A Candlemas Hearth-Casserole

Candlemas, the yearly Feast of the Presentation of Christ in the Temple, is when we celebrate bringing Christ’s light into our lives and our homes. So, it’s traditional to extinguish all fires in the house — or for the twenty-first century to turn off the lights and oven and turn down the heat — and then bring the new light home from church. So you need a meal that can cook on retained heat as the oven cools. This is perfect: once it’s hot, the rice or other grain insulates the meat at the centre of the pot and lets it continue cooking even after the oven is turned off — or your hearth-fire is extinguished.

You will need:

  • 2 cups white short-grain rice
  • 2 cornish game hens (or pigeons, symbolizing the two pigeons Joseph and Mary sacrificed at the Temple)
  • 4 cups chicken broth; or 3 cups broth and one cup wine
  • A heavy lidded ceramic casserôle or iron pot or dutch oven (I use a japanese “donabe”)
  • Root vegetables and herbs to taste: carrots, parsnips, rosemary, sage

Pre-heat the oven to 425 degrees. Spread the uncooked rice evenly over the bottom of the casserôle. Centre the two game hens on top of the rice. Arrange the root vegetables in a “wreath” around the game hens toward the edge of the casserôle. Pour the broth over the whole thing. Put the lid on it and pop it in the oven.

After half an hour, turn the oven down to 300 degrees for another hour. Turn it off just before you leave for church. It will still be hot and in the “safe zone”, and continue cooking. When you serve it, the hens should be falling apart and the meat falling off the bones.

You can use lentils or beans instead of rice, and can add onions and spices.

It’s our tradition to light candles while we name absent friends and loved ones. We do that at church, but you can also do that when you return home bringing the new Light of Christ. As you light the candles, the one small light you brought home from church spreads and increases to dazzling brightness. To prepare, clear off, or set up a table. If you have a fireplace and can set things up in that room, great! Put as many candles as you like on the table. Put matches or a lighter, and small candles (like birthday candles) that you can use for lighting the candles. Make Candlemas casserole for dinner, and put it in a hot oven. Just before you leave the house, extinguish the fire (if you have one) and turn out all the lights. If you are really hard-core, extinguish or turn down your furnace!

Finally, and old Scots proverb states:

If Candlemas Day be Bright and Clear
There’ll be two Winters in the Year

That’s the source of the North-American myth about the groundhog’s seeing his shadow. So to round out the day’s festivities, consider curling up comfortably and watching Groundhog Day!


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