In the list of light festivals, it was the feast of Saint Martin (Martinus of Tours) on 11 November. But in the meantime we also skipped a party.
November 5 is a celebration in the United Kingdom because of the foiling of a Catholic coup d’état on that day in 1605. It is the anti-Catholic celebration par excellence. The bad guy, Guy (Guido) Fawkes was horribly executed and since then bonfires have been (bonfires) lit and the children walk from door to door with lights and a hanged doll representing the Guy. They beg for ‘a penny for the Guy’. It is in this way that the word guy – in America then – an indefinite person, a guy, has come to mean. on Bonfire Night one eats potatoes in the skin, baked in the bonfire (now in aluminum foil) with butter and melted cheese.
In the Westhoek the children go singing from door to door with a candle in a hollowed out fodder beet
It’s hard not to see a parallel with ‘our’ Saint Martin’s feast. Belgium has a number of Sint Maartens municipalities. The city of Ypres and the Westhoek, for example, and of course Aalst. In the Westhoek the children go from door to door singing with a candle in a hollowed-out fodder beet. Then you have to find a fodder beet. Problem. Sugar beets may still be lying here and there just outside the city, waiting for transport to the sugar factory, and some years I have indeed used a white sugar beet, but a real fodder beet is much larger and therefore easier to process. In addition, it has a red skin, which makes it glow glowing if you provide it with a burning candle in the evening.
There was a time when fodder beets were almost gone. They no longer fit in a modern livestock farm. Years ago I met a farmer on the coast who, however, planted a small plot of fodder beet every year, just for the children, to celebrate Saint Martin. I got a beet for free. Today I understand that the fodder beet is back. Cows seem to really like beets. And everyone is tired of seeing that corn silage!
Do you want to make your own Sint Maarten beet lantern? Then proceed as follows: cut off the head of the beetroot with a large knife. Do that on a table on a shelf. I once cut my hands! Take a spoon. You can make a sharpened spoon for such occasions. That is a spoon whose left side (if you are right-handed) is sharpened into a knife. Beets are not tomatoes, spooning them out requires a lot of work. Such a sharp thing is a great help. Spoon and scrape the beet, also a little off the head. Cut eyes and mouth in it, that may also be quite creepy, but it doesn’t have to be. Then poke a string through the head on both sides and also through the sides of the beet. Make thick knots at the ends of the cord, otherwise it will pull through the soft beet fabric. This is how you string the beet and its lid (the head) together. Inside you light a candle and then you can go door to door with the neighbors to sing ‘Saint Maarten’.
In culinary terms, I’ve always wondered what you can do with the extracted beet pulp. This white plant tissue tastes fairly sweet, sugar beet of course more than fodder beet. I tried to cook it. It works, but beets contain geosmin, a bacterial product that tastes and smells like mud! That’s a special one acquired tasteas the British say. I think I like it better for the neighbors animals. But maybe you could serve beetroot puree with roast goose (and sage)? That bird is also associated with Martinus. Tasty.
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November’s Festival of Lights – Guy Fawkes and Sint Maarten – Foodlog