Traditional Ingredients of Christmas Then and Now



A fragrance overload occurs in the season of specific spices, minty tastes and refreshing drinks. The anticipation to await our favorite ingredients offers temptations too irresistible to deny. The mind reminisces of days in childhood with grandparents, parents, aunts and uncles, cousins and siblings; yet, the history of Christmas ingredients stretches to the fascinating times involving ancient Egyptians and Romans, the medieval times, of kings and queens, and European countries. An extraordinary history, indeed, to find its way to the homes of the New World, America, and continue into the 21st century.

Eggnog

First, the name. Nog was a strong variety of beer served warm. And, bartenders served nog in a small wooden carved mug called a noggin. Eggnog itself is a drink of eggs, dairy, sugar and, historically, alcohol. From egg-n-grog to eggnog, eventually, the name simplified. During the American Revolution, the original recipe of warm milk and egg with a mixture of ground nutmeg, cinnamon, and brandy and sherry to prevent spoiling altered the spirits to include moonshine. Colonists had access to rum, while farmers west of coastal ports had fields of grain to make whiskey. A drink of celebration and the delicious nog became a Christmas tradition. Rather than buy a carton, this year, find a recipe and create your own.

Gingerbread

In medieval England, gingerbread was a term designed to mean “preserved ginger.” The spice concealed the taste of preserved meats and in a concoction of drink, boosted the health of Henry VII. Throughout England, France and Germany, candied ginger desserts became a favorite at medieval festivals, called gingerbread fairs. Queen Elizabeth I requested the design of gingerbread to represent her foreign dignitaries. It may be the reason gingerbread men came into existence. While accessible year-round, eating gingerbread at Christmas was always affordable and continues to be a family favorite ingredient.

Making gingerbread cookie dough is not as complicated as you may think. While the orange zest is optional, add it! The subtle taste of citrus pairs extraordinarily well with cinnamon.

Mulled Wine

Dating back to the 2nd century by the Romans, the heated wine warmed the body against the chill. Throughout the middle ages, Europeans added spices, herbs and flowers to promote health and hope to avoid sickness. By the late 1800s, wine merchants rekindled the mulled wine popularity by concocting their recipes and bottling in time to start a new tradition of selling glogg, or mulled wine, each Christmas.

Fifteen to 20 minutes will create a delicious drink for gatherings or dinner guests. There are plenty of recipes to choose from, depending on which mixture sounds the most delicious to you!

Nuts

The three sections of a nut have a symbolic and religious message. The trinity comprises the shell, skin and kernel. Eating the nut symbolized good fortune. In the 1800s, it was a tradition for a man to arrive dressed as St. Nicholas and scatter a bag of fruit and nuts on the table. The household scrambled to collect the contents for the table’s centerpiece. Germans began a tradition of giving a wooden nutcracker in the shape of a soldier to guard loved ones and keep them safe. Families gathered at the table and passed around the nut bowl to share in fellowship.

In some households, roasting chestnuts is synonymous with Christmas, served as a dessert and accompanied with fruit and dried figs. It’s worth trying!

Peppermint

Some believe peppermint is the star ingredient of Christmas and tradition. Ancient Egyptians and Romans used peppermint to flavor sauces and accented the table with springs to add a refreshing fragrance. In the 1670s, one story tells of a German choirmaster who needed a group of rowdy children focused when observing the Nativity. A confectioner came to the rescue and created a special hard candy using peppermint flavoring to sugar.

How will you integrate the favorite ingredient? A few ideas would be to make peppermint stick brownies, peppermint bark, mint meringue kiss cookies, peppermint hot chocolate or create a peppermint wreath.

What smell arrives in your senses to say, “It smells a lot like Christmas?”


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