The Aperitif Guy
1:51 PM 29th September 2021
Celebrating Michaelmas With A Fine Dinner
Image by MegLearner from Pixabay
29th September is the traditional feast of St Michael the Archangel – Michaelmas. Pious legend has it that when Satan was cast down from heaven by St Michael, he landed in a bramble thicket. Each year on Michaelmas day, he pisses on all the brambles he can find, leaving their fruit shriveled, sour and unpalatable. (Nothing to do with reduced daylight hours, honest!)
Wise foragers will have harvested plenty blackberries well before the end of September, of course. Some of them will get macerated in spirit - the berries, not the foragers! - then sweetened, bottled and put away for the rest of the year. For the less organised among us, the better liquor shops sell crème de mûres sauvages (wild blackberry liqueur). One of my favourites is made by the Cistercian monks who make Chartreuse liqueur, so it pleases me to remember the Michaelmas legend while I’m drinking it.
Why should I bother telling you this? Because bramble liqueur mixes well with Champagne to make the perfect introduction to a Michaelmas dinner.
Image by Michael Matera from Pixabay
Kir Royale, made with crème de cassis blackcurrant liqueur, is a well-known aperitif drink. Personally, I find the flavour of cassis a little overpowering, but I love it made with crème de mûres. More subtle than its curranty cousin, it makes a rather classy introduction to an autumn dinner. You’ll need to experiment a little to get the proportions right for your palate.
The traditional mix in France would be 1 part liqueur to 4 parts Champagne. You can have the liqueur already out in the bottom of the flutes before your guests arrive. (Try just over an inch deep in a standard flute to begin with.) Then you simply pop the cork on your fizz and top up.
Nothing like a little touch of theatre to get them interested! Incidentally, to reduce the risk of overflowing, you can half fill each glass to begin with and return to top up as the mousse dies down. There is no point in spending good money on a top-notch Champagne or small-scale English sparkling, by the way, only to mix it with a liqueur. Aldi, Lidl and Morrisons all sell Champagnes for around £12 that will make a more comfortable mix, or you could track down one of the regional French crémant wines or use Cava. I’m not one for mixing Prosecco with liqueurs in this way. The wine has lower acidity and finer bubbles than the French model and it seems to get swamped by the liqueur. Best save it for summer spritz or to drink on its own.
Image by Photo Mix from Pixabay
The tradition of a Michaelmas dinner is a peculiarly English one, rooted – believe it or not – in contract and property law. Michaelmas is a legal quarter day, the beginning of a new term in court. It was the day on which accounts were settled, reports on cases lodged with the courts, debts paid and employment contracts established. Quarter days are still used to calculate rent and service charges in the property industry, and the Beloved has been busy in the last couple of weeks ensuring all the accounts he works with are up to date. It became common for tenants who raised poultry to offer a goose in payment of the Michaelmas rent, before droving the flock to cities such as London and Nottingham to supply the Christmas market (the main source of income for the next quarter rent, due on 25th December). The Michaelmas goose came to represent a touch of luxury at the turn of the seasons and a foretaste of good things in store for Christmas.
Image by Matěj Vrtil from Pixabay
Although goose can be hard to come by in September (most farmers ready their birds almost exclusively for the Christmas market), I think putting on a special dinner at this time of year is a lovely idea, combining the best the autumn offers with a strong culinary connection to English tradition. The harvests are in, our family is gathered about us, and we have good reason to celebrate. If you can’t get a goose, Have a look at the fields nearest your home. Do your nearest farmers raise any other animals? Perhaps you can make a rib of beef or a loin of pork the centrepiece of your grand dinner; maybe a rack of lamb or veal, or one of the game animals I wrote about in my previous article.
For Catholics such as me, devotion to St Michael invites Christians to consider God’s protection and care for His people, represented in Western art by the Archangel’s triumph over the devil. For a celebration of friendship to take place at this time is particularly fitting, then, especially after the times we’re slowly coming out of. In the love of friends, we find the strength to overcome difficulties, a haven in our distress, comfort in grief and inspiration to triumph over our own worst instincts, providing the people we love with the same support they give to us. You don’t need to be a believer to celebrate that.
Writing as The Aperitif Guy, Paul Fogarty maintains a popular blog, which you can find at http://blog.theaperitifguy.co.uk
. He also works as a consultant and cocktail specialist to hospitality venues.