The History of Fruit Cake and Other Christmas Goodies

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The History of Fruit Cake and other Christmas Goodies©

By Arlene Wright-Correll

(Medieval Bakers illustration by Arlene Wright-Correll)

I have always loved fruit cake. Carl loves fruit cake. However, for some reason the fruit cake genes did not spill over into our 5 children. We could eat it all year round. There is a standard old joke about the oldest family heirloom being a fruit cake. Is there any food product anywhere that is more ridiculed and parodied during the holiday season than the poor old fruitcake?

Our late sister-in-law, Martha Wright-Enright made the most wonderful fruit cakes. She made them at the end of July. She baked them in 1 pound coffee tins and after they were baked she wrapped them in cheese cloth, put them back into the coffee tins and soaked them with brandy before putting the tops back onto the tins. She then stored them in the attic until Christmas time. They were the most glorious fruit cakes. Generally, fruitcake is a mixture of fruits and nuts with just enough batter to hold them together. When wrapped in cloth and foil, saturated with alcoholic liquors regularly, and kept in tightly closed tins, a fruitcake may be kept for months or even years.

A good fruit cake recipe includes red domestic and imported French cherries, select almonds, crisp Georgia pecans, California walnuts and raisins, imported pineapple, and lemon and orange peel. Plus some sort of liquor or brandy.

The ratio of fruit and nuts to batter is fairly high, with just enough cake batter to hold it all together. This results in a very dense, heavy cake. Fruitcakes have traditionally been classified as either light or dark, although it is not necessarily the color that counts.

The lighter ones are less rich than their darker cousins and have subtler flavors and aroma. They are made with granulated sugar, light corn syrup, almonds, golden raisins, pineapple and apricots. The darker cakes are considered by some bakers to be the top of the line. They are much bolder in flavor and appearance. These get their color from molasses, brown sugar, raisins, prunes, dates, cherries, pecans and walnuts. The more expensive fruit cakes have brandy or liquor in them.

It seems that fruit cakes materialize just in time for the Christmas Holidays. The oldest fruitcake company in the United States is the Collin Street Bakery, Corsicana Texas [1896]

While the practice of making cakes with dried fruits, honey and nuts may be traced back to ancient times, food historians generally agree that fruitcake (as we know it today) dates back to the Middle ages.

Fruit cake is a British specialty. English passed out slices of cake to poor women who sang Christmas carols in the street during the late 1700s. It is known that in England by the end of the 18th century there were laws restricting the use of plum cake (plum being the generic word for dried fruit at the time) to Christmas, Easter, weddings, christenings and funerals. The fruit cake as known today cannot date back much beyond the Middle Ages. It was only in the 13th century that dried fruits began to arrive in Britain, from Portugal and the east Mediterranean. Lightly fruited breads were probably more common than anything resembling the modern fruit cake during the Middle Ages. Early versions of the rich fruit cake, such as Scottish Black Bun dating from the Middle Ages, were luxuries for special occasions. Fruit cakes have been used for celebrations since at least the early 18th century when bride cakes and plum cakes, descended from enriched bread recipes, became cookery standards.

Fruit breads which include yeast are not to be confused with fruit cake which does not. The Victorians enjoyed their fruitcakes. Even today it remains a custom in England for unmarried wedding guests to put a slice of dark fruitcake under their pillow at night so they will dream of the person they will marry. It is said that Queen Victoria once waited a year to devour a birthday fruitcake because she felt it showed restraint.

Making a rich fruit cake in the 18th century was a major undertaking. The ingredients had to be carefully prepared. Fruit was washed, dried, and stoned (taking out the pits) if necessary; sugar, cut from loaves, had to be pounded and sieved; butter washed in water and rinsed in rosewater. Eggs were beaten for a long time, half an hour being commonly directed. Yeast, or barm from fermenting beer, had to be coaxed to life. Finally, the cook had to cope with the temperamental wood-fired baking ovens of that time. No wonder these cakes acquired such mystique???


Fruit cakes are good to take camping and hiking. Pickled or aged fruitcakes, as their devotees (and there arenít many) like to call them, have the legendary ability to last a long time. Crusaders were said to have packed cakes into their saddlebags and backpacks, before heading down the rocky road to the Holy Grail. Panforte, a thin chewy fruitcake originating in Italy more than a thousand years ago and taken on The Crusades, is still made today. The history of fruitcake is also closely related to the European nut harvests of the 1700s. After the harvest, accumulated nuts were mixed and made into a fruitcake that was saved until the following year. At that time, the fruitcake was consumed in the hope that its symbolism would bring the blessing of another successful harvest.

Immigrants from Germany, England, The Caribbean and other parts of the world brought their own style of fruitcakes to the United States and thatís why no one can agree on the definition of a fruitcake. The ones displayed in groceries are almost all Americanized versions of the classic.

Fruit cake recipe # 1

2 cups chopped dried peaches or apricots

2 cups golden raisins.

