Traditional Christmas Food.
There are many traditional Christmas foods that we look forward to supplying customers with over the Christmas period. This week we take a look at some of the most popular starting with the traditional Christmas favourite the sprout.
Thought to have originated in Afganistan and Iran, it is believed Brussel sprouts won its name after becoming popular and first cultivated in the Belgian capital in the 16th century. Although, some sources have traced sprouts back to ancient China where they were used in Chinese medicine. They are related to the Brassica family which includes cabbage, kale and broccoli and have a sweet and nutty flavour although some people find the taste bitter.
Sprouts grow in multiple rows along a thick, central stalk. With the season for sprouts running from October to early March due to their need to grow at cool temperatures. Sprouts are often readily available around the festive season which makes it a popular vegetable for Christmas dinner. Packed full of vitamins and folic acid, there are plenty of health reasons to devour one of over 100 varieties of sprouts however, they do have an undesirable side effect.
Due to a complex sugar known as raffinose, sprouts are hard to digest as the body cannot produce the enzyme needed to break down some of the chemical components they contain. This eventually leads to a build-up of hydrogen, carbon dioxide and the dreaded methane which has to leave the body somehow! Brussel sprouts are also full of sulphur-containing chemicals to deter animals from eating the sprouts which adds to the age old problem.
Whether you love them or hate them, Brussel sprouts are a quintessential Christmas dinner vegetable especially in Britain where the Brussels sprout fields are the equivalent of approximately 3,250 football pitches. The British people devour more sprouts than any other country. With more than 9,000 ways to cook a sprout, here is one of our favourite Christmas Sprouts recipes.
Traditional Christmas Roasting Vegetables
Parsnips – Are closely related to the carrot, like the carrot parsnips are native to Europe and can be prepared and eaten in similar ways. The parsnips distinct flavour comes from the startches changing to sugar. This occurs during the first frost whist the parsnip is still in the ground.
In Europe, parsnips were used to sweeten jams and cakes before sugar was widely available. The popularity of the parsnip declined when potatoes became more readily available.
The parsnip was believed to have many medicinal qualities and was used to relieve stomach aches, toothaches and swollen testicles. They are low in calories and contain fibre, vitiman C, manganese and folate.
For an even sweeter roast parsnip people often use maple syrup or honey. To complement and enhance the flavour of the roast parsnip, the herbs rosemary and sage work very well.
Potatoes – Roast potatoes are another traditional Christmas food tradition, take a look at our Potato guide to see which ones you’ll choose for your Christmas meal. The King Edward is one of the most popular varieties of roast potato.
For those people wanting a little something extra from their roast potatoes this Christmas try cooking them in goose fat. Herbs that work well with roast potatoes are thyme, rosemary and bay leaves. Garlic can also complement the flavour as well.
Traditional Christmas treats.
Like Christmas puddings, Mince Pies were originally filled with meat such as lamb instead of the fruit mix used today. Originally, they were made in an oval shape as a representation of the manger that Jesus slept in as a baby, with the top of the pie representing his swaddling clothes.
Throughout the Stuart and Georgian times in the United Kingdom, very rich people liked to show off during Christmas festivities with mince pies made from different shapes including crescents, hearts, flowers and stars with the pies often fitting together like a big jigsaw often in representation of the ‘knot gardens’ which were popular during those times. The variations in shape meant that you were rich and could afford to employ the best, and most expensive pastry cooks. In present day, mince pies are made in a round shape and are eaten hot or cold- delicious with a large dollop of clotted cream.
A middle age custom states that if you eat a mince pie on every day from Christmas until Twelfth Night which is the evening of the 5th of January, you will have happiness for the next 12 months. English tradition demands that the mixture should only be stirred in a clockwise direction- anticlockwise will bring bad luck for the coming year and for each family member to take a turn stirring whilst making a wish. Additionally, folklore states that on Christmas Eve, children leave out mince pies for Father Christmas as well as a tipple or a glass of milk in addition to a carrot for the reindeer.
