CHRIST­MAS FOODS HAVE A HIS­TORY

Some culi­nary tra­di­tions pre-date the yule­tide cel­e­bra­tion

QT Magazine - - FESTIVE FOODS -

AMA­JOR el­e­ment of Christ­mas is fes­tive over-in­dul­gence in ex­cess of food, drink and cel­e­bra­tion. Along with be­ing a time of over-eat­ing and en­joy­ing rich food there are many culi­nary tra­di­tions which, while as­so­ci­ated with the fes­tive sea­son, in some cases even pre-date the cel­e­bra­tion of Christ­mas.

An ex­am­ple of tra­di­tional Christ­mas foods that have a long his­tory is the Buche de Noel or Yule Log, a French tra­di­tional dish that has be­come pop­u­lar through­out the world. The dessert is a de­li­cious con­fec­tion of choco­late cake and rich pas­try cream rolled into the shape of a log filled with a deca­dent sauce, cream, or some­times a jam. Over time, the Yule Log has been adapted and ad­justed to dif­fer­ent per­sonal and na­tional tastes but the orig­i­nal tra­di­tion of the log has re­mained in the form the cake takes to­day.

The ori­gin of the Yule Log is to sym­bol­ise an ac­tual log which should burn con­tin­u­ously on the fire­place dur­ing Christ­mas night.

If it goes out, it means bad luck in the com­ing year. The next morn­ing, the ashes from the log are scooped up and kept as a good luck charm to heal sick­ness, bring on needed rain, and guar­an­tee suc­cess in busi­ness.

Mince pies are some­thing many peo­ple will no­tice ap­pear­ing in the shops as De­cem­ber ap­proaches but, while to­day they are filled with mixed fruit pre­serves that have a sweet taste and sug­ared ap­peal fewer may know that mince pies are so named be­cause they used to con­tain meat.

Minced pies were a del­i­cacy that grew in pop­u­lar­ity in the 13th cen­tury as Euro­pean cru­saders, who had been quest­ing for re­li­gious en­light­en­ment in the mid­dle-eastern holy lands re­turned home with var­i­ous spices and recipes for spiced meats.

The spiced meats (of­ten lamb and goat, though this changed to suit ready avail­abil­ity in Europe of beef and pork), sea­soned with the likes of cin­na­mon, not tasted be­fore in Europe, and mixed with an ar­ray of fruits, both lo­cal and ex­otic, cre­ated a sweet meat pie.

The pie as it was known then was far larger than to­day’s mince pies and was banned on a num­ber of oc­ca­sions by var­i­ous re­li­gious groups for its deca­dence. It was this lux­ury as­so­ci­a­tion which led to a resur­gence in the pie’s pop­u­lar­ity in the 1700s as hav­ing lav­ish minced pies be­came a sta­tus sym­bol, with pies shaped in vary­ing ways and of­ten pre­pared and dis­played in wealthy house­holds as puz­zles for dis­as­sem­bly as well as eat­ing.

The in­gre­di­ents of the pie have had a num­ber of tra­di­tions as­so­ci­ated with them, in­clud­ing hav­ing 13 in­gre­di­ents to sym­bol­ise Christ and his 12 dis­ci­ples and the con­tents rep­re­sent­ing Je­sus and those who vis­ited him in Beth­le­hem while the crust was viewed as the manger and the pas­try top the swad­dling cloths.

In Bri­tain, it is still be­lieved by some that to eat a mince pie on each of the 12 days of Christ­mas will bring 12 happy months in the year to fol­low.

A less-ap­petis­ing Christ­mas din­ing ap­peal is pro­vided by the fact that, prior to beef, tur­key, chicken and ham, of­ten the most de­sired meat to play cen­tre­piece on the din­ing ta­ble was a boar’s head or lamb’s brains. Th­ese were seen as del­i­ca­cies that for many were only served dur­ing the fes­tive sea­son due to their ex­pense and scarcity.

For the wealthy, ban­quets were com­mon­place in day to day life but for less for­tu­nate peo­ple, cre­at­ing ex­trav­a­gant din­ing to cel­e­brate Christ­mas meant be­ing creative with what was avail­able. The likes of Christ­mas pud­ding was a treat as they were made with fruits and flavours which, for much of the year, peo­ple did not get to en­joy.

The eastern Euro­pean re­gion of the Ukraine is one of many sources of culi­nary Christ­mas tra­di­tion, some of which have car­ried over into pop­u­lar be­lief around the world while oth­ers have re­mained cul­tur­ally unique to the re­gion.

In the Ukraine there are 12 cour­ses to the tra­di­tional Christ­mas Eve sup­per. Ac­cord­ing to folk­lore, each course is ded­i­cated to one of Christ’s apos­tles.

The meal does not be­gin un­til the fam­ily’s youngest mem­ber, watch­ing at the win­dow, spots the evening star and then the feast be­gins. The ta­ble on which the feast is eaten has two table­cloths, one for the din­ers and one for the an­ces­tors of the fam­ily. In pa­gan times, an­ces­tors were be­lieved to be benev­o­lent spir­its who, when shown re­spect, brought good for­tune.

There is also a tra­di­tion of hav­ing an ar­ti­fi­cial spi­der in the Christ­mas tree as this is said to sym­bol­ise good luck. This is some­thing which is seen as a tra­di­tion in­ter­na­tion­ally where find­ing a spi­der in the tree is sup­posed to bring good for­tune for the com­ing year. In Aus­tralia the chances are there will be a blend of tra­di­tions from all around the world, as our mul­ti­cul­tural make-up as a na­tion brings to­gether ev­ery­thing from prawns and steaks on the bar­be­cue to tur­key and glazed ham with gravy and roast pota­toes. Whether on the beach or at a well-dressed din­ing ta­ble, the same sen­ti­ment and in­tent will be car­ried through all fes­tive feasts as eat­ing and in­dulging to ex­cess leave all con­cerned happy and con­tent.

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