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Posts from the ‘Food’ category

The Christmas Eve Eats!

Dig In!

Parker House Buttery Rolls

Parker House Buttery Rolls

Christmas Gingerbread Mocha

Christmas Gingerbread Mocha

Christmas Tree Cheeseboard

Christmas Tree Cheeseboard

Cranberry Meatballs

Cranberry Cocktail Meatballs

Cheeseboard

Cheeseboard

AND…………….

Jingle Juice

Jingle Juice

Big News

Big News

 

 

 

Christmas Foods and Traditions: Stargazy Pie

Stargazy Pie

Stargazy Pie

I watched a good movie this week called Ladies in Lavender. The plot is so-so, and I don’t know where the lavender comes in, but my favorite actresses, Judi Dench and Maggie Smith are featured in it, so it makes my Favorites List. The movie was filmed in Cornwall and the coastal scenery is beautiful and the cottage setting and interior also make it worthwhile to see. I went to Cornwall this past summer so it brought back great memories for me. Well, in one scene the women are looking to buy pilchards (a large type of sardine) to make a Stargazy Pie! Oh My! It is made out to be quite a delicacy in the movie. So I had to find out if there was such a thing!

And there is…….

In December every year in the village of Mousehole, Cornwall there is a festival called Tom Bawcock’s Eve. Tom was a local fisherman in the 16th century and the festival is held to remember Tom and his act of heroism. According to legend, one stormy winter when no fishing boats were able to get out, and all in the village were facing starvation, on December 23rd, Tom Bawcock, decided to brave the storms and went out fishing in his boat. Despite the stormy weather and difficult sea, he came back with enough fish to feed the entire village. The entire catch (including seven types of fish) was baked into a pie made of eggs and potatoes with the heads and tails poking through the crust to prove that the fish were inside. The fish appear to be gazing skyward, hence the name of the pie!  This allows the oils to be released during cooking to flow back into the pie.

In 1963, another tradition was added to the Mousehole festivities. John Gilchrist, a local artist, strung Christmas lights around the harbor, and the idea was taken up by the local carpenters. Today a group of forty volunteers work months putting up over seven thousand bulbs and six miles of lights! The Lighting is attended by over four thousand people and starts with the village priest blessing the scene. In celebration and memorial to the efforts of Tom Bawcock the villagers parade a huge Stargazy Pie during the evening with a procession of handmade lanterns, before eating the pie itself! One set of lights even represents the pie, showing fish heads and tails protruding from a pie dish underneath six stars!

In the evening all harbor lights are turned off so people can watch the illuminations and lantern parade, followed by caroling on the beach! What fun this would be at Christmas! Well maybe not the pie so much, it would take getting used to. Have any of you ever had Stargazey pie? If you have let me know!

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Big News

Christmas Foods and Traditions: Cooking With Nigella

Nigella Lawson

Nigella Lawson

Last year for Christmas I gave myself one of the best gifts ever! Yes, I do give myself Christmas gifts, why not? When you get up in years you can do whatever you want. It was a subscription to Acorn TV, the All British TV Series. I love it and have watched nearly every show presented on there, every month. I get my moneys worth! The very first show I watched was Nigella Lawson’s Cooking Christmas Special, and I was glad to see it was still available to watch this year and I did watch it again this week!

You can’t help, but come away inspired to cook something! Or to look around your kitchen and say, “I need to drape several strings of fairy lights across my cabinets and place Christmas baubles all over my kitchen counters to be able to cook like Nigella.” Or, “I need a black, sexy, low cut gown or sweater to wear when cooking,” to be like Nigella. Need I say, Nigella is a full bodied, well endowed young woman that every cook would like to look like.

During the show she cooks awhile and then scampers out of the house to the local London street markets to buy the most wonderful ingredients to bring back and add to the pot so to speak. So you get to see the cooking aspect as well as the shopping in the food stalls among all the hustle and bustle of Christmas. We go to the cheese market, the fruit and vegetable stand, and the nut stalls. Never once to the grocery. She does all this while re-iterating that cooking for Christmas need not be stressful, just go with the flow.

