Friday, December 20, 2013

What are the origins of yummy Christmas dishes?

Courtesy of Tampa Bay online
The holiday season is a prime example of America's melting pot culture.

I mean, where do candy canes come from? Why do we drink eggnog every year? Lastly, who do we blame for fruitcake?

These lovely dishes originated from different countries, and we are fortunate to have them be a part of our yearly traditions. 

We compiled research from Tampa Bay's website that delves deep into not only where each food comes from but also the folklore behind it. Though some of these tales get murky because of being passed down from generation to generation, at least this explains why you're stuck with figgy pudding every year. 

Germany, the birthplace of decorated Christmas trees, fashioned gingerbread into people's lives by having
Courtesy of Tamba Bay Online
vendors carve these delicious breads into fun shapes. Gingerbread includes a vast variety of sweet yet spicy cookies or baked goods. Actually, ginger-flavored sweets originated in medieval  Europe since they were prized for their medicinal properties. If we want to go back further with our historical recollections, ginger actually originated from the Middle East and reached Europe by the 11th century. Over the years, gingerbread evolved into a Christmas tradition since it was always associated with special events in Europe.

Sugarplums are candied fruit, seeds, or spices. Sorry to burst your fanciful thinking if you assumed that sugarplums were actual plums full of sugar. A long time ago in Europe, sugarplums used to be a real fruit, but they became scarce due to hungry birds. What made sugarplums famous in American culture was when they were featured in Clement Clarke Moore's "'Twas the Night before Christmas." During Moore's time, a "sugarplum" was any sort of dried fruit, and I guess you can see why dried fruits are prevalent in Christmas traditions today. Fruitcake, anyone?

Fruitcake, the bane of my young existence. I get it every year from distant relatives and it's always the same coagulated mess of colorful gummy pieces, nuts, and whatever else is inside of it. In ancient Rome, not everyone wanted to get rid of this colorful brick. Surprisingly, fruitcakes were a luxury item rich with pomegranate seeds, raisins, and pine nuts. By the 15th century, fruitcakes became a holiday staple all over Europe with the addition of butter and sugar.

Roasted Chestnuts
Chestnuts roasting on an open fire is an uncommon sight in many American homes, but if you travel down to Times Square, you will see vendors roasting chestnuts on hot coal plates. Chestnuts are quite popular all around northern Europe and have been a staple food in Mediterranean countries for centuries. Though I've never tried a chestnut before, they are often said to have an earthy, musty taste. Whether you decide to eat them this year or not, thank Nat King Cole's rendition of "Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire" for making this gourmet  item part of American Christmas traditions.

Is there a dish that your family likes to make every year? We'd love to hear about it!