Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Where Do Some of Our Christmas Traditions Come From? Part 2.

Christmas, Decoration, Gift, Hang  Today, I'll provide additional information on where some of our Christmas originated.  Its always interesting to me to find out the history of various traditions.

1. The use of the  Christmas Tree as an evergreen has been around for centuries because it was used to decorate the houses as a reminder that spring would come.  There are stories of the evergreen trees appearing in various celebrations and pictures but Christmas tree appeared in Germany where they were decorated with edibles and small glass decorations by the early 1600's.

The first real use that popularized the tradition occurred in England in the first half of the 19th century when Prince Albert (Queen Victoria's husband) had a tree set up at Windsor Castle in 1848.  A drawing of the family and the tree appeared in local papers and in 1850, the same drawing appeared in an American publication, popularizing the tradition in the United States and in the United Kingdom.

2. Leaving milk and cookies out for Santa may date back to Norse times when they believed that Odin had an eight legged horse called Sleipner.  Children would leave treats out for the horse hoping that Odin would leave gifts for them. The practice became popular again during the depression  because parents wanted to impress on children they should be grateful for anything they got.

3. Apparently, Christmas cards originated in England in 1843 when a civil servant set up the first post office and wondered how he could get common people to start using the service.  He got an artist friend to create the first cards, he sold at one shilling each.  The first card had three panels, two of which showed people helping out the poor while the middle panel showed a large family having Christmas dinner and at the bottom it read "A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to You".  There were only a thousand printed then but only a few still exist.

It wasn't long before Christmas carols appeared in the United States but they were extremely expensive.  As printing methods improved, Christmas cards became more common and the cost of mailing a card dropped in price so it was more easily afforded.  By the 1870's a man from Germany began mass producing cards so more people could afford them and they took off.   Annie Oakley is responsible for personalized cards when she sent cards from Scotland back to her family in the states in 1891.  Her cards had a picture of herself on the front.

The tradition of placing seals or stickers on Christmas cards began in early 1900's in Denmark as a way of raising funds for charities.  The idea was so successful that four million were sold in its first year.

4.  Christmas candy canes appears to have originated in Germany just over 250 years ago as straight white sugar sticks. The story goes that a choir master in 1690 was worried about his young singers being able to sit through the service so he made the sticks a J shape to remind them of the shepherds with their crooks.   Since the earliest records date from about 200 years later, this is probably not true.

Records indicate they began again in the late 19th century but the red stripes were not added till the early 1900's when they were flavored with peppermint or wintergreen.  In 1920 a man began making them for friends and families but a machine to automatically turn them into the shape J did not come till a bit later when his brother in law designed it.  Eventually the business became known as Bob's Candies which was sold out in 2005.

I hope you enjoyed these stories.  Tomorrow I'm going to look at a program that looks at the origin of words in the English language.  Let me know what you think.  Have a good day.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Where Do Some of Our Christmas Traditions Come From? Part 1.

  Christmas is rapidly approaching.  Time to pull out the tree, the decorations, even the mistletoe to hand in the corner for Uncle George.  I look at these because its the predominant theme at this time of year.  Look at the stores, the television, even listen to the radio.

I thought I'd take a look at where some of the Christmas traditions come from and add information on their meanings.

1. Mistletoe is found growing on apple, willow, and oak trees.  Hanging mistletoe in the house dates back to the time of the Druids when they believed the mistletoe protected the house and brought good luck.  In addition, Norse Mythology has mistletoe as a symbol of love and friendship thus the kissing under it.

2. Father Christmas, Santa Claus, and St. Nicholas.  St. Nicholas lived in what is now Turkey in the fourth century. He came from a rich family.  The story goes that a poor man with three daughters was sad because he did not have enough money for a dowry for his daughters so they could not get married.  One night, St. Nicholas dropped a bag of gold down the chimney so it fell into a stocking that had been hung to try out.  The man had money for a dowry for his oldest. It happened again for his second daughter at which point he decided to hide and wait until he discovered St. Nicholas was the one dropping the coins.  He begged the poor man to keep it a secret but it got out.  So anytime someone received a gift from an unknown person, they said it came from him.