1 cup chopped dried pears

1 cup chopped dried pineapple

1 large Granny Smith apple, peeled, cored and coarsely chopped

1 -3/4 cups bourbon or dark rum

3/4 cup fresh orange juice

2-/12 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour

3/4 teaspoon ground cloves

3/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1 cup blanched, slivered almonds, toasted

12 tablespoons (1-1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature

1/2 cup sugar

4 large eggs

2/3 cup heavy (or whipping) cream or buttermilk

1/4 cup honey

1. In a large mixing bowl, combine the dried fruits, apple and 1-1/4 cups of the bourbon. Heat the orange juice in a small saucepan over low heat until warmed through. Pour it over the fruits. Cover and let stand at room temperature, tossing frequently, until the liquid has been absorbed, about 2 hours or refrigerate over night.

2. Adjust an oven rack to the middle shelf and preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Generously butter a 10-cup Bundt pan. Dust the pan with flour, shaking off any excess.

3. Sift 1 cup of the flour with the cloves, nutmeg, salt and baking soda into a small bowl. Set aside. Add the remaining 1-1/2 cups flour and the toasted almonds to the fruits, and toss thoroughly. Set aside.

4. With an electric mixer at medium speed, beat the butter and sugar in another large mixing bowl until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one a time, beating well after each addition. Fold the batter into the fruit mixture, mixing well.

5. Scrape the mixture into the prepared pan. Smooth the top. Bake until a bamboo skewer inserted in the center comes out clean, about 1 hour 20 minutes. Cool the cake in the pan for 10 minutes, then turn it out onto a rack.

6. Combine the honey and the remaining 1/2 cup bourbon in a small saucepan, and cook over low heat, stirring until the honey has dissolved, about 2 minutes. Brush 1/2 of the hot glaze over the top and sides of the cake. Gently turn the cake over, and brush on the remaining glaze. Let the cake cool thoroughly.

7. Wrap the cake tightly in plastic wrap, then in heavy-duty aluminum foil. Let the cake mellow a couple of days at room temperature before serving.

The last time I was in Scotland, I came across a fruit cake type of cake called Dundee Cake and it was quite good.

Dundee Cake

Prep 35 minutes plus overnight to stand

Bake 2 hours to 2 hours 15 minutes

Some what more subtle than a holiday fruitcake, this popular Scottish teacake is topped with whole almonds and lightly flavored with orange.

Σ 2 cups all-purpose flour

Σ 1 teaspoon baking powder

Σ 1/4 teaspoon salt

Σ 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice

Σ 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Σ 2/3 cup blanched whole almonds

Σ 1 cup sugar

Σ 2/3 cup golden raisins

Σ 2/3 cup dried currants

Σ 1/2 cup diced candied citron

Σ 1/2 cup diced candied orange or lemon peel

Σ 1/2 cup red candied cherries, chopped Σ 1 cup butter or margarine (2 sticks), softened Σ 4 large eggs

Σ 2 tablespoons orange-flavored liqueur

1 Preheat oven to 300∫ F. Grease and flour 8-inch spring form pan.

2 In medium bowl stir together flour, baking powder, salt, allspice, and cinnamon.

3 In food processor with knife blade attached, combine 1/3 cup almonds and 1/4 cup sugar. Process until almonds are finely ground. In medium bowl, mix ground-almond mixture, raisins, currants, citron, orange peel and cherries.

4 In large bowl, with mixer at low speed, beat remaining 3/4 cup sugar and butter until blended. Increase speed to medium-high and beat 5 minutes, or until light and creamy. Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in orange liqueur. Reduce speed to low; beat in flour mixture until blended, scraping bowl (batter will be thick). Stir in fruit mixture.

5. Spoon batter into prepared pan, spreading evenly. Arrange remaining 1/3 cup almonds on top of batter. Bake 2 hours to 2 hours 15 minutes, until toothpick inserted in center of cake comes out clean. Cover pan loosely with foil after 1 hour to prevent top from over browning. Cool in pan on wire rack 20 minutes. With small knife, loosen cake from side of pan; remove pan side. Cool completely on wire rack. When cool, remove pan bottom and wrap cake in plastic wrap and then in foil. Let stand overnight before serving. Makes 20 servings.

Almost like Martha Wright-Enrightís Fruit cake.

1 cup diced glazed candied orange peel

1 cup diced glazed candied lemon peel

2 cups diced citron

1 cup currants

2 cups seedless raisins, chopped

1/2 cup dry red wine

1/2 cup brandy

3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

2 teaspoons freshly grated nutmeg

1/2 teaspoon ground cloves

1 teaspoon ground allspice

1/2 teaspoon ground mace

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 cup plus 6 Tbsp butter, room temperature

2 cups brown sugar

5 eggs, separated

1/2 cup sorghum molasses

Mix all the fruit in a large bowl and pour in the wine and brandy. Stir gently and set aside to marinate for a few hours.

