Month: May 2021

Pentecost Cakes

photograph | Piers Northam

Here’s some we made earlier!

Goosnargh Cakes – a Lancashire delicacy.

Originating from the Lancashire village of the same name, Goosnargh cakes are actually biscuits; a form of shortbread or ‘shortcake’ traditionally sold at Easter and Whitsun. Their characteristic flavour comes from caraway seeds, which were popular in the 16th and 17th centuries, and are also used in seed cake

Goosnargh ( pronounced something like GOOZ-ner) is a village just outside Preston, about 4 miles from the villages  where I ministered for ten years, in Whitechapel and Admarsh-in-Bleasdale.

The church at Bleasdale had a unique patronage – St. Eadmer who is not a saint known anywhere else. The folk there were more famous for Lancashire HotPot  than Goosnargh Cake!

The Goosnargh cake is no longer produced commercially but during my time of ministry in North Lancashire, the cakes were available to be bought at  the Goosnargh village post office at Easter and Pentecost. A ‘private’ supply was made for me by my ‘Aunty Mary’, who was a very dear friend who looked after me in Whitechapel. She had a ‘secret’ recipe which is proving to be elusive to find but will one day see the light of day again.

Whitechapel and the surrounding area were riddled with priests’ hiding places, mainly because in the time of the Jacobites the local priests were outlawed. They hid in secret places in farmhouses and other buildings. I have certainly been in a couple. The Roman Church was suppressed and worship forbidden. I think, however, that one of the farms in the area served as a church, as it has a rather large, church-shaped barn door.

My fanciful mind can easily turn a lightly whispered rumour into a plausible fact! I have this theory that the Goosnargh Cakes or Pentecost buns were part of a way to feed the priests and for hidden congregations to celebrate the great feast of Pentecost or Whitsunday. I cannot be proved absolutely wrong so I invite you to join me in marking this great feast day of the Christian year by partaking of some Goosnargh cakes.
Don’t worry if you think it’s too late to make them for this Pentecost.

Pentecost is kept traditionally  as an ‘Octave’ – Eight day feast,  so you have plenty of time to make some yourself. Good Luck! And don’t forget to share with those who would be perked up by your gift, and more especially, by you the giver. That would certainly have made my Aunty Mary glad.

Here’s a recipe..

It isn’t quite that of ‘Aunty Mary’ but we’ll be back next year, hopefully with the real thing. It’s not a bad substitute. Enjoy!

Goosnargh Cakes – makes 20

225g unsalted butter

125g caster sugar

350g plain flour

½ tsp ground coriander

1½ tsp caraway seeds

1. Preheat oven to 180C/350F/Gas 4. Grease two baking sheets.

2. Cream together butter and sugar until light and fluffy.

3. Sift flour over the creamed mix, add the coriander and caraway seeds, mix with wooden spoon until mixture resembles breadcrumbs.

4. Using your hands, work mixture together to form smooth paste. Take out of bowl and onto floured surface and knead gently so that dough is smooth and ready to roll out.

5. Roll out to about 1/4″ thickness, and using a circular cutter (mine was a 2″ one), cut out circular discs of dough.

6. Place the discs onto the baking sheets, and sprinkle with caster sugar.

7. Put the baking sheets into your fridge (having cleared all your chilled wine off one shelf to make room). Leave for 30 minutes/1 hour until well chilled.

8. Pop into oven and bake for 15-20 minutes – they should remain quite pale. Keep an eye on them as the minute you leave the room they overcook.

9. Remove from oven and sprinkle with more caster sugar. Leave to cool slightly, then transfer to a wire rack.

[Mr. G.]