The other version of the story is that he believed childhood should be enjoyed because many children were working by the age of 10.  So he went around giving out homemade clothing, furniture, and foods.  He was especially known for giving out oranges by putting them in stockings by the fire place.  It is said this is where hanging stocking up by the fire place originated.

The Dutch apparently took St. Nicholas and put their own spin on him as Sinterklaas a man who delivered gifts to those who were good and willow canes and Jute bags to those who were naughty.  In addition, St Nicholas evolved into Father Christmas in Britain, a character in plays from the middle ages but came into his full potential in the 17th century.  Santa Claus is the American version who has been in the states since the 18th century.  it is believed that Santa Claus evolved from Sinterklaas.

3.  Christmas Carols came out of the original religious music in fourth century Rome and were sung at Christmas services in latic.  By the thirteenth century, what we know as Christmas carols began appearing in France, Germany, and Italy.  They were written in the local vernacular and used for all sorts of events and celebrations.

Caroling did not begin till the 19th century in Victorian England when people got together to carol for any celebration.  It became popular for Christmas when the holiday turned more commercialized.

More tomorrow.  I hope you enjoyed this.  Let me know what you think.  Have a great day.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Room Temperature Yogurts

Raspberries, Yogurt, Nature, Frisch  I love yogurt, especially when its homemade but I don't always have time to make it. That is until I discovered a type that is easy to make, fits in with my schedule so I can have fresh yogurt every day.

There are two types of yogurt.  The first one is the one we are most familiar with.  Its classified as thermophilic which requires a certain amount of heat to set. 

The usual way for this yogurt is to get a variety of yogurt with live cultures, heat the milk, add the starter, put in jars and heat over night until they set.  The other choice on this type of yogurt is to buy a dried starter that is added to the heated milk.  You can get Bulgarian, or Greek, or other variety, each of which produces a specific flavor.

Unfortunately, most of the store bought yogurts use bacteria which lasts only one or two generations but eventually looses its power to regenerate. For the most part the bacteria has been  selected to create a specific type of yogurt so it doesn't have the same staying power as the older types of yogurt. 

On the other hand, if you buy a heirloom variety, you can keep using one batch to start the next batch again and again without having to buy a new starter, every two to six generations.  Heirloom varieties can be either thermophilic or mesophilic

 Mesophilic is a type which sets at room temperature.  This means you just add the starter to milk, let it sit out for a few hours and it sets.  I've been using this type for the past two months and really enjoying it. The variety of yogurt I use is from Scandinavia.

I got my starter from a company on Amazon.  The directions said I should not use boxed (ultra pasteurized) milk but living out in the middle of nowhere, that is the only type of milk I have access to other than the evaporated canned milk.  Both work so I get more of a yogurt drink which I enjoy having with my dinner every day.  It does not work as well with powdered milk.  I think it goes through the milk faster so I have to put it in the fridge much sooner.

When my starter arrived, I chose a packet, stirred it into about 1.5 cups of milk, covered it with a towel and let it set overnight till I had a thick mixture.  I threw it in the fridge for a day or two and then had it.  I love it as its not really acidic.  The variety I selected seems to have a sweetish taste to it.

I grab a cup at dinner time, leave a bit, pour more milk in and cover.  By the morning, I have a nice batch and it seems to be reproducing as well as it did on the first day. This batch is several weeks old and going strong.

Its consistency is much like the yogurt I had in Iceland and Finland at breakfast in the hotels. Since its not extremely thick, I can drink it, use it on my serial, add it to any recipe which calls for yogurt such as bread or cakes and it works wonderfully.  I'm now a believer in this type of yogurt. 

I'd tell you the exact type but I just grabbed a packet and used it before I could figure out which one of the four varieties in the box.  I plan to take some with me this Christmas holidays so I can try it with the milk in gallon containers.

This type does work with soy milk but I don't like the flavor it produces.  I tried it with Almond milk but again it doesn't work.  Next thing on my list is to try the yogurt starter for nondairy milks to see what type of product that produces.  I might try starting some in a day or two.

Let me know what you think.  I'd love to hear.

Friday, December 8, 2017

Plum Pudding.

Pudding, Plum, Bake, Food, Celebration I don't remember what I was reading but the character in the book commented there are no plums in plum pudding but I remember a rhyme where Little Jack Horner stuck his thumb in the pudding and pulled out a plum. So what is the truth?