To prepare for one of her parties, she places some short ribs in a cranberry sauce mixture and then puts them in the oven for her party later that evening. The ribs need to cook for one and a half hours. So as not to stand around and waste time Nigella flies out of her kitchen to go have pre-party drinks with her friends at a favorite pub. Now, I definitely think that is the thing to do to de-stress the cooking for a party. Later in the evening she is shown passing out the ribs wrapped in a paper napkin to each guest, no plates mind you. She lets us know to supply plenty of baby wipes too, for wiping up our sticky fingers. Baby wipes? Well what do I know! Her guests always are shown drinking a lot. I would too, that way I would not care that I dropped cranberry sauce all down the front of my cleavage, in my low cleavage red gown, and went the entire night that way.

She likes to cook with lots of spices and shops in various spice specialty shops. We follow her along as she shops. The spices come in little plastic bags and she keeps them in her pantry. Yes, you’ll see her pantry, her library, her upstairs, her downstairs and her kitchen in her cooking series. I feel like I live with Nigella I know her house so well. In one episode as she gets out the bags of spices and remarks about how long they keep, she looks at the expiration date on one of the packs. Oh, the spice expired about ten years ago!  Now weren’t we just at the spice shop? So, she just pitches it in the trash and moves on. Now haven’t we all been there? I guess that means another trip to the spice man. I think he may be selling more than spices!

Then there is the turkey episode which I liked a lot. She brings out this really, large red plastic bin, the size of a laundry basket to brine the turkey in. She adds several, and I mean several, spices, herbs, and clementines, to the brining salt concoction. She sets the turkey in the brining mixture outside for a day or two to meld. Meanwhile, she is making gingerbread stuffing from a store bought gingerbread cake. What?  When did she get this? I’ve been with her for all her shopping haven’t I? She says she likes to buy store bought foods and then build on them to save time and this is one of those times, I guess. Adding to the meal she makes her mother’s bread pudding, roasted Brussels sprouts, a crispy, roasted, red potato dish, (one of her favorites), and a mountain of merengue for dessert. And in-between all that she shows us how to decorate and set the festive Christmas table in the library, where she will be entertaining her guests on Christmas Eve no less. All under no stress and in the fine gown.

But, the best part of the show is the following morning, Christmas Day, when Nigella comes down to the kitchen, disheveled, hair tossed about, and wearing her bright red satin, Christmas dressing gown. She pulls out two chunks of thick white bread, slathers a great swag of gingerbread dressing on, followed by a layer of cranberry sauce, (she made that in another episode), then adds a layer of bread pudding and a layer of turkey and a few gherkins thrown in for good measure. She can not celebrate Christmas without gherkins! The sandwich is now about 4 inches thick and she chows down while leaning heavily on the counter. No, no Christmas cooking stress here! I love this show! 

Nigella Lawson

Nigella Lawson

PS I went and ordered the companion cook book containing her Christmas Cooking episodes to make sure I’d have all the stress free recipes! See you tomorrow for more Christmas Foods and Traditions!

Christmas Foods and Traditions: Snowflakes

The Perfect Snowflake!

The Perfect Snowflake!

Snowflakes are a collection of snow crystals which fall through the earth’s atmosphere in a range of temperatures and humidity fluctuations, developing an infinite number of shapes. Individual snowflakes differ in detail from one another, but may be categorized in eight broad classifications and at least 80 individual variants. The main shapes for ice crystals, from which combinations may occur, are needle, column, plate and rime. Snowflakes appear white in color despite being made of clear ice. The snowflake is often a traditional seasonal image or motif used around Christmas, especially in Europe, the United States and Canada. It represents the traditional White Christmas!

