Sweden is reasonably big on saint’s days, although the country is really secular and almost no one goes to church. Every schedule and calendar has the names printed on each day so you can keep up and congratulate your friends when it is their name day. November 25th is St. Catherine’s Day (Katarina på svenska, Katja is also listed on the Swedish calendar). There are a few St. Catherines, but one of the more famous is St. Catherine of Alexandria, who tried to stick up for persecuted Christians in ancient Rome, then tortured (on a Catherine wheel) and martyred. As with most Catholic saints, pretty grisly origins.
Joan of Arc had visions of St Catherine, and more recently St Catherine became a saint for maidens. In French Canada young women used to spend St. Catherine’s day making molasses taffy for boys; if you are still unmarried by the November 25th after you turn 25, then you will be a ‘Catherinette’, destined to be a life-long spinster. Rather than being a sign of respect and wisdom and coming of age, I think this was more like the card game ‘old maid’, where the last one unpaired loses. St. Catherine’s day is still big in Quebec, and I have spent a few of them pulling molasses toffee.
Last year I wanted to bring some of the French Canadian St Catherine’s traditions to work. It is a fun group activity, since the toffee needs to be pulled when it is warm to get the right texture. That is how it gets its French name, ‘tire St. Catherine’. I haven’t made St Catherine’s molasses toffee for many years, but last November when I started looking for Molasses here, no dice! All the the sugar in Sweden comes from beets and they don’t seem to get molasses out of them. Alas, no tire that year. This year, I brought molasses from Canada in the hopes that it will still work with the local sugar.
As it turns out, we had planeringsdagar (departmental planning days) Wednesday and Thursday, and there wasn’t a good time for toffee pulling. I also broke into the molasses a bit ahead of time to make gingersnaps. I might make some late toffee on the weekend for my advent party, or I might just save it for next year – the planets will align for tire sooner or later.