Butter a 10-inch tube pan or two 9 x 5 x 3-inch loaf pans and line it (or them) with clean parchment paper. Butter the paper.

Sift the flour with the spices twice. Add the baking powder and salt and sift again.

Put the butter into a large mixing bowl and cream until satiny. Add sugar and, using an electric mixer, cream until light and fluffy. Beat the egg yolks slightly and then add them to the bowl. Mix the batter well before you start to add the flour-spice mixture. Stir the batter as you add the flour, a little at a time, stirring well after each addition. When the flour is thoroughly incorporated, add the molasses and stir. Finally, stir in the fruit and any soaking liquid in the bowl.

Put the egg whites in a grease-free bowl and beat with a clean beater until they hold stiff peaks. Fold them into the batter thoroughly and then spoon the batter into the prepared pan ( or pans ). Cover loosely with a clean cloth and let the batter sit overnight in a cool place to mellow.

On the next day, heat the oven to 250 degrees. Place the fruitcake on the middle rack of the oven and bake for 3 1/2 to 4 hours. After 1 1/2 hours, cover the pan with a piece of brown paper (do not use foil) or set the pan in a paper bag and return it to the oven.

When the cake has baked for 3 1/2 hours, remove it from the oven and listen closely for any quiet, bubbling noises. If you hear the cake, it needs more baking. Or test the cake with a toothpick or cake tester. If the toothpick or tester comes out of the center of the cake clean, the cake is ready to take from the oven. Put it on a wire rack to cool, still in the pan.

When the cake is completely cool, turn it out of the pan (pans), leaving the brown-paper lining on the cake. Wrap the cake with parchment, then aluminum foil, and pack the cake in a tin. Homemade fruitcakes need air, so punch a few holes in the lid of the tin or set the cover loosely on the tin.

Set the tin in a cool, undisturbed place, and every two or three weeks before Christmas, open the foil and sprinkle the cake with a liqueur glassful of brandy, wine, or whiskey. The liquor will keep the cake most and flavorful and help preserve it as well.

Dark Rum Nut Fruit Cake

Soaking the fruit and nuts overnight allows the cake’s flavors to mingle. This cake tastes best if given a few weeks to mellow before it is topped with almond paste and iced

6 cups diced, mixed candied peel

1 1/2 cups diced candied citron

1 1/2 cups halved red candied cherries

1 1/2 cups halved green candied cherries

4 cups currants

6 cups seedless dark raisins

2 cups blanched slivered almonds

2 cups coarsely chopped walnuts

1 cup dark rum

1/2 cup all-purpose flour

2 cups butter

2 1/2 cups lightly packed brown sugar

7 eggs

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

3 cups all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons cinnamon

1 teaspoon ground cloves

In large bowl, combine candied fruit, currants, raisins and nuts. Pour rum over mixture; stir to combine. Cover; let sit overnight.

Prepare four 9 by 5 loaf pans as desired by buttering and lining them with buttered parchment paper.

Drain any liquid from fruit/nut mixture, reserving liquid. Add 1/2 cup flour to mixture; stir to coat.

In separate large bowl, cream butter with electric mixer until light and fluffy; add brown sugar and beat until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating thoroughly after each addition. Add vanilla and reserved liquid from fruit.

In another bowl, sift together 3 cups flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon and cloves. Add gradually to creamed mixture, stirring just to blend. Stir in floured fruit and nut mixture.

Turn mixture into prepared pans. Bake 3 to 3 1/2 hours in preheated 250 degree F oven or until a tester inserted in middle of each cake comes out clean. Cool 30 minutes in pans, then turn out on to racks. Carefully remove paper and cool completely.

Makes four 9 x 5-inch cakes.

Fruitcake # 2

2 pounds pitted dates

1/2 pound green candied cherries

1/2 pound red candied cherries

1 pound candied pineapple (cut in pieces, if whole)

3/4 cup granulated sugar

1 pound English Walnuts, shelled

1 pound pecans, shelled

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

5 eggs

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Leave nuts and fruit as whole as possible.

Sift flour, sugar, salt, and baking powder over fruit and nuts. Mix well with hands.

Beat eggs and vanilla extract and pour over flour mixture. Blend well.

Line two bread pans with wax paper and butter well. Divide dough into the two pans and bake at 200 degrees F for 1 hour and 45 minutes. Put on rack to cool.

When cool, wrap tightly in foil or freezer paper.

French Fruitcake

3/4 cup candied orange peel

1/2 cup coarsely chopped walnuts

1/2 cup raisins

1/2 cup golden raisins

1 5/8 cups all-purpose flour, divided

1/2 cup butter, softened

1/2 cup granulated sugar

2 1/2 tablespoons honey

2 eggs

1 1/2 tablespoons light cream

2 tablespoons dark rum

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

Toss candied orange peel, walnuts and raisins with 2 tablespoons of the flour. Set aside.

