|be merry | December 2016
Festive food facts:
We won't go until we get some
by Heather Hollermann
"Oh bring us some figgy pudding, oh bring us some figgy pudding, oh bring us some figgy pudding, and a cup of good cheer."
"We Wish You a Merry Christmas" epitomizes a significant part of the holiday season: food. As the weather turns colder and snow begins to fall, seasonal foods make their annual appearance. But where do these foods come from? And why are they associated with the holidays?
Eggnog has a surprisingly dignified history. The exact origins of the drink are widely debated but many scholars consider posset its predecessor. Posset is a medieval drink that consisted of eggs, milk and alcohol (often sherry). The ingredients were very expensive, so it became popular in toasts of prosperity among the British aristocracy. The wealthy would drink posset and other egg drinks year round. In the winter, they would add seasonal spices and liquors.
Around the 1700s, when American farms had developed enough to harvest the required ingredients, the colonists adopted eggnog. Americans tweaked the recipe and added cheap rum, which was abundant at the time, and it has now become a recipe staple. With present day restrictions on the percentage of egg yolk allotted in store-bought eggnog, the traditional drink greatly differs from its original form. George Washington famously penned a recipe for eggnog whilst, some say, heavily intoxicated. In his recipe, he forgets to include the number of eggs needed, though some scholars speculate the number could be upwards of a dozen:
"One quart cream, one quart milk, one dozen tablespoons sugar, one pint brandy, 1/2 pint rye whiskey, 1/2 pint Jamaica rum, 1/4 pint sherry -- mix liquors first, then separate yolks and whites of eggs, add sugar to beaten yolks, mix well. Add milk and cream, slowly beating. Beat whites of eggs until stiff and fold slowly into mixture. Let set in cool place for several days. Taste frequently."
Despite the many stories associated with the invention of the candy cane, the exact origin is unknown. For hundreds of years, it's been closely associated with Christianity and the birth of Christ. One legend claims that in 1670, a German monk bent the sticks to look like a shepherd's staff. Another claims that the candy is a representation in itself of Jesus--the color white representing his holiness and the red representing his blood and sacrifice, all in the shape of the letter J. These candies were given out by the church to children around the holidays.
This mysterious treat made its appearance in America around the turn of the century where its manufacturing was perfected due to the advancing process of sugar refining. Some credit a German immigrant by the name of August Imgard with introducing the candy to America in the late 1800s -- however, this has never been proven. Nevertheless, no matter where the candy cane's origins lie, it remains a central part of holiday feasts, celebrations and decorations.
Possibly the most misunderstood of holiday foods, figgy pudding made its debut in medieval England. Also known as Christmas pudding, this dish first appeared in historical records in the early 1400s as a savory dish consisting of meats, vegetables, fruits and spices. In the early 1500s, figgy pudding became more of a dessert. By the mid-1600s, it was officially associated with Christmas. It remained a staple in holiday celebrations through the 19th century. The ingredients included brown sugar, raisins, currents, candied orange peel, eggs, breadcrumbs, nutmeg, cloves, allspice, plenty of alcohol and -- possibly the most appetizing ingredient -- suet (the fat found around the kidneys and loins of cattle, sheep, etc.). The Christmas pudding is covered in brandy sauce and set afire. Although it may not be something seen at every Christmas gathering, this dish remains infamous thanks to Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol.
The holiday season is ripe with long surviving traditions. So the next time you're gathered around the dinner table surrounded by family and friends, drinking cups of good cheer, share some of these fascinating tidbits of holiday history.
Heather Hollermann is a freelance writer focused on creativity and personal style. She is a strong believer that fashion is a way of expressing yourself -- a dynamic work of art in which you live. When she isn't working on her novel, Heather can be found reading, shopping, traveling, and binge-watching television series. She is a lover of history, dark lipstick, and baked goods.