The Guinness Book of Records lists the largest snowflakes as those that fell on Fort Keogh, Montana, in January 1887, when a rancher reported snowflakes that were 15 inches wide and 8 inches thick!  Hmm, I am not sure about that………Was that rancher into the whiskey at the time?

Most people believe that each snowflake is unique in design despite the statistical possibility that identical flakes could exist and were recorded in Wisconsin in 1998. 

I have to admit I love to watch the snowflakes fall, as long as I am inside near the fireplace, with my hot chocolate and with nowhere to go. I do not like shoveling it or driving in it. And I do not like it when it piles up and turns that nasty grey, from dirt and slush refreezing!

Maybe the best snowflakes are the paper ones we cut out at school from folded white paper and then put on the windows! Do you remember making those?

Or the best of the best snowflake is the snowflake cookie! YUM! Those always look and taste perfect! See you tomorrow with more Christmas Foods and Traditions!

Christmas Foods and Traditions: Grace Tosier, The Royal Chocolate Maker’s Wife

Grace Tosier

Grace Tosier

Yesterday we learned all about the appointment of Thomas Tosier in 1717, as the Royal Chocolate Maker to King George I. Thomas and his wife, Grace, owned a famous ‘Chocolate House’ on Chocolate Row, in London, and when King George wanted a chocolatier for himself, Thomas was his man. This presented a problem, because now Thomas was a very busy man making chocolate for the King, and lived in his own apartment in the palace. He also had to be available 24/7 for the king. But, he didn’t want to give up his ‘Chocolate House’, that was so popular with the rich and the famous.  The only thing to do was let Grace take over! Grace knew exactly what to do and was determined that her husband’s fame would benefit her also. From that time on she always refers to herself as Grace Tosier, wife of the King’s Chocolate Maker. She turns out to be an excellent business woman, presenting evenings in her ‘Chocolate House’, as a “Royal Experience” to coincide with what is going on in the King’s Court. She installs a dance floor and presents balls in accordance with the Court Calendar. She celebrates the king’s birthday and other occasions. Grace is offering a court experience with those people who cannot be at court! She becomes very popular! Even after Thomas died and Grace remarried she always referred to herself as Grace Tosier. In the newspaper she was described as always wearing a very large, brimmed hat, and having flowers in her bosom. In 1729, Bartholomew Dandridge, a fashionable portrait painter, painted her portrait as one in a series of the aristocrats, celebrities, and characters of London. I think Grace may have had the best of both world’s; she knew the ins and out of the court without having to give up her home, business, friends and freedom to serve.

In  February 2014, the Chocolate Kitchen and the Chocolate Room, special royal chocolate-making rooms, opened up again at Hampton Court Palace. Research identified the exact location of the kitchens, which had been used as a storeroom in the ‘Grace and Favor’ period. The royal family may have left Hampton Court in 1737, but the palace and it’s apartments soon found another purpose. After George III, who reigned from 1760-1820, decided not to live at Hampton Court Palace, there was debate as to the future of the palace’s thousands of rooms. From the 1760s onwards, the palace was divided up for ‘grace-and-favor’ residents, who were granted rent-free accommodation, because they had given great service to the Crown or country. They lived, often with their own small households of servants above, underneath and around the state apartments. The whole palace was divided up into a labyrinth of apartments of varying size and quality. The average size was twelve to fourteen rooms, many of them vast in scale. However, some apartments had no more than four rooms, while the largest had nearly forty. Despite the grand location, the apartments were by no means luxurious. Yet, competition for them was fierce and many applicants waited years in the hope of obtaining an apartment. Over the next two hundred years a wide variety of people became Hampton Court residents. In 1838, the young Queen Victoria, who reigned 1837-1901, ordered that Hampton Court Palace ‘should be thrown open to all her subjects without restriction.’