In a large bowl, cream the butter with the sugar and honey. Beat in the egg, then the cream or milk, rum and vanilla extract.

Stir together the remaining 1 1/2 cups flour and the baking powder; beat into creamed mixture. Stir in the fruits and nuts. Turn the batter into a greased and floured 9 x 5-inch loaf pan.

Bake in a preheated 350 degrees F oven for 10 minutes.

Lower the heat to 325 degrees F. Bake the cake for 45 minutes longer, or until it tests done with a wooden pick. Transfer to a rack to cool.

Yields one 9 x 5-inch loaf cake.

Tiny Christmas Fruit Cakes

1/4 pound candied cherries, chopped

3 candied pineapple slices, chopped

2 1/4 cups chopped pecans

1 (6 ounce) can coconut

1 (14 ounce) can sweetened condensed milk

3 tablespoons butter (do not melt)

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 300 degrees F.

Cut or chop fruit and nuts. Add fruit, nuts and coconut to milk, butter and vanilla extract. Mix well.

Grease tiny muffin tins very well and fill three-fourths full. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes or until golden on top. Remove carefully when cool.

Quick Mincemeat Fruitcake

2 1/2 cups sifted all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

2 eggs, lightly beaten

1 (28 ounce) jar ready-to-use mincemeat

1 (14 ounce) can sweetened condensed milk

1 cup chopped walnuts

2 cups candied mixed fruit

Preheat oven to 300 degrees F. Line two 9 x 4-inch loaf pans with wax paper.

Sift the flour and baking soda together.

In a large bowl, combine eggs, mincemeat, condensed milk, fruit and nuts. Fold in dry ingredients. Pour into prepared pans.

Bake for 2 hours or until center springs back and top is golden brown. Cool.

Turn cakes out onto a wire rack; remove wax paper.

A Brief History of Candy Canes

When sugar first became known in Europe it was a rare and costly commodity, valued mainly for its supposed medicinal qualities and finding its place in the pharmacopoeia of the medieval apothecary???Sugar gradually became more widely available in Europe during the Middle Ages. In Britain it was considered to be an excellent remedy for winter colds. It might be eaten in the form of candy crystals???or it might be made into little twisted sticks which were called in Latin penida, later Anglicized to pennets. The tradition of penida survives most clearly in American stick candy which is similarly twisted and flavored with essences supposed to be effective against colds, such as oil of wintergreen.

Legend has it that in 1670, the choirmaster at the Cologne Cathedral in Germany handed out sugar sticks among his young singers to keep them quiet during the long Living Creche ceremony. In honor of the occasion, he had the candies bent into shepherds’ crooks. In 1847, a German-Swedish immigrant named August Imgard of Wooster, Ohio, decorated a small blue spruce with paper ornaments and candy canes. It wasn’t until the turn of the century that the red and white stripes and peppermint flavors became the norm.

Each year 1.76 billion candy canes are made ó enough to stretch from Santa Clause, IN to North Pole, AK and back again 32 times. For 200 years, the candy cane came only in one color ó white. National Candy Cane Day is celebrated December 26th in the United States. In December 1998 Richard and Kathleen Fabiano-Ghinelli made the biggest candy cane at 36 feet 7inches

Why are some candies associated with Christmas? Hundreds of years ago sugar was very expensive. It was a food of the wealthy. For other people, it was a special treat saved for holidays (Christmas, Easter) and other special occasions (weddings, christenings). Many of these traditions remain today including candy cane which are said to resemble the shepherdís crook or J for Jesus.

Candy Canes

6 c. sugar

3 c. cold water

2 T. light corn syrup

1/8 t. salt

1 t. cream of tartar

flavoring OIL (peppermint, etc., found at pharmacies and specialty stores)

food coloring

Combine sugar, water, corn syrup and salt in a heavy 6/7 quart pan. Heat and stir until sugar crystals are dissolved, and then stop stirring. Bring to a rolling boil and wash down the crystals, then add the cream of tartar.

Boil rapidly to the hard crack stage.

Pour two-thirds of the syrup out quickly onto a slab or greased flat pan. Pour the rest into a buttered glass pie pan. Do not move until partly set. Turn the edges in on each portion and add flavoring to each. .about 6 drops of oil to the large portion and 3 to the small.

Add food coloring to the small dish.

As soon a humanly possible, start to pull the portion in the large container until pearly-colored. (It will be really hot. .butter your hands and set it down when it gets too hot!) Form it into a ball. Meanwhile gather up the colored portion and form it into a rope and wrap it around the ball. With one person on each end, start to stretch and twist the ball in opposite directions to form a long rope with the traditional stripe. Cut into lengths as necessary. When the desired diameter is achieved, cut and form into canes (roll it on the board to get it smooth). If it gets too cold to work with, put on a wooden breadboard in a warm oven to soften.