If I take the wings of the morning…

My friend Joyce has sent me another bird tweet with a quotation from one of my very favourite Psalms – Psalm 139, often known as ‘The Hound of Heaven’

Joyce writes this:

Dear Friends,
This White Stork was a surprise visitor on Hall Marsh scrape for just a very short while.
I suspect it’s satnav then re-calibrated and it flew back to mainland Europe.
Whatever the case, our Creator God watches over it and us, wherever we are.
With my love and prayers, God bless Joyce

Psalm 139 is one in which God’s care for us is celebrated but also which has an acknowledgement that there is no getting away from God who knows us through and through.
We can’t hide from Him, no matter where we try to go.
Why should we want to?

Well, we sometimes find it difficult to cope with someone who knows us, seemingly, better than we know ourselves. Sometimes God’s attention is unwanted.

In the film Amazing Grace (2006) about the great campaigner against Slavery William Wilberforce , there is a scene where Wilberforce (played by Ioan Gruffudd) leaves the house, his mind and heart in turmoil.
He knows what he is being called to do but it seems so difficult to do it. As he lay on the grass it begins to rain. His butler rushes to him with an umbrella and is perplexed at the state Wilberforce is in.
“Have you found God, sir?” he asks.
“Found God!!”, he replies. “No, He’s found me” and then he adds, “Do you know how inconvenient that can be!.

Well, yes. I think more than a few might agree with that!

Psalm 139 certainly played a big part in my own discovery of what God wanted from me.
But in that process He also showed me how dedicated and committed He is to me. To us.
He beckons us to Him because He so deeply loves us and that is just wonderful, as I’m sure the White Stork discovered.

We hope you do too.

[Joyce Smith & Mr G]

The Importance of Story…

Illustration by Michael Foreman for the book ‘Poppy Field’ by Michael Morpurgo, a story set in Flanders which tells the story of Martens family and the meaning of the poppy. It is a story which is both personal and national. If you purchase, 50% of profits go to the Royal British Legion.

I grew up in the First World War.

As we celebrate the setting up of the Royal British Legion 100 years ago today, that may seem a very strange statement to make!

I was actually born at the end of the 2nd World War and so my childhood was tinged with memories of what it was like to live in a time of austerity – reminders of which have emerged in this time of the Covid Pandemic and the suffering that we see around the world.   There were, in the aftermath of war, similar inequalities to those we see today.  No one wins at War: we are all defeated because war itself is the defeat of the human ability to live in peace and justice, freedom and love. War is a failure to seek peace and pursue it; it is the despairing response to negotiation which seeks to resolve disputes by other means and actions.

The British Broadcasting Corporation’s motto is: Nation shall speak peace unto Nation, and it’s a motto which strikes a deep chord within me, expressing, as it does, a hope which is also an aspiration. It is inspired by words from the Books of the Prophets Micah and Isaiah and it underlines the desire of God that His people should live in peace.  This is a repeated theme in Holy Scripture, demonstrated totally in God acting through His Son, Jesus.

Whilst there is a longing for Peace amongst His children which should be expressed through love and justice, equality and kindness, we know only too well that we constantly fail to achieve that harmony which, combined with integrity, enriches our human life on earth. This harmony is never complete unless we embrace a stewardship of all creation. We do not exist on this planet for our own desires and wants to be fulfilled: we have an earth to save too – with God’s help.

As I write this, there are all sorts of battles going on between humans and humans (Israel / Palestine to name but one) and between humans and our borrowed environment with our destruction of the natural world of plants, animals, birds and creatures of the sea. (It is perhaps salutary that the latter live in the biggest area of the planet and so ought to be charging us rent!)

The world is not a great place to be at present, at least not in human terms so it is hardly surprising that you find me harking back to the First World War.  Well, not to the war as such, which was such a chillingly horrific conflict, but I need to know about it because we continue to be afflicted by it.

So, I go to my grandfather’s bedside: he is dying but, despite being wounded in the First World War (one of the few survivors of the Dardanelles/Gallipoli battle) he has lived a fairly long life.  And by his bedside, he tells me something of the horrors and heroics of War. He tells me too why he spent the rest of his life in Hospital service because of his war experience. Maybe it was the Irish in him but he was a good raconteur and as a boy just about to enter my teens, it was adventure and excitement as well as pain and horror. As the stories, including judgemental comments about certain politicians, filled my mind, I felt a nearness to that violent and significant crisis in the human story.  For what happened in those 4 years was to shape and influence the entire 20th century.