As of 2014, the new display in the kitchen explores how the chocolate was made for the king and features many of the pieces that made up the chocolate serving service of chocolate pots, glassware, and linens. The Chocolate Kitchen’s 18th century fixtures and fittings all survive – you can see a Georgian fireplace and smoke jack within the chimney, a pair of charcoal braziers, a folding table, cupboard and shelves. Thomas Tosier is impersonated in the Royal Chocolate Kitchen still chocolating away…….Grace Tosier’s picture hangs over the fireplace.

See you tomorrow for more Christmas Foods and Traditions!

Christmas Foods and Traditions: Chocolate

Tosier making the Royal Chocolate

Thomas Tosier Making the Royal Chocolate at the Hampton Court Place

The Spanish first brought the cocoa bean to Europe from Central America. Cocoa pods fell from the cocoa tree or were cut off. The cocoa pods were easy to harvest because they grew on the trunk of the tree or on large branches near the ground. The harvested pods were split open and the pulp and cocoa seeds were removed and then placed in heaps to ferment. The heaps were rotated for several days and after the fermented pulp trickled away, the cocoa seeds were collected. These seeds were dried and bagged and sent to all parts of the world by ship.

Cocoa Pods

Cocoa Pods

The Chocolate Kitchen and Chocolate Room were built at Hampton Court Palace for William and Mary around 1689, but it was mainly used by the Georgian kings. The Chocolate Kitchen was a spicery to provide the spices for cooking and to make confectionaries of sweet treats.  The Chocolate Room provided the beautiful serving equipment used to present the chocolate to the king. China, delftware, and chocolate pots with molinet whisks, would have been placed on delicate glass serving dishes to serve chocolate to the King. The molinet is a wooden, ridged whisk with a long handle that is unique to chocolate making. It is inserted into a chocolate pot and pushed through the top lid. A final whisk is given before the chocolate is served. Chocolate up until the 19th century was served mostly as a luke-warm drink for breakfast. The Chocolate Rooms were situated near the back stairs to the king’s apartments and this is where we find Thomas Tosier.

Thomas Tosier was the personal chocolate maker of George I (and George II) from 1717. This was a prestigious position among the royal staff, but it was not a new position. Even before the construction of the Chocolate Kitchen at Hampton Court Palace, there had been royal chocolate makers.

Chocolate was high-status, luxurious and only for the elite, and so it is no surprise that those who worked with chocolate were highly-respected individuals. Prior to working for the King, Tosier had already established ‘The Chocolate House’, on Chocolate Row (now West Grove) in Greenwich, London, which was very popular with fashionable London society and one of the first places in London to serve chocolate. This set them apart from the “coffee house,” which had a much more popular following, because more people could afford to drink coffee. Tosier, already was well known and working in his praised establishment so the promotion to “Chocolate Maker to the King” established him further. It also made his wife, Grace, a celebrity in her own right. (we’ll learn more about Grace Tosier tomorrow)

So what did Tosier’s employment as the King’s Chocolate Maker mean?

Well, for one thing, it didn’t mean being part of the kitchen staff. Instead the Royal Chocolate Maker was highly respected as part of the ceremonial or personal staff of the monarch. Tosier would not have done the hard work of roasting and grinding. He would have had servants for that. Tosier would have done the delicate work of flavoring the chocolate and serving it with a final flourish. He was in charge of handling expensive and exotic ingredients and he was one of the few who had privilege and permission to enter the king’s bedchamber. Tosier was responsible for making and taking a cup of chocolate to George I in his bed chamber every morning. One of the perks of his employment was his own bedroom……. a luxury and an honor for a servant at Court.

So how was the chocolate made from the beans you ask? 

First the beans were roasted in a large metal container in front of the fire and turned by the spit boy. The roasted beans are covered in a brittle ‘shell’ which were painstakingly removed by the kitchen boy, splitting the shells and revealing the internal ‘nib’.

These nibs must be ground and placed on a ‘Metate’ – a large stone. This stone is heated from below with charcoal and the nibs are crushed with a stone, or iron roller.