Christmas Cookies

Each of us at one time or another has made Christmas Cookies. Our youngest daughter, Glynis has a catering business called the “Cookie Woman” and she can make the most amazing and elaborate Christ Cookies and Cakes.

Cakes of all shapes and sizes (including smaller items such as cookies) have been part of festive holiday rituals long before Christmas. Ancient cooks prepared sweet baked goods to mark significant occasions. Many of these recipes and ingredients (cinnamon, ginger, black pepper, almonds, dried fruits etc.) were introduced to Europe in the Middle ages. They were highly prized and quickly incorporated into European baked goods. Christmas cookies, as we know them today, trace their roots to these Medieval European recipes.

Lebkuchen (gingerbread) was probably the first cake/cookie traditionally associated with Christmas. For Christmas over a hundred years ago, Pennsylvania German children in Lancaster County helped cut out and decorate foot-high cookies to stand in the front of windows of their stone or brick houses. These cookie people–often gingerbread men and women iced with rows of buttons and big smiles–were a cheerful sight to snow-cold passersby. Figural cookie-making was practiced in Europe at least as far back as the sixteenth century–most of them were made using intaglio molds rather than with cutters.

By the 1500s, Christmas cookies had caught on all over Europe. German families baked up pans of Lebkuchen and buttery Spritz cookies. Papparkakor (spicy ginger and black-pepper delights) were favorites in Sweden; the Norwegians made krumkake (thin lemon and cardamom-scented wafers). The earliest Christmas cookies in America came ashore with the Dutch in the early 1600s???but it wasn’t until the 1930s that whimsically shaped cutters made of tin became less expensive and more abundant–and the Christmas-cookie boom began.

The first gingerbread man is credited to the court of Queen Elizabeth I, who favored important visitors???with charming gingerbread likenesses of themselves???After the Grimm Brothers’ tale of Hansel and Gretel described a house “made of bread,” with a roof of cake and windows of barley, German bakeries began offering elaborate gingerbread houses with icing snow on the roofs, along with edible gingerbread Christmas cards and finely detailed molded cookies. Tinsmiths fashioned cookie cutters into all imaginable forms, and every woman wanted one shape that was different from anybody else’s???Most of the cookies that hung on nineteenth-century Christmas trees were at least half an inch thick and cut into animal shapes or gingerbread men.

The tradition of baking the sweetly decorated houses began in Germany after the Brothers Grimm published their collection of German fairy tales in the early 1800s.

Among the tales was the story of Hansel and Gretel, children left to starve in the forest, who came upon a house made of bread and sugar decorations. The hungry children feasted on its sweet shingles. After the fairy tale was published, German bakers began baking houses of lebkuchen –spicy cakes often containing ginger — and employed artists and craftsmen to decorate them. The houses became particularly popular during Christmas, a tradition that crossed the ocean with German immigrants. Pennsylvania, where many settled, remains a stronghold for the tradition. It is believed gingerbread was first baked in Europe at the end of the 11 th century, when returning crusaders brought the bread and the spicy root back from the Middle East. Ginger wasn’t merely flavorful; it had properties that helped preserve the bread. Not long after it arrived, bakers began to cut the bread into shapes and decorate them with sugar. Gingerbread baking became recognized as a profession. In the 17th century, only professional gingerbread bakers were allowed to bake the spicy treat in Germany and France. Rules relaxed during Christmas and Easter, when anyone was permitted to bake it. Nuremberg, Germany, became known as the “Gingerbread Capital of the World” in the 1600s when the guild employed master bakers and artisans to create intricate works of art from gingerbread, sometimes using gold leaf to decorate the houses

As a child, I can remember pfferneuse cookies every Christmas. It was a tradition in my dadís fatherís home. These were the round cookies that had hard brown spicy centers and were heavily dusted with confectionary sugar.

Pfferneuse cookies

2 Cups of Brown Sugar

2 Cups White Sugar

1 Cup Shortening or Oleo Margarine

1 Can condensed milk

2 Eggs

1 teaspoon Vanilla extract

3 teaspoons Baking Powder

3-5 cups Flour

Ω to 1 teaspoon Allspice or ª teaspoon of each: cloves, nutmeg, mace, ginger and cinnamon (Adjust to taste.)

1 teaspoon fine ground brown star anise.

Mix the brown sugar, white sugar, shortening and condensed milk thoroughly. Use a heavy wooden spoon or your hands as the dough is always very thick and stiff.

Beat the 2 eggs slightly and add. Then add all of the spices, vanilla and baking powder.

Add 3 Cups Flour and mix thoroughly. Add more flour until dough is stiff. Usually one more cup will do but, practice makes perfect. Itís best to start with three and add at least one more as the dough is worked.

Make long rolls on a cookie sheet about Ω inch thick.

Slice into disks about ª inch thick. Be careful that the disks remain standing on edge and do not fall over and that there is adequate space between them so they will cook evenly. They will expand sideways but if they touch, they will break apart later. If they fall over, you’ll have a bunch of tiny pancakes so try and not let that happen.

