What a lovely Saturday morning! Well, it seems to be a lovely Saturday morning from what I can see out my bedroom window. I woke up with a ridiculous headache, so I’m dumped up on the bed with an ice pack behind my neck, computer on my lap, TV on, cup of coffee within reach. I should probably get up and get some breakfast going, but to be perfectly honest right this minute I don’t feel like it. I’ll visit with you a bit first!
Chinese Valentine’s Day / Daughter’s Festival – I don’t usually write about celebrations from other countries, unless they are directly connected with out of the holidays we celebrate here in the United States. I’d never have time for anything else if I did, right? Once in awhile though, something comes up that it really interesting that I just need to share with you, and this is one of them. This celebration from China is known by several names . . . It is Chinese Valentine’s Day, Daughter’s Festival, Festival of Seven Daughters, Seventh Sister’s Birthday, Festival of Double Sevens and Night of Sevens. It is celebrated on the 7th day of the 7th Lunar month, so it is being celebrated today, but next year it won’t be until August 20th, the following year August 9th, etc. It changes every year, which I find to be interesting all on its own. Not sure why, I just do! So WHAT is it all about? Well, this is a holiday about love that evolved from an ancient love story from Chinese folklore. As with any story that is handed down word of mouth, this one has several versions after being told from generation to generation over thousands of years. This is one of the most popular versions of the story:
“The Goddess of Heaven, also known as the Queen of Heaven, had seven beautiful, young daughters. The seven daughters came down to earth. They decided to bathe in a pristine river, leaving their clothes on the shore. Along came a cow herder (the herd were actually ox) named “Niu Lang”. He took their clothes to see what they would do. The daughters decided that the youngest, and most beautiful, named Zhi Nü should go out of the water and recover their clothes. Because Niu Lang saw her naked, they had to get married. They fell madly in love, and shared several years of marital bliss. Finally, her mother became irritated by her absence from Heaven, and ordered her to return. Seeing how much Zhi Nü missed her husband, the Jade Emperor of Heaven brought the couple back together. Ultimately, Zhi Nü was allowed to visit her husband, Niu Lang just once a year. The annual reunion occurs on the 7th day of the 7th month of the Lunar Calendar.
I think the reason I found this to be so fascinating is that we don’t have these sorts of tales in our culture, most likely because we are still pretty much a “baby” nation when you compare how long we’ve been around.
So what IS mustard? It is a member of the Brassica family of plants that bears tiny round edible seeds and tasty leaves. Its English name, mustard, comes from a contraction of the Latin mustum ardens, which means, burning must. This refers to the spicy heat of the crushed mustard seeds and the French practice of mixing the ground seeds with the must, which is the young, unfermented juice of wine grapes. At first, mustard was used as a medicinal plant, not a culinary one. In the sixth century B.C., Greek scientist Pythagoras used mustard as a remedy for scorpion stings. About one hundred years later, Hippocrates used mustard in a variety of medicines and poultices to “cure” toothaches and a number of other ailments.
Much like the prepared mustards we use today, prepared mustard dates back thousands of years to the early Romans. They used to grind mustard seeds and mix them with wine into a paste for a variety of uses. As I mentioned before, the mustard seed is a prominent reference for those of the Christian faith something small and insignificant, but when planted, grows in strength and power. Pope John XII was so fond of mustard that he actually created a new Vatican position – grand moutardier du pape (mustard-maker to the pope) – and promptly gave the position to his nephew. In 1866 the founder of Colman’s Mustard of England – Jeremiah Colman – was appointed as mustard-maker to Queen Victoria. He perfected the technique of grinding mustard seeds into a fine powder without creating the heat which brings out the oil. The oil must not be exposed or the flavor will evaporate with it.
Today though we mostly use mustard in cooking. It is a must have for hot dogs, sausages and many types of sandwiches. It is also an important ingredient in many recipes. It is among the most popular of all condiments and has been used to spice up meals for thousands of years. How’s that for longevity? Mustard has diversified over the years, it isn’t just plain yellow anymore – though that is definitely the most popular version. You can get a huge variety of commercially prepared mustards including honey mustard, bold and spicy, sharp and creamy and of course, Dijon. In my fridge I have all of those, plus cranberry mustard, jalapeno mustard and even horseradish mustard. As you can tell, it’s a condiment that I truly enjoy in a variety of enhanced and delicious flavors.