Food at Christmas Word on the Week 9th December 2023.
This is the time of year that food comes into its own. Turkey and ham with sprouts etc. followed by a plumb pudding with a sprig of holly on top. Sometimes we venture into more exotic dishes and sample foods seldom eaten except on birthdays.
One of these dishes is the shellfish called mussels. They normally come in numbers, shiny black shells, cooked in salty water and sprung open ready to be eaten. These mussels are mainly harvested in the sea around shallow waters where they adhere to ropes fishermen anchor in the water.
These delicacies were on the list of prohibited foods in Old Testament times. They come under the general heading of shellfish which were declared unclean (Leviticus 11 verses 9 to 12). Presumably this was to avoid the danger of food poisoning as mussels require to be cooked as soon as they are harvested. No refrigerators then!
The menu in those days would have had many omissions! The Israelites were God’s ‘treasured possession’ and were to be distinguished from other nations by various things including their diet.
Jesus declared all foods clean (Mark’s Gospel 7 verses15 to 19). Mussels are on the menu!
As a child I gathered freshwater mussels for the fishermen to use as bait. The flesh of the mussel was dried in the sun, salted then wrapped round the hook. The hook had to end up entering the tiny heart of the mussel so as secure the flesh from slipping off the hook. The empty shells were spread on the village paths and trampled into the earth making a firm paving. A practice akin to throwing out damp salt which had lost its savour (St Matthew 5 verse 13).
Another practice was to crack open mussels to see if they contained a pearl. The pearl would be formed by a piece of grit entering the mussel and its defence was to coat it with pearl. We collected these tiny pearls in a small glass tube (which once contained aspirin) and sold them to the local chemist!
As you can imagine the rewards were tiny but there was always the hope of coming across a big pearl! The Merchant in Jesus’s parable was more persistent and, we are told when he found the big one went and sold everything he had in order to purchase the place where it was to be found (St Matthew 13 verses 45/6).
Today it is found in Jesus. There is great joy in coming to faith in Him. If you haven’t placed your trust in Jesus this would be a good time to do so (Luke 15 verses 7 to 10).