Cover with wax paper or damp towel and put into refrigerator for Ω day or over night.

Bake for approximately 10 minutes at 375 ∞F. Don’t let them burn. A convection oven also works the same.

(This recipe is one I use many times and it came from A Traditional Christmas Cookie by Erna Duerksen on

courtesy of her grandson Bob Cherry.)

Mince Pie

Mince pie was another holiday tradition in our house. It is also something Carl and I can eat at any time of the year. It is also something none of our kids like. So who knows! Mincemeat. Also Mince is a mixture of chopped fruits, spices, suet, and, sometimes meat that is usually baked in a pie crust. The word comes from mince to chop finely, whose own origins are in the Latin minuere, “to diminish,” and once mincemeat referred specifically to a meat that had been minced up, a meaning it has had since the sixteenth century. By the nineteenth century, however, the word referred to a pie of fruit, spices, and suet, only occasionally containing any meat at all. In Colonial America these pies were made in the fall and sometimes frozen throughout winter.

When in Britain you will find that mince pie is a miniature round pie, filled with mincemeat: typically a mixture of dried fruits, chopped nuts and apples, suet, spices, and lemon juice, vinegar, or brandy. Although the filling is called mincemeat, it rarely contains meat nowadays. In North America the pie may be larger, to serve several people. The large size is an innovation, for the original forms were almost always small. The earliest type was a small medieval pastry called a chewette, which contained chopped meat of liver, or fish on fast days, mixed with chopped hard-boiled egg and ginger. This might be baked or fried. It became usually to enrich the filling with dried fruit and other sweet ingredients. Already by the 16th century minced or shred pies, as they were then known, had become a Christmas specialty, which they still are. The beef was sometimes partly or wholly replaced by suet from the mid-17th century onwards, and meat had effectively disappeared from mincemeat’ on both sides of the Atlantic in the 19th century

Plum Pudding or Christmas pudding

Stir-Up Day is the name traditionally given to the day on which Christmas puddings are made in England. Stir-Up Sunday, the last Sunday before Advent, is considered the final day on which one can make the Christmas fruit cakes and puddings that require time to be aged before being served. United Kingdom???The Collect of the Church of England for this Sunday begins, “Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of they faithful people, what they plenteously bring forth the fruit of good works???” This prayer was parodied by the choirboys: “Stir up, we beseech thee, the pudding in the pot. And when we do get home tonight, we’ll eat it up hot.” The Christmas pudding is traditionally “stirred up” on this day. All family members must take a hand in the stirring, and a special wooden spoon (in honor of Christ’s crib) is used. The stirring must be in a clockwise direction, with eyes shut, while making a secret wish.

Holiday Breads Stollen

Stollen is a rich fruit bread/cake from central Germany, especially the city of Dresden???the name is derived from an Old High German word, stollo, meaning a support or post. The characteristic shape of Stollen–oblong, tapered at each end with a ridge down the centre–is said to represent the Christ Child in swaddling clothes, whence the name Christollen sometimes given to it. The Dresden Stollen, now known internationally as a Christmas specialty, is made from rich, sweet yeast dough, mixed with milk, eggs, sugar, and butter, sometimes flavored with lemon. Raisins, sultanas, currants, rum or brandy, candied peel, and almonds are worked into the dough. After baking, the Stollen is painted with melted butter and dusted with sugar. It may then be further decorated with candied fruits.

Stollens were developed in Europe during Medieval times and were traditionally saved for holiday times because they were expensive. Cook of all times and places save their very best ingredients for special occasions. These special holiday yeast cakes were made with the cook’s finest wheat flour, white sugar, butter, eggs, and dried fruit; some included rich filling, such as marzipan [almond paste]. Three kings cakes (related to New Orleans’ King Cake) required similar ingredients and were/are connected with Twelfth Night and Mardi Gras.

The last time we were in Vienna we went to a castle and into the kitchen where they were making wonderful Stollen.

Christmas Stollen

3 3/4 cups flour

1 cup confectioners’ sugar

1/2 cup lukewarm milk

3 teaspoons yeast

8 Tbsp. softened sweet butter

1 Tbsp. lard (or butter)

1 large egg

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 Tbsp. rum

pinch of ground cinnamon

grated peel of 1/2 lemon

1 cup slivered almonds

1/4 cup candied lemon peel

1/4 cup candied orange peel

1 1/4 cup raisins

For basting:

6 Tbsp. milk (room temperature)

8 Tbsp. butter

3/4 cup powered sugar

Sift the flour into a bowl and make a crater in the center. Into the crater, add 1/4 c. of the confectioners’ sugar and 1/4 cup of the milk. Sprinkle the yeast over the milk and dust the yeast with a little flour. Let the yeast develop for 15-20 minutes.

