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Christmas

The custom of the Yule Log

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The custom of the Yule Log  goes the way back to Europe’s Iron Age, before the medieval era. Back then, Celtic Brits and Gaelic Europeans would gather to welcome the winter solstice at December’s end.  Now we see many chocolate concoctions in the supermarkets but it harks back to the custom of celebrating the winter solstice with a burning log.

The Yule Log was originally an entire tree chosen with great ceremony and care then carried into the home. The log might be decorated with greenery and sprinkled with wine, mead, cider, oil, salt or some combination before it was lit with prayers of thanksgiving and hope.

The largest end of the log would be placed into the fire hearth while the rest of the tree stuck out into the room! The log would be lit  ( by someone with very clean hands or this was a sign of disrespect) from the remains of the previous year’s log which had been carefully stored away under the homeowners bed, and slowly fed into the fire through the twelve days of celebration feasts celebrated the days finally becoming longer, signaling the end of the hard, cruel, stark winter season.

To cleanse the air of the previous year’s events and to usher in the spring, families would burn logs decorated with holly, pinecones or ivy. Wine and salt were also often used to anoint the logs. Once burned, the log’s ashes were valuable treasures said to have medicinal benefits and to guard against evil. Some people even believed the ashes would protect you from  being struck by lightning!

We don’t know who or when the first Yule log cake was made , but from the ingredients it could have been as early as the 1600s. Marzipan and meringue were often on a medieval celebration table whilst sponge cake, the base of the log, is one of the oldest cakes still made today. It dates back to at least 1615, when it was in Gervaise Markham’s tome “The English Huswife.”

So perhaps this year choose your Yule log with care and think about the tradition it streams from and the light it symbolises protecting your home in the coming year.




I'm a slightly deranged middle aged widow, living in the Cotswolds with two fabulously funny little dogs. A mother, grandmother, sister and friend. Determined to survive by writing to remember, to forget and to cope with grief. the memory of my husband supporting me, guiding me and probably laughing at me if there is a ‘somewhere’

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Christmas

Twelfth night cake – the recipe

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Twelfth Night cake celebrated the last day of the festive season on 5 January when there were great feasts, of which cake was an essential part.The punch called wassail was also a main feature of the feast on Twelfth Night and although enjoyed throughout Christmas time, door-to-door wassailing (similar to singing Christmas carols) commanded ‘figgy pudding’ ( or 12th night cake) and hot punch. It is considered unlucky to leave Christmas decorations hanging after Twelfth Night So the home should be cleaned and cleared ready for the Epiphany on 6th January which marks the day when the nativity story tells us that the wise men visited the infant Jesus.

Baked inside the cake were a dried bean and pea, one in one half and the other. Not to be confused with a standard Christmas cake, this cake had a quirky significance attached to it. Baked inside the cake were a dried bean and pea, one in one half and the other in the second half. As visitors arrived to the feast they were given a slice of cake, ladies from the left and gentleman from the right. Whoever found the bean became King of the Revels for the night and the Queen was found with the pea, gaining power to instruct all to their heart’s content. the second half.

Ingredients

  • Butter – softened to room temperature 200g
  • Dark muscovado sugar 200g 
  • Plain flour200g 
  • Eggs – 4x beaten
  • Ground almond 50g
  • Sherry, sweet or dry 100ml
  • Candied peel, roughly chopped 85g
  • Glacé cherries – roughly chopped 85g
  • Raisins 250g
  • Currants 250g
  • Lemon zest from 1 lemon finely grated 
  • Mixed spice1½ tsp
  • Ground cinnamon 1 tsp 
  • Ground nutmeg ½ tsp
  • ½ tsp ground ginger
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • Icing of your choice: pre-made royal or buttercream 
  • ½ tsp baking powder
  • Dried bean and a dried pea

