Text and photos by Chef Joey
Home for the Holidays – that seems to sum up what everyone wants, or thinks is the best, or so the song says.
But what exactly is “home”?
According to Webster’s Dictionary it is a “domicile” “House” “workplace” and even a “Habitat,” say where fish return home to spawn. Even they have a favorite spot!
Where ever it may be, home is a place of grounding, whether it be an apartment, a house, rented space or even a nursing home. One needs to have a place of one’s own. Nothing is more important than that, especially during the holidays.
This is one of those holidays that reaches into the depths of our memories, the Santa Claus watching us all year, the Elf on the Shelf scampering around to new hiding places. All this cerebral fun, combined with transferring the “Home” into an ornament filled room, awash with lights and color. And there has to be some heirloom decoration that comes out just for this time period.
Holiday trees are plentiful on many corners, having grown for the last 10 or so years to be cut, transported, marketed and sold for $15 to those who dare take the chance it will last the Holiday. Others prefer the safe “fake” tree …
… that stands just as majestically as a real one, but does come back year to year and eventually becomes an heirloom itself. …
On a brief note, because of space constraints, Europeans generally decorate a fir branch in their homes to celebrate the solstice, when fermented beverages from the summer were ready to consume and animals were slaughtered and stored for winter meals. Three tops were used to save the rest of the tree. Early decorations were edible items as well – dried apples, cookies etc.
My European grandmother would place a branch on the mantle in the dining room and decorate it with a few ribbons, and a candle ended up there. Simple and yet elegant.
The common thread for all these definitions is, of course food. Even the fishes have to eat! We, however, have cheese dips, even cheese Christmas trees! …
… cookies …
… cakes and favorite meals …
Gift swapping, too. People in homes run by caretakers have the advantage of enjoying continual celebrations. Work places always have some kind of holiday party and private residences are always cozy. Christmas recipes tend to indulge more the sugary side. Confections seem to go very well with this holiday.
Cookies go back to the Middle Ages when spices like cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg made their appearances. Cinnamon cakes, nutmeg beverages and various ginger cookies and cakes started appearing.
Ginger and Gingerbread Men and Gingerbread Houses
Surprisingly, most gingerbread items have changed very little since then, right down to the molasses that was cheaper than sugar. The birth of the “Gingerbread Man” was for Queen Elizabeth the 1st, who had the cookies made for her favorite advisors. Giving a cookie became the thing to do because in medieval times it was hard for working people to procure dried fruits and nuts, and when they did it was for an important event like Christmas. So the making of cakes and puddings would be the priority and hard to share. So using your butter and lard to make a batch of cookies or cakes was less expensive, therefore people would share a “cookie” or a cake with friends and neighbors during the holiday season.
Now we have gift cards.
One time I painstakingly made a Gingerbread House for the holidays, as my parents were coming to the states from France to visit me. They came into my house directly from the airport. I showed them my Gingerbread House, all proud – it was complete with frosted shingles and gumdrops!
My mom said, “Oh how pretty” and ripped a corner off the roof and ate it.
When I protested, she said, “It’s ginger bread – use cardboard if you don’t want people to eat it. You make cakes and cut them. What’s the difference?”
Good point. I got over it.
Germany had a lot to do with confections, but mainly breads. The French had cakes. This being New “England,” we have Christmas puddings and English-like holiday treats. Of course, immigration has brought holiday traditions for families to America, and no shocker, they all involve food!
Whatever your tradition, I hope you enjoy it in a happy, healthy way and celebrate with others if you can – it makes for a nice time. Our common thread? We are all still kids at heart!
Here is a gingerbread recipe that is quick, easy and tasty. It takes less than one hour to make and can be served warm with ice cream or whipped cream.
2 cups flour
¼ cup sugar
1 tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt
1 ½ tsp ground ginger
1 tsp cinnamon
½ tsp ground cloves
½ tsp nutmeg *you can use allspice
2 tsp for cinnamon cloves and nutmeg blend
½ cup melted butter
¾ cup molasses
¼ cup water
1 cup whole milk or buttermilk for thicker bread
Heat oven to 350 – grease a 9 x 9 pan or cup cake liners (6).
Mix all the dry ingredients together, add the butter and molasses to a bowl and sift in the dry ingredients (everything up to the butter from the top).
Stir, adding water.
Mix the egg and milk together, add to your batter, mix well and pour into the pan or tins.
Bake 30 minutes or so for cake and 15 to 18 minutes for cupcakes.
Test with a toothpick for doneness.
Remove from the oven – let stand – turn the cake out on a cooking rack, cut into pieces and serve!