â€™Tis the season to be merry in all tastes and tongues. Concentrate on food and drink that this time has brought to us for over two thousand years and letâ€™s conjure up the creation of dishes that are still evolving into more and more deliciousness.
Take mince pies, cookies and ginger bread, which are traditional snacks. At Christmas the British introduced the eating of â€˜mincedâ€™ or â€˜shredâ€™ pies, which were once upon a time, covered tarts filled with minced meats, cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg representing the three gifts given to the infant Jesus by the Wise Men. The mixture is baked in an oblong pastry case to represent Jesus crib.
Today mince pies are round and filled with only dried fruits sugar, lemon peel and spices originally brought form the Middle East by the Crusaders.
Christmas cookies were introduced in North America by Dutch settlers who called them â€œkoekjeâ€ which means little cake. Like ginger bread, an earlier introduction they are designed to represent the festival. The ginger bread sometimes has a slightly sharp taste and the cookies go from sweet to sweeter. With mince pies, one bite of the moon shaped delights is never enough.
In the Middle Ages, England developed wheat boiled in water made into gruel with milk, currants and other dried fruits stirred with egg, yolk and spices. Finally the mixture was cooked into a stiff pudding called the Christmas pudding. Since then it has evolved into a dish that contains a lot of fruit, dried and otherwise like prunes. Before serving it a little hole in the top is made, filled with brandy and then lit and served in a warming tasty blaze.
Originally a stuffed goose was the main dish, the centrepiece. And we owe the image of goose and Christmas to Charles Dickens who in A Christmas Carol wrote about the Cratch its making an unlikely goose that when craved issued forth a gushing of stuffing. Dickens description of the pudding for dessert is off putting. He says, â€œA smell like washing day! That was the cloth. A smell like an eating-house and a pastry cooksâ€™ next-door to each other with a laundressâ€™s next door to that! That was the puddingâ€
Comments Claig Claiborne in The New York Times, â€œThanks, Charles, but no thanksâ€.
Â In the 19th century the easily available turkey began to replace the goose as the main dish for Christmas. Only the white breast turkey meat was considered good enough for guests. The dark meat was given to the servants or eaten by the family the next day.
From France comes a delicious dessert called the Buche de Noel, which translates as the Christmas log referring to the traditional Yule log burned in the centuries past. A 19th century creation, the dessert has sponge cake filled with jam or cream and is covered with buttercream icing with marzipan and meringue.
Â The Twelfth Night is the last night of Christmas and an ancient mulled ale called the wassail is drunk. Another warming drink spiked with whisky or bourbon and very sweet is the egg-nog. There are also a variety of mulled wines. You can drink them through out Christmas and on the Twelfth Night when English and French custom, has the Twelfth Night cake baked with a bean and pea in it so that those who got them would designated as the king and queen of the nights festivities.
When invited for dinner, which has me picked as royalty, I inevitably ask for every dish on the menu from cookies to pudding once again. I am not invited out anymore.