Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Turnips for Potatoes

The noon meal is "Dinner" in the monastery.  It is the main meal, taken when bodies and minds are in need of sustenance to equip them for the rest of the day's duties.

This time the nuns sit to eat, which they do in silence.  One of the Sisters reads aloud to all, from a holy book or article.  Minds and bodies are thus nourished and refreshed. 

(I assume the men reading this will forgive my continued use of the words "sisters" and "nuns".... for being a woman, it is with such that I identify.  However, the word "monk" can apply just as well).  

Again I hope the publishers of what I'm about to share might forgive my use of a rather substantial quote - for I am recommending this book.  I now prepare to "stand before you" and read to you as you "dine."  Before I do so, I need to mention that the Poor Clares referred to in this reading do not eat meat.

I find the following selection particularly appropriate for a Refectory Reading, for this scene opens with exactly that:

"Sometimes the reading is momentarily interrupted by an important announcement from Mother Abbess to the effect that 'the squash is for potatoes.  The salad is the third portion.'  After years of listening to these quaint flashes, I still relish them with secret mirth, and not least because of the judge-like gravity of countenance and tone with which Mother Abbess unfailingly makes them.  A Poor Clare meal consists always of soup, vegetable, potato, fruit and the famous 'third portion.'  That last is an ancient monastic term for the main dish of the meal..

"The nuns are very set in their monastic ways.  If we have no potatoes, then some understudy must be summoned from the culinary wings to play their role.  Thus, the pronouncement: 'Dear Sisters, the turnips are for potatoes.'   Now, the turnips will most likely be accompanied by cabbage, and the mystery as to which of these two plebs is to rise to potato status is known only to cooks and abbesses... the implication is that a Poor Clare's digestion would be seriously impaired if she did not know whether cabbage is this day passing itself off as potatoes or preserving the integrity of its name... 

"'Dear Sisters, the carrots are for potatoes,' Mother Abbess would solemnly announce on Friday.  On Saturday we heard:  'Dear Sisters, the carrot salad is the vegetable.'  When all of us sat on the edge of our chairs on Monday, wondering what variations could possibly remain, Mother Abbess would declare sweetly and gravely:  'Dear Sisters, the carrots and turnips are mixed vegetables and potatoes.'  Poor Clare abbesses are not easily worsted."  

(Mother Mary Francis PCC, A Right To Be Merry, Franciscan Herald Press, 1956  and 1973, pp.  25-126. This book is now published by Ignatius Press)

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