Metate

Metate

Both the warmth and the friction of the roller and stone turn the nibs to a liquid paste. The more this is rolled, the better tasting the chocolate. The poor kitchen boy would have spent many hours rolling the nibs!

The liquid paste is taken from the stone and set, sometimes on waxed papers in discs, or often in little tin moulds to make a ‘brick’, ‘cake’ or ‘bar’. These blocks of chocolate are known as ‘chocolate cakes’. Cake in this case means piece, as in a cake of soap. This is a lot of work to make a cake of chocolate!

The processed ‘chocolate cake’ is put into a pot or pan and heated with a liquid – water, milk or even wine. Then the chocolate maker adds sugar and spices such as vanilla or a chilli pepper before serving with a flourish to the king.

It was not just the chocolate makers who benefited from this relationship. For a monarch, like George I, it was a status symbol to be able to afford your own personal chocolate maker. Just as sugar had been a symbol of status in the court of Elizabeth I, so too was chocolate, now in the courts of the European monarchs. This was a sign of kingship and power, in a period which lavish opulence was becoming more and more part of royal showmanship. George I insisted on keeping a chocolate chef on his staff. Tosier’s employment was not only a statement to George’s new countrymen in Britain, but was also a declaration of his position as King to the wider, European aristocrats. George I wished to be seen as modern and powerful monarch, who could compete with the rest of Europe. Tosier and his chocolate work were key in making this statement.

See you tomorrow in the ‘Chocolate House’ with Grace Tosier!

 

  

Christmas Foods and Traditions: The Trencher in Elizabethan Times

Marchpane or Marzipan

Marchpane or Marzipan

The 16th century was a fast-paced and fascinating time for the whole of Europe.

Improvements in design of ships meant they could travel further and faster, resulting in the circumnavigation of the world. Queen Elizabeth granted Sir Walter Raleigh a Royal Charter, which authorized him to explore and colonize any “remote, heathen and barbarous countries, not actually possessed by any Christian prince, or inhabited by Christian people, in exchange for a portion of the wealth found there.”  This shifted the balance of power from the East and allowed the English to grow and source foods for themselves in their colonies.

Perhaps the item that gained popularity most rapidly was sugar. Sugar had been used in Henry VIII’s  kitchens, but the expansion of the world allowed this precious ingredient to be more readily accessible.

Sugar was a high-status ingredient; it was more expensive than honey (which had long been used as a natural sweetener) because of the requirement for it to be imported. Sugar grows as a cane, but would be imported in a ‘loaf’ form. The highest grade of these sugars were the fine, white sugars which could easily be melted into a liquid and came from Madeira; next came Barbary or Canary sugar; and finally a coarser, brown sugar which required less rendering down but was, as a result, more difficult to work with. However, even this coarse sugar was expensive; this was not an ingredient which all in Elizabethan England would have had access to, but Elizabeth did and it became her favorite food.

Last time we learned about the Tudor trencher. How did that change in Elizabethan times?

The word trencher comes from the French ‘tranche’, meaning slice. In the late Middle Ages, a slice of bread acted as a plate, however by the 16th century this was replaced by painted wood or metal alternatives.

We also learned about the different levels of the seating plan, when one was allowed to eat at Court. The food was better, more plentiful and beautifully presented when you were chosen to sit and eat in a more prestigious hall. Queen Elizabeth added one more level of eating to the Court, The Banquet. This is not the banquet style of eating as we know today where the food is placed around the room on various tables and you move about picking what you choose to eat. This Banqueting consisted of a selection of some of the favored quests, who would take another meal in another room, or sometimes outdoors in a miniature pavilion. Only the guests of the highest status were invited.

During the banquet, a trencher would be placed in front of each guest. A delicacy would be presented on the unpainted side, which might include finely made sweet-meats, exotic spices, sugar confectionery, ornate marchpane sculptures or sweet gingerbread. These expensive ingredients and delicacies made a clear statement of wealth, status and power, and the trencher they were served on had to reflect this. Once the food was consumed the diner would turn the trencher over to find painted and gilded images and texts; biblical texts, moral texts or humorous sayings. These could be read aloud and discussed amongst the guests. They were intended to provoke discussion, and encourage story-telling, much like a Christmas cracker or fortune cookie today.