In reality, pudding is the English term for dessert but over time, its come to mean a specific type of dessert.  Figgy Pudding or Plum Pudding are a specific cake like version of Christmas Pudding.

It is traditionally made of dried fruit such as figs, plums, raisins and prunes mixed with eggs, citrus zest, nuts, breadcrumbs, and suet.  Once its mixed up, it is placed in a pan, covered with parchment paper before being steamed for a long time, till done.

Its often made anywhere between four weeks and a year ahead of time.  When ready to serve it, it is placed on a plate, doused in brandy, then lit before being served.  It can be served with a brandy butter, hard sauce, or custard.

It is believed that the person who makes it and any family member who stirs the batter should make a wish.  Furthermore, it is traditional to place a coin in the batter before being cooked. The person who gets the coin is said to get good luck throughout the following year.

The earliest records indicate the dish has been around since the 15th century as a plum pottage a mixture of meat and root vegetables often served at the beginning of the meal.  Plum simply referred to dried fruit.  By the 16th century, dried fruit was much more available so the dish moved to being a sweet.

In addition, the invention of the floured cloth, made plum pudding easier to fix since the cloth  could hold and keep it.  This meant the pudding required fewer animal products although suet, the fat around the kidneys is still a key ingredient.

By 1647, this particular dish has such an association with Christmas that Oliver Cromwell prohibited it along with carol singing, Yule logs, and nativity scenes.  Within 13 years, he was deposed and the regular Monarchy returned along with the pudding, carols, and nativity scenes. 

It wasn't until Victorian times, when journalists, writers, and politicians worked to standardize the family Christmas.  Among the poor, saving clubs sprung up so women could save money so they could purchase the ingredients needed for a proper Christmas dinner including the pudding.

Due to its nature, it could be shipped overseas to sailors and military men so they could enjoy something of home during the holiday season. Over the years, the recipe has changed so its less globby and much easier to eat.  Its even possible to find both vegetarian and vegan versions of this historical dish.

One of my aunts had her version for this particular dish but it resembled my mother's fruit cake.  Both were heavy and better suited for door stops.  Check back on Monday for a quick look at the history of fruitcake.

Let me know what you think, I'd love to hear from you. 

Thursday, December 7, 2017


Turn Pen, Manga, Anime, Digital Design  Japanese animation has become all the rage.  With this has come the explosion of Manga.  At one time, it could only be found at specialty shops but now its available at regular books stores, libraries, and Amazon.

In addition to being the usual books we are used to seeing, you can even find manga books on technical topics such as the Manga guide to data bases or microprocessors.

The term Manga refers to any type of cartoons, comics or animation.  It is made of of two different Kanji symbols, Man referring to whimsical or  impromptu while ga means picture.  It is only outside of Japan that Manga is used to describe comics while anime covers cartoons or animated forms of manga.

Where did manga come from.  What made it explode in popularity?  It is believed the first manga appeared in scrolls back in the 12th and 13th centuries featuring frogs and rabbits.  Manga artists used the same technique as used by early artists to make these animals appear as if they were running.

The term was first used in 1798 with a picture book Shiji no Yukikai or Four Seasons.  In 1814, the term appeared in the title of a book by Aikawa Mina's books.  Manga appeared over time but it wasn't until Japan found itself occupied by the United States that it began its explosion.

Americans provided comics such as Mickey Mouse, Betty Boop, and Bambi which made a great impression on Japanese artists.  They started publishing their own comics in newspapers and magazines which evolved into weekly and monthly comic books featuring 10 to 20 series installments per edition.

Between 1950 and 1969, manga evolved into two main types, one aimed at boys while the other was aimed at girls but the boys style was subdivided into that for boys 18 and under,  young men in the 18 to 30 age group, and those over 30 or adult males.  It wasn't until 1969 that female manga artists started really making a splash in the field.

Currently, Japanese Manga is breaking publish records with its series running from two to twenty volumes.  It is extremely popular and is read by people of all ages.  The interesting thing about most of the traditional manga books translated into English is they are read in the reverse order from back to front just like regular Japanese books.

Let me know what you think.  Have a wonderful day.