Add the butter, lard, egg, salt, remaining sugar, vanilla extract, rum, cinnamon, grated lemon peel, slivered almonds, candied lemon and orange peels, and raisins. Add only enough of the remaining milk to make dough pliable. Knead thoroughly and cover the dough with a damp towel and let it rise overnight.

Knead again for 1 minute then shape the dough into a loaf and put it on a large buttered baking sheet. Use your fingertips to push back into the dough any raisins that may have popped up to prevent scorching. Baste the loaf with tablespoons of milk and bake in a preheated oven at 350 degrees for approximately 50 minutes. Stollen must turn golden brown. Test to make sure it is done with a toothpick.

Baste the Stollen generously with butter while it is still hot, and then sprinkle with powered sugar. Repeat this process in order to attain a nice white surface and to help keep the Stollen fresh and moist for several weeks. It’s best to store for at least a week before serving.

Sugar Plums

Sugarplums were an early form of boiled sweet. Not actually made from plums???they were nevertheless roughly the size and shape of plums, and often had little wire stalks’ for suspending them from. They came in an assortment of colors and flavors, and frequently, like comfits, had an aniseed, caraway seed, etc. at their centre. Sugarplums belong to the comfit family, a confection traditionally composed of tiny sugar-coated seeds. The Oxford English Dictionary defines the word sugarplum thusly: “A small round or oval sweetmeat, made of boiled sugared and variously flavored and colored; a comfit.” The earliest mention of this particular food is 1668.

Buche de Noel Pronounced: boosh / duh / noh el

Buche de Noel is one of many traditional cakes baked at Christmas. As the name suggests, it is of French origin. The name of this recipe literally translates as “Christmas log,” referring to the traditional Yule log burned centuries past. The ingredients suggest the cake is most likely a 19th century creation. That’s when thinly rolled sponge cakes filled with jam or cream and covered with butter cream icing begin to show up in European cook books.

The Christmas Yule Log is a log-shaped cake traditionally prepared for the Christmas festivities. It is usually made of rectangular slices of Genoese sponge, spread with butter cream and placed one on top of the other, and them shaped into a log; it is coated with chocolate butter cream, applied with a piping bag to simulate bark. The cake is decorated with holly leaves made from almond paste, meringue mushrooms and small figures. A Swiss roll (jelly roll) may be used instead of sliced Genoese cake. There are also ice cream logs, some made entirely of different flavored ice creams and some with the inside made of parfait or a bombe mixture. This cake is a fairly recent creation (after 1870) of the Parisian pastry cooks, inspired by the real logs which used to be burned in the hearth throughout Christmas Eve. Before then, the cakes of the season were generally bioches or fruit loaves

Buche de Noel

4 eggs, separated

3/4 cup sugar

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

pinch of cream of tartar

3/4 cup cake flour, sifted

For the frosting:

1 cup whipping cream

10 oz. chopped bittersweet chocolate

2 Tablespoons rum

Preheat oven to 375∞F. With the rack in the center of the oven. Grease the bottom of a 15 x 10-inch jelly roll pan and line with parchment paper.

Put the egg yolks into a large bowl. Remove 2 tablespoons of the sugar from the 3/4 cup measure and set aside. Beat the remaining sugar and eggs together until pale.

Beat in the vanilla.

In a 2nd grease free, clean bowl, beat the egg whites with a pinch of the cream of tartar until they hold soft peaks.

Add the reserved sugar and continue beating until the whites are glossy and hold stiff peaks.

Divide the flour in half and gently fold it into the egg mixture in 2 batches.

Add one-quarter of the egg whites into the batter to lighten the mixture. Fold in the remaining whites.

Pour the batter into the pan and spread it evenly into the corners with a metal off-set spatula. Bake 15 minutes.

While the cake is baking, spread a dishtowel flat and lay a piece of parchment paper, the size of the cake, on top of the towel. Sprinkle the paper with some sugar.

Invert the cake onto the paper and carefully peel off the lining paper. Slowly, roll up the cake with the paper inside, and starting from a short side. Wrap the towel around the cake, place on a rack and allow to cool.

Prepare the filling & frosting:

1. Put the chopped chocolate in a bowl. Bring the cream to a boil and pour it over the chocolate. Stir until it has melted

. 2. With an electric mixer, beat the chocolate until it is fluffy and has thickened to a spreading consistency.

3. Spoon one-third of the chocolate into another bowl and stir in the rum.

4. When the cake is cooled, unroll it. Spread the rum-flavored chocolate evenly over the surface. Roll the cake up again, using the paper to help move it forward.

5. Cut off about one-quarter of the cake at an angle. Place it against the side of the larger piece of cake, to resemble a branch from a tree trunk.

6. Spread the remaining chocolate mixture over the rest of the cake. Using a fork, press the back side of the tines against the chocolate and lightly drag through to resemble bark.

To serve:

The cake may be made up to two days ahead and stored covered in the refrigerator. Before serving, add some decorations, such as sprigs of holly, or other figurines. Dust with confectioner’s sugar to resemble snow.