Sugared Lemons

Sugared Lemons

At court sugar was used in elaborate dishes. Sweets made from sugar paste (made from a mix of egg, sugar and gelatin) were made. A popular dish was ‘Leech,’ made of milk, sugar and rosewater and then cut into single bites. The popular treats were marchpane and gingerbread. Marchpane was made from almond and sugar paste and could be moulded into various shapes and elaborately decorated. Gingerbread required ginger, an exotic ingredient, along with a good dose of sugar. Fruit pies were made and sweetened with sugar and thickened with almond milk. Cheesecakes, custards and puddings were made. Sweets were flavored with nutmeg, mace, cloves, anise, coriander, rose water, almond or saffron. All this was available because England owned the sea!

Eating all this refined sugar, rather than sweetening with honey or fruit, had a big impact on the Queen and her court, who were eating lavish sugar desserts and cleaning their teeth with sugar, by rubbing their teeth with sugar paste, as sugar was also seen as having medicinal properties.

Queen Elizabeth had such rotted, black teeth that she had to have some of her teeth removed. She was so fearful of pain that the Bishop of London volunteered to have one of his teeth pulled, as an example!

We have no such thing as Christmas crackers in the US, so for a Christmas party and using the trencher idea, why not try this? When neighbors  or relatives come into the house, they could pick a slip of paper out of a hat with questions such as “What was your favorite Christmas food when you were a child?” “When did your family open gifts?” “Did you ever visit Santa at a department store?” “What is your favorite Christmas song or carol?” “Do you prefer to stay home or travel to visit friends/family at Christmas?” “What was the most memorable gift you received?” “Did your family make Christmas cookies? If so, what kind were your favorites?” And on and on! Ask that they not unfold the paper until dessert! Then, each person could take a turn to read the question and answer it. The conversations would go on and on! What fun for Christmas and a way to continue on with a very old tradition! Enjoy!

The Tudor Christmas and the Trencher

Tudor Trencher

Tudor Trencher

In 1526 the Eltham Ordinances were written at Eltham Palace. These were rules and regulations monitoring food purchases, storage and distribution of food across all the palaces.

The Eltham Ordinances also laid down instructions for court ceremony, for example how the food was presented and the manner in which it had to be taken to the table. The rules were put forward by the Lord Steward, who was chosen by the nobility and had great power and influence. He was also in charge of fuel supply, domestic services and the regulation of the entire estate.

At Christmas in 1526, about 600 courtiers were entitled to eat in the Great Hall at Hampton Court Palace. This group was made up of guards, grooms and general court servants. Henry VIII ate in his private lodgings and only ate with the majority of the court on celebratory or state occasions. Where you ate; which was the Great Watching Chamber, the Great Hall, the kitchens or in private lodgings on the grounds depended on your rank. The Lord Chamberlain granted permission for dining arrangements, writing the plan called the Bouche de Court, which gave an allowance to each named person for two meals a day (at 10am and 4pm) and allowed the daily ration of bread, wine, beer, candles and firewood.

Two seatings were required to seat all of the people, who would have been served two courses. 

To see how the food was distributed from the courtyard to the table look here. (Courtyard to Table)

I am always interested in what the most common of men did.

At the Tutor Court the food was brought into the Great Hall in “messes.” (a dish shared between four people) The food was served up by the most senior man at the table. For the lowest ranking members at a table the food was served onto a chunk of course brown bread with a slight indentation, called a trencher. What is important to note is that the bread was not eaten, just what was placed on the bread. After the meal, the used trenchers, with the soppings from the meal, were given to the poor to eat.

