Ascension Thursday is at hand

On Ascension Thursday, I remember Grandma(s).

My mother’s mother was a fantastic story teller, rather crazed monarchist and historian. She was born at the end of the 19th century in what was then Austria-Hungary.  History has re-written geography and now, she’d have to deal with claiming mere Slovakia as the land of her birth. I really don’t know how she’d feel about giving up her dreams of Empire.

Among the tales she would tell about her early life – seeing Emperor Franz Ferdinand glide by in his horse drawn carriage was always a favorite —  going to church with her family on Ascension Thursday was  a stand out. You see, the church had a hole in its roof — covered over on all days of the year but this one. They’d lift off the cap and at some point during the Mass, they would raise a statue of Jesus right up through the roof in token and example of his Ascension to the spheres. I’d have given anything to see it, but her description, imprinted on her child’s brain, was always wonderful to hear.

Good friend Mary Tierney sort of modeled this behavior in her three story home in Rutherford, raising a soft sculpture of Jesus up the stairs when the kids were little but since we live in a one-story cottage, we can’t literally follow these examples.

Instead, the fireplace mantle features a framed painting of the Ascension cut out of our church calendar a few years back. Surrounded with candles and flowers, it makes the point.

My Swedish great-grandmother is a new find.

Before a conversation with my aunt tipped me off to the fact that she existed, my only connection to Scandinavia was the pickled herring dad forced us to eat every New years Day. In catching up with the traditions this great-grandma would have enjoyed,  it came as a surpise to learn that Ascension Day is still widely celebrated in Sweden.

It was delightful to learn that until recently, it was the custom in Sweden for young people to go about visiting neighboring parishes to celebrate the day with song and sociability.

It seems that Swedes of all ages still make excursions into the country side on this day. The custom is to rise early — between 3 and 4 a.m. — and head out into the woods to hear the birds sing at sunrise. Once the sun is risen, the group may share a picnic breakfast. Singing and dancing are part of the festivities.

In Sweden, Ascension Day also marks the unofficial opening of fishing season. Legend had it that this was the first day the fish would bite after their long, deep winter “sleep”. 

This year, I’ll be be “excursioning” out myself for Ascension Thursday, attending Mass at the Uppper Room Spiritual Center in Neptune and sitting down with the sisters, et al for lunch. It was so very good of them to invite me. The food is always delish. I hope to carry back a recipe to share with all of you.

For today’s recipe, I’ll follow the Swedish example with another variation on a theme I love so well: Poached Salmon with Sour Cream

Poached Salmon with Sour Cream

Ingredients: a bunch of fresh dill from the supermarket; 6 salmon fillet portions; 1 cup of dry white wine or clam, fish or chicken broth; 1 tablespoon lemon juice; 1 tsp salt; 1 cup of sour cream; dill sprigs and lemon wedges for garnish

Directions: preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Line a shallow, 9 x 13 inch baking dish with fresh dill. Place the fillets side by side on top of the dill. Pour the wine (or broth) over the fish and sprinkle with lemon juice and salt. Cover tightly with foil. Bake the fish for 20 minutes, or until the fish flakes easily. Let it cool slightly and set on a platter. Strain the juices from the pan into a small sauce pan and boil them down until reduced to 1/2 cup and mix in the sour cream.

You can serve this chilled by covering and refrigerating the fish for at least 2 hours or hot by arranging the fish on a platter and serving them with warm sour cream sauce.

For more Ascension Day traditions, prayers and meditations, visit the Fisheaters site at   as usual, they have done a marvelous job!


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