Valentine's Day, which I do think is romantic (ok, so I'm not consistent — sue me 😉 so if I celebrate Valentines Day it's on behalf of Merilyn and Patrick's anniversary
One interesting sort of valentine is the 'sailor's valentine'.
This wasn't something you'd slip into the nearest post box, and, alas, the sailor's valentine wasn't a creation of lonely sailors. It was a sentimental souvenir made in Barbados between about 1830 to 1880 by the women of the islands. Colored seashells were arranged as hearts, flowers, stars and mottoes and glued into octagonal boxes made of Spanish cedar.
Sailors brought these folk-art valentines home to their sweethearts in American and England.
It's interesting that the Valentine's Day tradition is old. Obviously people like love rituals and symbols, and that isn't surprising when the human mating dance is so difficult. From The Present State of Great Britain and Ireland, 1716, available from Googlebooks:
"To speak of the particular Customs of the English Britains, I shall begin with Valentine's Day, Febr. 14. when young Men and Maidens get their several Names writ down upon Scrolls of Paper rolled up, and lay 'em asunder, the Men drawing the Maidens Names, and these the Mens; upon which, the Men salute their
chosen Valentines, and present them with Gloves. This Custom (which sometimes introduces a Match) is grounded upon the Instinct ot Animals, which about this Time of the Year, feeling a new Heat by the Approach of the Sun, begin to couple."
Such a lot of glove-giving in the past. Perhaps they wore out easily and were considered personal but not too intimate.
(for appalling historical Valentine doggerell, check Jo's blog!)
Somehow Valentine's Day evolved from the day an early Christian martyr was dispatched and buried by the Romans to a celebration of love, lovers, and chocolate. Long ago, Valentinus, a priest, performed secret marriages for young lovers, though what got him beheaded was attempting to convert Claudius II. He was buried on February 14, and became associated with lovers, marriage, and epilepsy (apparently he healed his jailer's daughter of an affliction). His iconographic attributes include birds and roses.
By Chaucer's times, Saint Valentine's Day—following two centuries of courtly love and chivalric devotion to the highest ideals of love—was becoming a time to expres one's love for another. And it was associated with birds (chcolate being not yet available). By Shakespeare's era, February 14 belonged to love and lovers: "Tomorrow is Saint Valentine's day! all in the morning betime/and I a maid at your window/to be your Valentine." –Shakespeare, Hamlet.
However it evolved, Valentine's Day is a lovely way to express love and appreciation for loves as well as friends. And how great for us that the modern era has added chocolate to the celebration!
Wishing all of you love, roses, and lots of chocolate on Valentine's special day—and every day!
Pat again: Creating a day just to show someone special that you love them is marvelous if you have someone special, but all of us remember those lonely holidays when everyone else was loved but us. How about you? Share your good memories and your bad!