Leftovers from Henry VIII’s table, the Great Watching Chamber, and the Great Hall were collected in a ‘voider’ (a large basket) and would be distributed to the poor by the Almoner. Those who ate in their own rooms were to take their leftovers to the scullery for the same purpose.  The Eltham Ordinances, states: “all such as have their lodgings within the court shall give straight charge to the ministers and keepers of their chambers, that they do not cast, leave or lay in any manner of dishes, platters, saucers, or broken meat, either in the galleries or at their chamber door……. and likewise to put the relics of their ale into another vessel, so that broken meat or drink be in no way cast away or eaten by dogs, nor lie in the galleries or courts, but may be daily saved for the relief of poor folks.” Anyone who disobeyed this rule was punished and on the third offense, any who failed to give their leftovers to the Almoner would forfeit their allowance, lodging and “Bouche de Court” (the permission to eat and drink at court)

As eating was communal, it was important to follow the strict rules of etiquette: these were elaborate, yet practical, as they prevented anyone touching food that would be eaten by someone else. Everyone brought his own knife and spoon to the meal. The requirement for a personal spoon is behind the custom of giving one as a christening gift.

The Waissail Cup

The Wassail Cup

A final festive feature, celebrated during the Tudor Christmas was the Wassail Cup. This was a richly ornamented cup which would be paraded through the great hall, and drunk from by all present as they took part in a call-and-response ritual – the drinker would shout ‘wassail’ and the collective response was ‘drink hail’. The drink in the Wassail bowls was often a warmed alcohol, such as mulled cider, sweetened and spiced. The bowl shown above even has its own whistle to alert the kitchen that more drink was needed.

These were the Rules of Etiquette at the Tudor table.

Sit not down until you have washed.

Undo your belt a little if it will make you more comfortable; because doing this during the meal is bad manners.

When you wipe your hands clean, put good thoughts forward in your mind, for it doesn’t do to come to dinner sad, and thus make others sad.

Once you sit place your hands neatly on the table; not on your trencher, and not around your belly.

Don’t shift your buttocks left and right as if to let off some blast. Sit neatly and still.

Any gobbit that cannot be taken easily with the hand, take it on your trencher.

Don’t wipe your fingers on your clothes; use the napkin or the ‘board cloth’.

If someone is ill mannered by ignorance, let it pass rather than point it out.

Good rules to follow even now, I’d say.

Tomorrow, we’ll learn what happened to the Trencher in Queen Elizabeth’s rule! See you then!

The Elizabethan Christmas and the Tale of Oranges

The Elizabethan Christmas

The Elizabethan Christmas

To continue with my Christmas Foods And Traditions Series we will look today at the Elizabethan period of England.

As a queen, Elizabeth had access to some of the most luxurious foods that were on offer now from many parts of the world. Her food reflected the wealth and power of England and was an important status symbol.

Oranges were originally brought from China, but by the 16th century they were grown in Spain and southern France. During the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, sweet oranges were given frequently as Christmas gifts because they were expensive, delicious and sure to note how wealthy the giver was.

Now to tell the Great Citrus Fruit Escape……………

Father John Gerard, a Jesuit priest, continued to practice Catholicism and move freely among the gentry in Elizabethan Protestant times, and that landed him eventually in the Tower of London.

A  well-to-do prisoner in the Tower was allowed to furnish their cell to their tastes and bring in their own food to make life there more tolerable. Father Gerard was gifted some oranges and he would share them with the guard and warden to bribe them. He persuaded the warden to allow him to send crosses made from the left-over orange peel to his friends.

Father Gerard's Orange Peel Crosses

Father Gerard’s Orange Peel Crosses

Along with the crosses he sent a prayer written in charcoal, which the warden would read first.

Father Gerard Prayer Written in Charcoal

Father Gerard Prayer Written in Charcoal

However, when the warden was not looking, Gerard used the orange juice that he had saved, to write a second message between the lines of the prayer. Once the orange juice was dried it became invisible, only to be seen when re-heated by lamplight fire. Father Gerard wrapped all the orange peel crosses in the paper prayer-messages and sent them with the guard to be delivered.