Not least, because the botched peace at the end of World War I led to World War II.  This was another conflict in which I was personally involved.  I was, for example, part of the victory celebration but also, once again, I was shaped by the stories of parents, relatives, parents of friends and the extended family that formed our neighbourhood.  Later, in the early 1960s Britain was at war in Aden, my cousin was involved as a member of the RAF. On at least two occasions he was almost killed.  All this was part of my ‘story’ which shaped my life and who I am.

This is true of millions and like so many I have lived, too, through other conflicts such as Bosnia and Afghanistan. I have personally known some that these conflicts affected and go on affecting.

We are all shaped by the stories of others.  As a Christian, of course, I have been, and go on being, shaped by the story of God in Jesus Christ and the words and deeds, the silences and the prayers of billions.  With my fellow Christians today, I go on adding to that story.

And today we are celebrating the telling of the human story as it is preserved and added to by the Royal British Legion.  On this day in 1921 the Legion was formed to take care of those who suffer the directness of war in battle and conflict; those whose lives have been broken by wounding or loss of loved ones; those who have fought a different battle in the aftermath of war – a battle which is physical, mental, social, practical and spiritual.

The Royal British Legion has been a Godsend in helping people to cope and I do mean Godsend because, whether the Legion sees it that way or not, it is godly work that they do.

All that is very important and we truly celebrate it.  But alongside that is the importance of ‘Story’.  At the heart of my faith is the story of God’s love. It is a painful love because as TS Eliot puts it, It costs ‘not less than everything’ to God’. Our Story is therefore always bound up in God’s story. It is one which needs to be re-told and lived out carefully but joyfully, if my Granddad’s story and your relatives’ stories are to help us shape the peace and justice of our world.  A shaping which, as the work of the Royal British Legion shows us, should be rooted in compassion, kindness and service, engfolded by the tender and infinite Love of God.

[Mr. G.]

A prayer for the Royal British Legion

As we reflect on past sacrifices in the cause of freedom,
we pray for the work of the Royal British Legion.

We give thanks for the Legion’s work in caring
for the needs of those who have served in the armed forces;
for their families and those whose lives have met with adversity
because of war and conflict.

We give thanks that those who serve the causes of the Legion,
and put that service of others before self.

We pray that in helping us to remember past and present sacrifices,
hope and inspiration may be given to present and future generations
to work for a better, more peaceful and more just future under God.

We pray this in the name of the Prince of Peace,
Jesus Christ our Lord.

[prayer Mr G edited by PGCN]

Dawn Chorus

My friend, Joyce Smith, has sent a Tweet about Nature’s heralding of Spring. Last Sunday was International Dawn Chorus Day (there’s always something for everyone!) and this Robin obliged by turning up in Joyce’s garden and giving a deeply spirited performance.

It got me thinking and so here’s a poem –

At the Break of Day

The Orchestra of Light tunes up;
Trying out riffs and practising scales
Cock clears his throat, ‘Ahem …  a-doodle-doo!’
Songthrush bustles importantly
into the auditorium –‘They rely on me to begin, you know.’
‘Not so’, cuts in Robin, with Blackbird on the wing,
‘We are well-known early risers
our song is eagerly awaited!’
Little Wren, never one to push,
slips onto the stage, 
apologizing profusely for her small stature.
‘Small, but beautifully formed’ says Mr Owl
on his way to bed,
‘sing me to sleep little one.’
The chiffchaff flies into the melée
of slowly gathering sound
as Chaffinch and Sparrow take a bow.
Mr Cock raises his beak,
‘Ladies and gentlemen, shall we begin?
Please open your music
at the ‘Dawn Chorus’,
written, I believe, by God.’

Mr. G.

12th May 2021