Our dessert is ready to pack, and I notice that little fingers already have picked off several of the glazed strawberries that decorated the top. This cake is something special, a glorified strawberry shortcake, a descendant of the French apricot rum cake. It is often used as the festive cake of France, and the Holy Spirit undoubtedly inspired the baker who first conceived it. Its frosting is as red as the tongues of fire that descended on the apostles, as red as the vestments at Mass on Pentecost. With it, your picnic will be a great success. The best part is that you can make it the Saturday before.
Our family piles out to the strawberry patch to gather the berries for the Strawberry Cake. Daddy insists that each picker carries two baskets, one a little chip basket and the other a very large “bread basket” located somewhere between neck and knees. For every berry in the chip basket, at least two or three land in this great “internal cavity where the chief part of digestion is carried on.” The miracle of it all is that the patch even produces enough to freeze or store for winter. The Lord must manage a multiplication of berries when boys and girls eat so many.
As the Church continues the Pentecostal theme through the week, we are again reminded of the close connection between spiritual and material in this human world of ours. While the Holy Ghost lavishes His seven-fold gifts of wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety and fear of the Lord upon Christ’s orphans—we, the newly adopted “little ones,”—are taught “to speak and understand” by our mother the Church. We who have received great spiritual riches turn to our farms and gardens and give our little gifts of the new season to God.
The Ember Days, days on which man offers his first fruits to his heavenly Father, always fall during the octave of Pentecost. This overflowing of the spirit into our puny endeavors is expressed so well in the prayer, “Sanctify we beseech Thee, O Lord, the gifts which we offer to Thee, and may the outpouring of the Holy Spirit cleanse our hearts, O Lord, and by the inward sprinkling of His heavenly dew, may they be made fruitful.” So even the cultivating of food in our gardens is sanctified in the full vision of Christian life.
If you notice the tone of the Mass prayers during the octave of Pentecost, you’ll find they are entirely different from the joyous, jubilant celebrations following Easter or Christmas or Epiphany. Pentecost is, as it were, a closing. The joy of Easter is over. The fifty-day feast is finished. Christ’s work on Earth is completed; now our work begins. As Fr. Andreas Jungmann remarked, “Pentecost gives us a serious apostolate and we are just beginning to realize it. The Masses of the Octave of Pentecost call us back to the business of penance and sickness and evil and judgment.”
Pentecost infused in us new powers, it is true, and the time after Pentecost is our first chance to use them. And what is this mission, this apostolate? Christ made it very clear when He said, “You shall be witness unto Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the very ends of the earth.” St. Peter recognized his task when he preached on Pentecost that “the whole nation of Israel must understand that God has declared this Jesus, whom you have crucified, both Lord and Christ.” That apostolate is not yet achieved after all these years. Each Christian is given it anew upon each succeeding Pentecost.
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1 package dry yeast
2 1⁄4 cups sifted all-purpose flour
1 tsp grated lemon peel
1⁄2 cup unsalted butter
1⁄2 cup lukewarm milk
3 large eggs
3 Tbsp sugar
1⁄2 cup sugar
3⁄4 cup water
3 Tbsp or more rum
1 cup strawberries, mashed
1⁄2 cup sugar
whole strawberries for garnish
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease and flour a tube pan.
Mix the yeast and warm milk with ¼ cup flour in a bowl. Cover and let rise until light. Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, and add lemon peel. Beat in the eggs one at a time. Stir in the yeast mixture and the remaining flour. Beat for 15 minutes. Pour the dough into the tube pan. Cover, and set aside to rise until double in bulk.
Bake for 45 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Meanwhile, make the rum sauce by boiling the sugar and the water for about 10 minutes, or until syrupy. Remove from the heat and add the rum. To make the strawberry glaze, cook the strawberries with the sugar until syrupy. Set aside to cool.
Remove the cake from the oven, invert the pan, and let the cake slide out. Stab the bottom of the cake with a long-tined fork. Pour the rum sauce into a large flat container and place the cake in the dish. Allow the cake to absorb the sweet rum flavor for about 1 hour. Set the cake on a serving plate, and spread the top the strawberry glaze. Use whole berries to decorate the cake before serving.