New Years Traditions – The Twelve Grapes of Luck


Happy (almost) New Year, everybody!

All over the world people are getting ready to ring in the New Year. If the line at my local supermarket is anything to go by, a great deal of the celebrating will involve consuming an almost offensive amount of food.  Good times!

Here in Australia, we don’t really have any specific food traditions associated with New Years, unless of course alcohol counts as a food group. It does, right? This made me wonder whether other nations celebrated with specific food. After a bit of research, my question led me to Europe.

The Twelve Grapes of Luck is a Spanish New Years tradition that dates back to 1895. It consists of eating a grape with each chime of the clock at midnight. Anyone who manages to consume all twelve grapes before the last chime strikes will have twelve months of prosperity and good luck.In some areas, it is believed that the tradition also wards away witches and general evil. Nautrally, this is an incredibly difficult feat to concur. Most people end up with a mouth full of grapes that they’re trying to choke down between fits of laughter.

So how did this tradition come to be? Surely it must be ancient and sacred. Not exactly.

Its origin can be traced back to the end of the 19th century where there was a bumper crop of grapes in Alicante – a southern Spanish province on the Mediterranean. Farmers were going to be left with an abundance of surplus grapes if they couldn’t convince people to buy them. The result was the promotion of eating twelve grapes to celebrate the twelve rings of the bell at New Year. Obviously, this practice caught on in Spain and is even celebrated in Mexico and within Hispanic communities in the USA today. It’s even possible to purchase cans containing 12 pre-peeled grapes for the consumers convenience. Clearly, this fabricated tradition was nothing short of marketing genius.

I hope you all have a delicious New Year. See you all next year!

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A Very Tudor Christmas


Merry Post-Christmas, everyone!

Now, I know I’m at least two posts overdue and am therefore a very naughty blogger. I can assure you that I have a very good excuse in regards to the END OF THE WORLD post. I was melting down sugar to make salted caramel and it splashed up and burnt every finger on my left hand. It wasn’t pretty. I’m convinced that I’m going to have a rather obvious scar on my thumb.

As for the lateness of my Christmas post, I have no good excuse. I spent the day I had allocated to writing at a water park. I’d apologise if I didn’t have so much fun.

Anyway! Onwards, upwards and every-other-way-wards! Seeing as we’re still within the confines of the Festive Season, I thought it would be interesting to look at some of the delicacies involved in Tudor period celebrations.  So, as you recover from your food and family comas, enjoy reading about just how damn long the Yule Tide season was celebrated in 16th century England. If you weren’t exhausted already, I can guarantee that you will be by the end of this.

Unlike in Modern society, Tudor Christmas celebrations didn’t begin until Christmas Day itself, which kicked off the 12 days of Christmas. That’s right, they partied and feasted for almost two straight weeks. No thank you.

The period leading up to the Christmas celebrations was (and still is) known as Advent, and it began on the fourth Sunday preceding December 25th.  Ironically enough, this was a time of fasting and prayer, as opposed to a time of scoffing tiny chocolates out of an Advent Calendar.

A traditional Christmas boar head being presented by a creepy 16th Century Colonel Sanders

Christmas during the Tudor times involved traditional foods, as it does today. For example, on most modern tables ones would find a leg of ham. A Tudor Christmas table was much the same. Just replace the pig with a boar and the leg with a head. Tasty. The boar head was the centerpiece of the table and an all round Christmas pièce de résistance.

Christmas Day wasn’t the most important day in the Tudor Yuletide calendar. That honour went to Twelfth Night, aka the twelfth day of Christmas. One of the most important items associated with the day was the Twelfth cake, and not only because it was the dessert.

Traditionally, a gold coin or ring was baked into the cake. The idea was that whoever found the prize within their piece would preside over the evenings festivities. If it was a man, he would be the King of the Bean, if it was a woman, the Queen of the Pea. These names originated from poorer households that couldn’t afford to bake gold into the cake, and thus used a pea or a bean instead. This tradition is still maintained in France, where a coin or a small gold figurine of the Christ child is baked into an almond tart.

