Reading through tales of gods and heroes from various mythological traditions one is struck by their similarities. Hercules, Gilgamesh, Theseus, Romulus, Thor, even Samson all possess “powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men,” yet, despite their strengths, their character flaws enmesh them in tragedy.
Around 190 A.D., St. Irenaeus of Lyons theorized that the pagan gods were really demons intent on keeping people from devotion to, and adoration of, the one true God.
Jesus engages in heroics, of sorts, with an ancient adversary. St. Luke’s Gospel for the the First Sunday of Lent this year portrays Satan tempting Christ after his 40-day fast, first with food, next with power, last with fame. Jesus, like a skillful fencer, adroitly deflects each of Satan’s attacks.
Devil: Hungry? Turn these stones into bread.
Jesus: Man does not live by bread alone.
Devil: All these [kingdoms of the world] will I give you, if you fall down and worship me.
Jesus: You shall worship the Lord, your God; him only shall you serve.
Devil (at the pinnacle of the temple): If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written, ‘He will command His angels concerning you, to guard you,’ and, ‘With their hands they will support you, lest you dash your foot against a stone.’
Jesus: You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test.
Match to Jesus; the devil was unable to turn him away from his mission of redemption. This, however, is not the end.
“When the devil had finished every temptation, he departed from him for a time.” That ominous conclusion — “for a time” — warns readers of St. Luke’s Gospel that the devil is not done with Jesus. Satan will strike at him through his apostles: Simon Peter will stumble; Judas will fall; the rest will flee for their lives and not gain courage until Pentecost.
The message to Christians is to be as fencers preparing for a duel: always be “on guard.”
For this week’s Lenten recipe I offer the sweet and savory Devils on Horseback in light of this Sunday’s Gospel. The expression itself may be an allusion to the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, or may originate from a remark made by St. Augustine: “Man is like a horse, with either God or the devil as rider.” The devil on horseback is a subject oft found illuminated in medieval religious manuscripts.
This recipe is adapted from “The Sherlock Holmes Cookbook” (Drake 1976; Bramhall House 1976), on which I collaborated with my late writing partner John Farrell. My friend provided this simple recipe, of which he was particularly fond. John died last May so when you enjoy these please say a prayer for the repose of his soul.
Devils on Horseback
24 chicken livers
24 prunes or dates, pitted
24 half-rashers of bacon
6 tablespoons of butter
Cayenne (to taste)
Salt and pepper (optional; to taste)
Gently sauté the livers in butter for three to four minutes — don’t let them get rubbery. Salt and pepper if you wish; lightly dust with cayenne. After pitting the prunes, stuff them with the livers, wrap them with the bacon, and skewer each with a toothpick. On a medium flame fry the bacon till almost crisp, then serve on a bed of fresh basil leaves.
You can be creative with this recipe. Stuff the prunes or dates with smoked almonds; a mixture of gorgonzola or mascarpone cheeses with pepper; Kraft Old English or pimento cheeses; or even fruit chutneys. If you want to get fancy, substitute thin strips of prosciutto for the bacon (but I don’t recommend frying the prosciutto). Heat the completed items for two or three minutes in a skillet, or microwave for 40 to 60 seconds.
As an alternate recipe I offer “Hosmer Angel’s on Horseback,” which is named for a character in the Sherlock Holmes adventure, “A Case of Identity.” Around smoked oysters wrap half-rashers of bacon, secured with toothpicks. Place them in in a Pyrex casserole dish in a hot oven (400¬∫ F) for 10-12 minutes, until the bacon is done to one’s preference.
NOTE: For both recipes, draw the back of a large knife along each slice of bacon to make them flatter and slightly longer, the better for wrapping.