The traditional end to a British Christmas dinner, what is now seen as a Christmas pudding is far from the original recipe. Originating as a 14th century porridge known as ‘frumenty’ which was made of mutton and beef with prunes, raisins, currants, wine and spices. Often, this would be eaten as a fasting meal in preparation for Christmas and had more of a soup consistency. Being thickened with eggs, fried fruit and breadcrumbs, more flavour was added with extra beer and spirits over the years.By 1595, frumenty was changing into a plum pudding and became more of the customary Christmas dessert around 1650.
Banned by the Puritans as a bad custom in 1664, it was King George I who re-established it as part of a Christmas meal in 1714 who enjoyed plum pudding. It wasn’t until the Victorian times that Christmas puddings had changed into what is eaten today. During the Victorian times, in big rich houses, puddings were often cooked in fancy moulds in shapes of towers or castles with the less wealthy having puddings in the shape of balls which were also known as cannonballs if the pudding was heavy.
There are many superstitions and age old customs in relation to Christmas puddings including; the pudding being made with 13 ingredients, every member of the family taking a turn stirring the pudding with a wooden spoon from east to west and putting a silver coin in the pudding which will bring luck to the person that finds it.
Other Traditional Christmas favourites.
The cranberry is an integral part of Traditional Christmas menus, due in part to their affinity with the Christmas turkey as cranberry sauce, they also make a colourful addition to beverages and desserts due to their bright red colour. Dating back to the Pilgrims using them for Thanksgiving, it wasn’t until much later that cranberries became popular at Christmas time.
Cranberries grow on low- lying vines on boggy wetlands before dropping into the water before being harvested from the water using bespoke machinery ready for freezing and turning into cranberry sauce, juice or “craisins”.
The largest quantities of cranberries can be found in areas of Massachusetts, New Jersey, Washington, Oregon and Wisconsin in the USA. These cranberries are the popular Ocean Spray cranberries founded in the 1930 by three cranberry growers, creating one of the US’s first and most successful co-operatives. The men decided they could command better deals if they joined together which now command superior market price for their crop. Harvesting the crop lasts for eight to nine weeks usually from around mid- September on-wards before it is cold enough for the flooded bogs to ice over.
The exceptional health benefits of cranberries have been known for centuries; Native Americans used cranberries for medicinal purposes as a dye as well as for eating after, during the 17th century, sailors were given cranberry rations to protect against scurvy. During the Second World War, cranberries were first dehydrated by Ocean Spray and were shipped to troops in Europe to serve in porridge. Rich in Vitamin C and high in potassium, phosphorus and sodium, cranberries help promote health levels of cholesterol and heart health and boost the immune system with a high about of polyphenol compounds.
The tradition of roasting chestnuts around the festive season is believed to date back centuries however, there is no consensus as to the exact timing. Christians believed that the nuts symbolised chastity relating chestnuts more to religion than to Christmas. Some historians however, state that it dates back to the 16th century when street vendors sold them as a treat on the streets of Rome although others state their debut in Portugal for St Martin’s Day or in Modena, Italy for St Simon’s Day.
Roasting the chestnuts takes away the nut’s raw, bitter flavour turning them into a sweet treat which could explain the connection around Christmas when people celebrating tend to indulge in sweets.
Thousands of years ago, chestnuts were a staple in the mountain regions around the Mediterranean Sea as most cereal grains couldn’t grow in these areas. Being low in fat and high in fibre, the nuts can supply a feast of nutrients and minerals including; iron, magnesium, copper and potassium as well as vitamins such as; Vitamin C, B6, thiamine, riboflavin and folate.
Mulled Wine & Cider
A beverage of European origin, Mulled wine is made using red wine along with various mulling spices including cinnamon, cloves, allspice and nutmeg and dried fruits such as raisins, apples and orange rind. Served hot or warm, this traditional drink is drunk in the winter months particularly in the UK around Christmas.
Spiced and heated wine was first recorded in Rome during the 2nd century. As the Romans travelled across Europe, conquering and trading they brought the recipe with them although this has evolved over the years with the tastes and fashions of the time with mulled cider becoming more and mulled ale becoming less popular over the years.
A non- alcoholic alternative is mulled apple-juice in the UK. There are many variations throughout the world including Gluhwein (German), Nodic glogg (Nordic countries), vinho quente (Brazil), vin chaud (France) and greyano vino (Bulgaria) to name but a few.