Monday, June 23, 2008

St. John's Eve Dinner a la Brazil

In celebration of Midsummer's Eve and the eve of the Birth of St. John the Baptist, I thought I would post a Brazilian menu I unveiled in the book Festival Menus 'Round the World (1957) by Sula Benet. You may remember this book from a previous post I did back in January for Little Christmas.

I was intrigued by the thought of celebrating the summer solstice with Brazilian recipes because the seasons in Brazil are the reverse of those in the United States. If I read my web visits correctly, it's winter in Brazil from June 21 until September 21. I suppose that explains the Cauliflower Soup recipe (Sopa De Couve-Flor) offered in the menu. Although, I am a fan of cauliflower soup, today is not a day I would even dream about preparing it unless, of course, it was chilled and spiced with curry. I'm in New York today and if I do say so quite bluntly, it is HUMID! Nope, no soup today. St. John's Day is an especially important celebration day in Brazil. It is believed to have been brought to the New World by Portuguese settlers. From wikipedia:

The Portuguese Midsummer Day (St John's Day) brought to Brazil during colonial times has become a very important popular event that is celebrated during a period that starts one week before St John's Day and ends one week after. As this nationwide festival, called "Festa Junina" (Saint John Festival), happens during the European midsummer, it takes place in the Brazilian midwinter and is most associated with Northeastern Brazil, but today celebrated in the whole country...As Saint John festivities also coincide with the corn harvest, dishes served during this period are commonly made with corn, such as canjica and pamonha; dishes also include peanuts, potatoes sausages and also sweet rice. The celebrations are very colorful and festive and include amazing pyrotechnics. Bonfires and fire in general are thus one of the most important features of these festivities, a feature that is among the remnants of midsummer pagan rituals in the Iberian Peninsula.

From Festival Menus 'Round the World

...the Fogueira de são João which is set off in villages and throughout the countryside. Families and friends gather around the fires to eat sweets, roasted sweet potatoes, manioc cake, and other traditional Brazilian delicacies. Firecrackers are exploded, young folks jump across the fire, and children send into the air multi-shaped paper balloons, heated from within by candle or an oil wig...Since Saint John is also the protectors of lovers, young girls in the country will try to ascertain their marital prospects by consulting all kinds of oracles. Rolled up scraps of paper, each one bearing the name of a girl, are placed in a bowl of water. The first one which unfolds indicates the girl who will get a husband first. Fortunes are also told by incisions made in banana trees.
TWAS in that mellow season of the year.
When the hot Sun singes the yellow leaves
Till they be gold, — and with a broader sphere
The Moon looks down on Ceres and her sheaves;
When more abundantly the spider weaves,
And the cold wind breathes from a chillier clime;
That forth I fared, on one of those still eves,
Touch'd with the dewy sadness of the time,
To think how the bright months had spent their prime.
Thomas Hood

On the eve of St. John's birth, many countries have celebrated with bonfires on Bonfire Night. This is especially true in Ireland,, Estonia, Latvia, Finland, and Lithuania. In Florence, Italy, the fireworks are ignited on the day of Saint John's birth, June 24th. In the Catholic religion, it is unusual to celebrate a saint's feast day on the day of their birth. Don't quote me on this but I think St. John's Day may be the only exception. A traditional drink in Florence is Nocino or Italian Walnut Liqueur. This blog has a bit of information about the festivities in Florence and also a Nocino recipe. In Finland, picnics are a popular way to celebrate Midsummer's Day. Finnish Pancakes or Pannukakku are the proper traditional supper for the eve of the Birth of St. John the Baptist. The batter is sometimes brought to the bonfire and cooked over the glowing flames. Of course, they can also be prepared at home like crepes. Swedish strawberries are "completely mandatory for Midsummer." Midsummer is possibly the most sacred holiday in Sweden as Anne so eloquently tells us.

Celebration of this holiday traditionally began the night before, since in ancient times days were reckoned from evening to evening, rather than from midnight to midnight as we do now (hence the prominence of "eve's", as in Christmas Eve, New Year's Eve, Halloween, etc). St. John's Eve, June 23, was sometimes known as Bonfire Night in Ireland. Up to the mid-20th century, Irish Catholics lit large communal bonfires at sunset on this day, or small family fires outside their houses. source
St John's wort doth charm all Witches away
If gathered at midnight on the Saint's holy day 
Any Devils and Witches have no power to harm 
Those that gather the plant for a charm 
Rub the lintels with that red juicy flower
No thunder nor tempest will then have the power
 To hurt or hinder your house; and bind 
Round your neck a charm of similar kind source

There are many folk tales and lore surrounding the Eve of Saint John's Day. Legend has it asparagus disappear in the bonfires of St. John the Baptist's Day. In Britain and Europe, St. John's Eve was the time to gather mystical herbs believed to have magical powers. St. John's Wort, fennel, vervain, trefoil and rue were a few of the herbs gathered. St. John's Wort, which is usually in full bloom on St. John's Day, and Fennel were hung over doorways to protect homes from evil spirits. At the School of Seasons, you can find a Victorian divination which is supposed to be performed on the eve of St. John's Day. Such spiritual practices are not unusual for a season so rich in folklore. Midsummer's day is probably the most celebrated of Pagan festivals. The traditions and symbols of this bountiful celebration includes all the plants animals and insects of summer. Midsummer's full moon is known as the "Honey Moon." Prepared days in advance, mead is the divine solar drink of the festivities.