The Orange Juice Message Written Between the Lines

The Orange Juice Message Written Between the Lines

Also during this time, Father Gerard met fellow Catholic prisoner, John Arden, who was being kept in another part of the prison, near the garden and the moat.

While in the Tower Father Gerard was tortured, often being suspended for days by his wrists in the hope he would confess to treason and could be put to death. His fingers were barely able to move after this.

Gerard and Arden were given permission to spend some time in each other’s company. The coded messages had been deciphered by Father Gerard’s supporters and a desperate escape plan was put in place.  On the appointed evening, the men met in Arden’s cell and loosened the stone around the bolt of the door that lead to the roof. They reached the roof at midnight, in time to see a rowing boat containing three men approach the walls. As they were about to make contact, a man came from a house below and assuming the men were fishing, began to engage them in conversation.

Gerard waited patiently for the man to leave, but by the time he departed it was too late for an escape that night.

Thinking that the escape was doomed, Gerard was surprised to hear next day that the rescuers were going to try again. Waiting until they had been locked in the Tower together, Gerard and Arden again climbed onto the roof. Throwing down a weighted cord they raised up a rope that had been tied to it by the rescuers below. The plan had been to slide down the rope, but the angle it made meant that instead the escapers had to pull themselves hand over hand along its length. It is worth remembering that Gerard had recently been tortured by being suspended in manacles, which made a hazardous descent even more difficult.

After his companion managed to climb down, Gerard realized that the rope which had been straight was now sagging – making the climb even more difficult. Holding the rope between his legs, Gerard pulled himself out from the high roof. Half way across he became exhausted and at one point was left hanging in the darkness, strength failing. In the end Gerard and Arden managed to escape, all in thanks to his oranges!  Can you imagine? Is this where the saying “read between the lines“ comes from? I should think so!

More to come in the Christmas Foods And Traditions Series! Enjoy!

 

Christmas Foods And Traditions: Oranges

The Christmas Orange

The Christmas Orange

Why Do We Put Oranges in Stockings at Christmas?

1. St. Nicholas and his sacks of gold.

One explanation for this tradition stretches back hundreds of years to St. Nicholas, who was born in what is now present-day Turkey. He inherited a large sum of money, but devoted his life to helping others, and eventually became a bishop.

According to the story, St. Nicholas learned of a poor man who wasn’t able to find suitors for his three daughters because he didn’t have money for a dowry. St. Nicholas traveled to the house, and tossed three sacks of gold down the chimney for each of the dowries. The gold happened to land in each of the girls’ stockings which were hanging by the fire to dry. The oranges we receive today are a symbol of the gold that was left in the stockings.

2. Oranges were once a scarce treat.

Some also offer the idea that fresh oranges were hard to come by, especially in the north, so finding one of these fruits in your stocking was a huge treat, and a way of celebrating the holiday.  By the 1880s, oranges were in plentiful enough supply in the United States, coming from the new states of Florida and California, that they could be shipped across the country via the new transcontinental railway system. So clearly, Santa Claus, working with the local seasonal availability of fresh oranges around winter time and the newly available transportation system, took advantage of those and tucked oranges into the socks and stockings of many American boys and girls on Christmas Eve around the country.

3. A treat during the Great Depression.

During the Great Depression of the 1930s, money was tight, and many families simply didn’t have the means to buy gifts. Instead, it was such a treat, even a luxury, to find things like a sweet orange or some walnuts in your stocking on Christmas.

4. It’s the season of giving.

Another theory behind the tradition is that December is the season of giving, and the orange segments represent the ability to share what you have with others.

5. Is there anything better than the fragrance of orange and clove at Christmas? Not Likely!

6. Fragrant citrus fruits were exchanged during holidays for good luck.

Did you ever receive an orange in your stocking on Christmas morning?

 

 

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