Festivals on WIP Wednesday







Like its predecessor in the Golden Redepenning Series, part of  A Raging Madness takes place against a backdrop of every day village life. In early 19th Century England, the changes of the season and the festivals of the church gave the year a rhythm and a pattern, celebrated with feasts and fasts, particular traditions and practices, and foods specific to the time of year and often the place.

This week’s excerpt is about Easter in the Lincolnshire Wolds, where pride of place is given to Tansy Pudding. Do you have special celebrations in your books? Weddings? Birthdays? Feasts? Or perhaps a superstition or special practice? Share it with us in the comments.

Amy agreed that she was looking forward to the afternoon’s egg-rolling. “Grandmama says I shall soon be too old for such things, but I plan to enjoy it while I may.” She screwed up her nose at her Grandmother Cunningham’s opinion.

“Why, Miss Cunningham, then you shall be old enough for other traditions. Do you know, in Lincolnshire they say if you wait in the church porch on St Mark’s Eve, at midnight you will be passed by those who will be married during the year? I daresay half the maidens of the parish shall be there next Sunday evening, all trying to be silent.”

“In Gloucestershire, we try that kind of fortune-telling on All Hallow’s Eve,” Susan told him. “I can remember bobbing for apples, and then putting the apple I caught under my pillow so that I would dream of my future husband.”

“And did you, Mama?” Amy asked.

Susan demurred and turned the subject to putting bride cake under the pillow for the sake of the dream. Ella told the story she had heard from her mother about the Dumb Cake made on St Mark’s Eve in February. Two friends, working in silence, would mix and bake the cake, then break it in half, eat it, and walk backwards up the stairs to bed. If they had managed the whole process in silence, they would see a vision of their future husband below them on the stairs.

Mr Morris had yet another story, and even Mr Smithers joined in with a piece of folklore from Cheshire.

The dinner proceeded so merrily that the triumphal entry of the Tansy Pudding caught Ella by surprise. It looked magnificent in its deep pie dish, with its rich layer of golden orange preserve, and Mrs Broadley stood by beaming as Alex served Amy, who sat between him and Ella, and passed the plate on for Mr Morris to serve Susan.

As the men then served themselves, a maid put a much smaller dish—a little blue bowl—in front of Ella. She picked up a mouthful on her spoon and had it almost to her lips when Mrs Broadley gave a wordless shout and darted forward to dash it from Ella’s hands.

Conversation, movement, everything stopped. Mrs Broadley broke the silence. “I am so sorry, my lady. I don’t know how it happened, but you were meant to get the red bowl. Betty, you fool. I told you the bowl on the dresser. I used the blue dishes for the leftover mix from the main pudding, my lady. Oh I am that upset. You silly girl, Betty.”

The maid protested that she’d bought the only dish on the dresser, everything else for the Viscount’s table being lined up on the servery, and Ella assured Mrs Broadley that no harm had been done, thanks to the housekeeper’s quick action.

It soured the end of the dinner, though Alex sent Mrs Broadley off to the kitchen to investigate. Ella and Alex both tried to return the conversation to folklore, passing the incident off as a foolish mixup, but when griping pains hit first Amy, then Mr Morris, then all of those who had eaten the pudding, the mistake took on a much more sinister cast.


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