Despite its importance to Twelfth Night, the exact nature of the Twelfth Cake remains a mystery. However, one source suggests that the main ingredients were flour, honey, ginger and pepper.

Due to the importance of Twelfth Night, it was often a political affair within the Royal Household. Those who were in favour with the Monarch often had the coin planted within their piece of cake. Often this included ladies in waiting or maids. The theory behind this was to prove that the King or Queen were happy to be upstaged by servants, thus demonstrating their kindness and benevolence.

Another Christmas tradition was that of wassailing. This was a fertility rite that was leftover from the Pagan days of Britain where one would toast fruit trees in order to encourage them to produce a good crop the following year. Every region had its own traditional Wassail beverage. Some of these included cider, ale or spiced drinks such as lambswool, a kind of beer that was served warm.

That’s it for our Tudor Traditions today, however, there will be a great deal more where that came from in the future. I hope that you all had a wonderful Christmas and that you’re still enjoying all of those lovely leftovers. As for me, I need to get my Yuletide loving butt to the gym before gravy and sugar start escaping through my pores.

The Origin of Margherita Pizza


Hello all! Welcome back after such a long hiatus!

As you may have noticed, today’s topic has absolutely no relation to Christmas or Holiday eats. Never fear, there will a festive themed post before the 25th. More importantly, there will be a Mayan themed post on Friday. If we survive, of course.

In the meantime, I thought we could take a peek at the origin of Margherita Pizza. I have always rather enjoyed this story and am arrogant enough to assume that you’ll share my convictions.

Foods similar to pizza have been prepared since the Neolithic Age. In fact, records of people adding other ingredients to bread to make it more flavourful can be found throughout ancient history.

  • In Sardinia, French and Italian archeologists have found a kind of bread baked over 7,000 years ago. According to Professor Philippe Marinval, the local islanders leavened this bread.
  • The Ancient Greeks made a flat bread called Plakous, which was flavored with toppings like herbs, onion, and garlic.
  • In the 1st century BCE, the Latin poet Virgil refers to the ancient idea of bread as an edible plate or trencher for other foods in his epic poem, The Aeneid.

In short, evidence clearly suggests that the origins of pizza can’t be pinpointed to a single place or time. However, there is one particular historical tale that is attributed with making pizza the sensation that it is today.

In 1889, Queen Margherita of Savoy, and her husband, King Umbero I, were taking a royal tour of Italy. This was only a short 29 years after the unification of the country. Throughout their travels, Margherita had noticed a a great deal of peasants eating large, flat bread with colourful toppings.Curious, the queen ordered her guards to bring one of these so called ‘pizza breads’.

MP

Margherita Pizza – a delicacy that’s literally fit for a Queen

The Queen loved the bread and would eat it every time she was out amongst the people, wich caused some consternation in Court. It was unseemly for a Queen to dine on peasant food. Naturally, Margherita didn’t care, because she was a bitchin’ queen who had just discovered pizza.

However, the Queen’s love for the bread was legitimized when a famous pizza maker, Raffaele Esposito, created a pizza topping in honour of the Queen. It was garnished with tomatoes, basil and mozzarella cheese in order to represent the Italian flag. He of course named it the Pizza Margherita. Legend also has it that he was the first to add cheese to pizza, which means that we’re all obliged to worship him as our deity from now on.

There is contention to this origin story. It wouldn’t be Delicious History if there wasn’t. Descriptions of a similar pizza recipe can be traced back to at least 1866 in the book “Customs and Traditions of Naples.” The author describes the most popular pizza toppings of the time, which included one with tomato and basil, often topped with slices of mozzarella.

Whatever the real origins of this pizza recipe are, it can be firmly declared that Esposito’s creation for Queen Margherita was the one that made it popular. Since then, it has grown into one of the most recognisable symbols of Italian food culture in the world, as well as a staple in the lives of most university and college students. All hail, Queen Margherita!

Next time – We talk about some Mayan staples to celebrate the end of the world.