The Twelfth Night Cake

The cake is a basic yeast-based brioche filled with dried fruits and nuts. The recipe descends from Ancient Arab recipes. The practice of serving this particular cake, often with a prize or bean inside, around Christmas time actually predates Christian times. Ancient Romans served a similar item. The traditional King Cake, as we know it today, was made by Christians throughout most of Europe by the Middle Ages. King cakes were introduced to America by European settlers. In places settled by Spanish missionaries (Mexico, South America, Florida, California), rosca de reyes was served. In the United States, the King Cakes of New Orleans are probably the most well known.

Twelfth Night Cake is also known as Rosca de Reyes, Gateau des Rois, King Cake and honors the Three Wise Men who visited the baby Jesus on the 12th day after his birth. This Christian holiday is called Epiphany, Twelfth Night, and Three Kings Day.

Twelfth Night Cake Recipe

This super-easy recipe is from “Larousse Gastronomique”. It is traditionally served on Twelfth Night. The “lucky bean” symbolizes baby Jesus. Whoever finds the bean becomes king or queen of the evening.

9 ounces puff pastry

8 ounces frangipane (a hazelnut-sugar paste available in gourmet stores)

1 bean

Egg wash

Roll pastry into 2 discs, of equal size and each about 1/2 inch thick. Place one disc on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Push bean into dough. (During baking, the dough closes up and conceals the bean.)

Spread frangipane on disc, leaving a 1/2-inch rim uncovered. Brush edge with water or egg wash. Place top disc over frangipane. With a sharp knife, trace a decorative pattern. Brush with egg wash. Bake at 475∞ F. until dark golden brown, 20-30 minutes.

Wassail and Eggnog

At my brother-in-lawís home, nothing would do to have eggnog at Christmas time and many people have it then and on New Yearís Eve and day. I personally am not a fan of eggnog.

From its earliest times the term “wassail” referred to the drink itself, a hot spiced wine for drinking toasts to oneís health on Christmas Eve, New Yearís Eve, and Twelfth Night celebrations. It was said to have originated with the fifth-century legend of the beautiful Saxon Rowena, who toasted the health of the English King Vortigern with the words “Wass-hael”(your health!). Her spiced wine libation was a form of the ancient Roman hypocras, and survived to hold a place in the early Middle Ages cuisine of the wealthiest Both the wine and the spice were imported and prodigiously expensive (England, after all, did not have the climate to produce wines). In later centuries the wine was replaced with fine local ales, making it more characteristically English and far more available to the great majority. As the British developed spice plantations in their tropical Asian and Indian colonies, the cost of spices was gradually reduced and consequently they were more available (at least for special occasions).

Wassail was always served from a special bowlónot to be confused with a punch bowlócalled the Loving Cup by early monks. It was fashioned from sturdy materials, most commonly wood and more rarely pewter. The special wooden bowl, sometimes rimmed with metal and dressed with festive ribbons, was not only the serving bowl but also the drinking bowl, as it was passed from hand to hand drunk from directly.

As children, I can vaguely remember singing this traditional

English and Midlandís song at Christmas time.

“Here we come a-wassailing among the leaves so green,

Here we come a-wandering, so fair to be seen.

We are not beggarsí children that go from door to door,

But we are neighbors children that you have seen before.

Love and joy come to you, and to you your wassail too,

And God bless you and send you a happy New Year,

And God send you a happy New Year!”

Our wassail cup is made of rosemary-tree,

So is your beer of the best barley.


1 gallon apple cider

12 small apples (crab apples or lady apples)

1/2 cup sugar, if cider is tart

1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg

2 cups heavy whipping cream

1/4 teaspoon powdered cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon powdered ginger or two teaspoons fresh grated ginger

2 tablespoons brown sugar

Pierce the apples and bake them in a hot oven until they split. In a large enameled pot, slowly heat 3/4 of the cider, until warm but not boiling. In another enameled pot, pour remaining cider and add the apple, sugar, nutmeg, cinnamon, and ginger and bring to a boil. Combine the two liquids and pour into a heat proof bowl. Whip the cream and brown sugar until it peaks. Spoon the cream onto the wassail, or add the cream to each tankard as it is served.


Six eggs, a quart of milk, half a pint of brandy, six table-spoons of sugar; beat the yolks and sugar together, and the whites very hard; mix in the brandy; boil the milk and pour it into the mixture.

Of course today, one can walk into most any super market and buy a quart of ready made eggnog.

Many of our American Christmas Traditions came from England. However, as our country became inhabited by immigrants from other countries, we absorbed their Christmas cultures.

As time goes on, each of us and our families develop our own unique Christmas traditions and heritages which we pass on to the younger members of our family.

Tread the Earth Lightly

and in the meantimeÖ may your day be filled withÖ.Peace, light and love,

Arlene Wright-Correll

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