Well, to say that Lichtmess is solely Alpine is not quite correct, since it is really a wildly used term in the German speaking countries. But what I would like to talk about today is more the Alpine version of that festival.
Now, it is somewhat difficult to translate Lichtmess into English, because “mess” could refer to two different meanings. One, which I’d like to call the superficial one, is to directly associate Lichtmess with Candlemas, given that “Licht” means light (like from a candle) and mas and mess sound so alike. Plus, Candlemas is celebrated on the same day.
However, mas is really a term for a Christian celebration in church, and that word in German is “Messe.” Sure, also very close, and in dialect we often don’t speak the “e” at the end of Messe. But these are really old words, and there is a possibility that “mess” in Lichtmess is related to the German word “messen,” i.e. to measure. At least, that’s what Celtic language scholar Mag. Inge Resch-Rauter says. Because her research indicates that, when the work year of the Alpine farmers starts on this very February 2nd, they stuck some poles in the ground back then, in the really olden days, to measure the light. The shadows of the poles, more precisely, and it was that which told the farmers when to do what in their seasonal routines.
These poles remained in the ground until mid October, when the farming year ended.
Measuring the Light. (It’s an hour longer compared to the daylight on the Winter Solstice.)
Now that we have squared away the meaning of the word, let’s talk food. February is yet another harsh month in the Alps. Sure, the Sun’s warmth can be felt already, but we are talking about three or more meters (9 – 12 feet) of snow in the remote valleys, and some higher up farms have been cut off the rest of the world since November or December. The shelves in the pantry are getting emptier by the day, and people have to simplify, eat what’s left. Root veggies, cured ham and bacon, dried fruit. Milk has been produced by the cows in the stables all winter, albeit a little less, but enough to drink it and make butter and cheese.
So what to eat? One staple food item is Muas, a very simple meal made of butter and milk, and flour, stored since last fall. No eggs! This is noteworthy, because so many Alpine staple meals have eggs in them, but not this one, for the hens are not too productive around that time. That’ll have to wait until the Spring Equinox/Easter.
So, all you do is combine 750 ml (3 cups of) milk and 200g (7 oz) of butter in a pan and heat up until the butter is completely molten. Then put 500g (18 oz) of flour into a big bowl, make an indent in the center, and pure the milk into it. Stir with a spoon, by hand, until you have a fluffy mixture. Don’t over do!
Heat up 100g (3.5 oz) of butter in a frying pan and put the dough into it. Fry for 30 minutes, stirring regularly, making sure the dough becomes light brown, but not burned. The consistency of the Muas should be rather crumbly.
Obviously, this is quite the hearty meal, so, for health reason, I would advise an increased level of activity before or after having Muas. Skiing and other kinds of snow sports would be on the top of my list…
When serving, garnish with a few butter flakes. Some (especially the kids) may like Muas sweet, so I put raisins and/or dried prunes into the mix, and some powder sugar on top.