Method

  • Heat oven to 160C/fan 140C/gas 
  • Line the base and sides of a 20 cm round, 7.5 cm deep cake tin. 
  • Beat the butter and sugar with an electric hand mixer for 1-2 mins until very creamy and pale in colour, scraping down the sides of the bowl half way through. 
  • Stir in a spoonful of the flour, then stir in the beaten egg and the rest of the flour alternately, a quarter at a time, beating well each time with a wooden spoon. Stir in the almonds.
  • Mix in the sherry (the mix will look curdled), then add the peel, cherries, raisins, cherries, lemon zest, spices and vanilla. Beat together to mix, then stir in the baking powder.
  • Don’t forget to add in your dried bean and pea!
  • Spoon mixture into the tin and smooth the top, making a slight dip in the centre. 
  • Bake for 30 mins, then lower temperature to 150C/fan 130C/gas 2 and bake a further 2-2¼ hours, until a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean. 
  • Leave to cool in the tin, then take out of the tin and peel off the lining paper. 
  • When completely cold, wrap well in cling film and foil to store until ready to decorate. The cake will keep for several months
  •  I like to decorate with simple icing and a crown for the king tower but it is all a matter of personal choice.

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Christmas

Dog in Scotland eats Christmas dinner

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Curious news from Scotland, a chi apso dog, a breed of Tibetan dogs named Bubba, has eaten the whole turkey that was to be eaten at Christmas by the family.

Bubba walked into the kitchen on Christmas Eve and quietly ate the bird, which had been wrapped in tinfoil and left under a tea towel on the counter.

The dog then collapsed to the ground, unable to move after such a large meal. # A photo of Bubba lying on his side has been shared thousands of times on social media.

The photograph was posted on Twitter by owner David Barrett, who lives in Prestwick, Scotland and hasn’t eaten turkey this Christmas. Bubba might not eat one ever again though. 

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Christmas

Christmas Crackers – do you love them or hate them?

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I think most people would agree that they make a great table decoration, that immediately spells party time. They are also good when placed as decorations on Christmas trees. As far as I am concerned that it is all I can find to say on the plus side for Christmas Crackers.
 
This does not come from a spirit of Bar Humbug, because I can get as Christmassy as anyone.  I promise that I am not a Grinch. What is it then that provokes this strong reaction?
 
Well first of all it is the bang. The clue is in the word cracker, an onomatopoeic word representing the sound. I don’t like bangs, so of course, I’m not that keen on balloons either.
 
However, the main purpose of balloons is not to pop, in fact the opposite, and they usually deflate slowly without any sharp sound occurring. 
 
Secondly the presence of a cracker at the dining table means that you are required to be an active participant in the production of the bang and laugh when it happens!
 
Even worse, if there is a chain, you are required to pull two crackers at once, one on each side of you.
 
Thirdly when the cracker is pulled, (and probably the worst consequence, in my opinion), is the obligatory wearing of the paper hat.
Everyone else either enjoys this or they are excellent actors, pretending that they don’t mind looking ridiculous.
 
Missing out on gaining the contents of the cracker and being left with the empty wrapper (a humiliation in itself),  does not guarantee that you escape wearing the hat.  Some kind soul will donate one, leaving you with no option, but to slide the paper monstrosity onto your head.
 
Who then is the inventor of my misfortune?  He was a gentleman called Tom Smith (1823 – 1869), who invented the cracker in 1847. Originally it was an innocuous little bonbon wrapper, designed to boost the marketing of his sweets.
 
There was a little twist at each end, similar to the way Quality Street are sold today. Gradually bells and whistles were literally added and the wrappings became larger. To make things go with a bang,  little sticks laced with a chemical, silver fulminate, which discharged against an abrasive surface, were added, and protruded from each end of the wrapping.
 
The original sweet had long been dispensed with,  as Tom and his sons became producers of this developed product, sold as Cosaque, French for Cossack, a reference to the habit of cracking riding whips.  Not surprisingly, the name did not catch on and was soon replaced with Crackers.
 
By 1899 Tom Smith crackers had grown into a large family business and continued to trade until 1953, when it merged with another firm.  A monumental fountain to Tom was erected in Finsbury Square in that year, by Tom’s sons Thomas and Walter dedicated to their mother Martha Smith, where it stands today.
 
We can imagine that Martha would have proudly laid her Christmas Dining Table with the crackers, produced by her husband and sons.  Clearly many people across the world do love crackers. Are you one of them? Whether you do or not, I wish you a cracking Christmas. 

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