St. Johnswort: The flowers, infused in oil, ease pain and swellings, and help close wounds. At one time they were soaked in wine or brandy and drunk for melancholy and madness, or applied externally for bruises and contusions...If you pick the plant on the night of St. John and hang it on the bedroom wall, you will dream of your future husband. Hang the plant in your windows on St. John's birthday to keep away ghosts, devils, and familiars for a year. Herbs & Things by Jeanne Rose (1976) p.104

Since St. John was supposed to subsist on honey and locusts, they too are associated with Saint John's Day. Now, don't get too excited, I'm not talking about those winged insects that fill the air with that deafening mate screech. Boy, was it bad my last trip up to PA a few weeks ago. I forgot how loud that noise can be. Anyway, in this case, I'm talking about carob bean. Carob bean grows in long, dark brown pods. It is also known as St. John's Bread. Carob is successfully used as a substitute for chocolate. I know this to be true. When my kids were small, I made many, many "chocolate chip cookies" using carob chips. Locust pods have long been eaten as food so, it is no surprise to believe that St. John the Baptist is said to have eaten them. There's more, carob doesn't contain cholesterol, caffeine, theobromine, or oxalic acid, like chocolate. Here's a recipe for Carob Cake And Frosting which also uses honey. Now isn't that a befitting recipe for St. John's Day?

If we shadows have offended,
Think but this, and all is mended.
That you have but slumb'red here
While these visions did appear.
And this weak and idle theme,
No more yielding but a dream (V, i, ll. 412-417)

I was delighted to discover Maria's Brazilian recipes website. I had planned on scanning all the recipes on the menu for you to use in case you wanted to celebrate Midsummer's festival Brazilian style. I found the recipe for the Empadinhas (Brazilian Shrimp Pies) and Mother-in-law's Eyes there. I was also "lucky" enough to find this recipe for Okra Salad which is almost identical to the one on the menu. The marinated roast beef is similar to sauerbraten. If you would like me to add it, just leave a comment. I'm more interested in the Apricot Floating Pudding (Pudim De Claras Com Damascos) I can just imagine Shakespeare's fairies dancing their moonlight dances upon Apricot Floating Pudding.

The addition of apricots to the "pudding clear" will let your guests "taste" peach colored clouds. You can imagine my glee when I approached Ana's blog and found this Eggwhite Pudding. After a quick search on google, I was ecstatic not to find the recipe enclosed in this book. I really enjoy sharing recipes that aren't readily available online so, here goes.

Pudim De Clara's Com Damascos
Apricot Floating Pudding
1 cup dried apricots
4 egg whites
5 tsp. sugar
Sugar Syrup
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup boiling water
Wash apricots and cut into small pieces. Cook until tender. Cool. Beat whites of eggs until very stiff. Add 5 teaspoons of sugar and beat some more. Mix with apricots.
Meanwhile, melt 1/2 cup sugar in a heavy skillet over a low flame until light brown. Remove from heat and slowly add boiling water. Place skillet back on low flame and simmer 10 minutes more. Spread mixture over bottom and sides of an angel food mold. Cool. After the mold has cooled, pour the apricot mixture into it. Bake for 25-30 minutes in 300 degree oven in a pan of water until done. Cool. Remove from mold and cover with sauce below.
4 egg yolks
2 tbs. sugar
1-1/2 cups milk
1 tsp. vanilla
Beat egg yolks and sugar. Blend in milk and vanilla. Cook over hot water in double broiler several minutes. Stir frequently.


  • 1. St. John’s Eve – A Study in Folklore 
  • 2. Chiresaye (Cherry Pudding Decorated with Flowers)
  • 3. Carob Definition & Recipes


  1. I like the Brazillian take on Midsummer. Funny I never realized this period until recently with the whole Swedish thing. Its fascinating and a tradition I will incorporate over the future.

  2. Hi Courtney,

    Thanks for visiting. Oh yes, you must. It appears Sweden is the place to be for the Midsummer celebrations.

    Exploring Brazilian food was indeed fun.

  3. Haha - cool! Soon time for Midsummer's Eve again!


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none came too early,
none returned too late.

Thanks for dropping in...Louise