HOLIDAY FOOD TRADITIONS by Dotti Hydue
Welcome to the December Levy County Kitchen. What wonderful fragrances drift through the house as I prepare my favorite Christmas cookies and baked goods. The emphasis on sweets during the Christmas season dates back to medieval times when cooks saved their very best—and expensive—ingredients for the holidays. Sugar was a food for the wealthy, and as such was a special treat saved for special occasions. This once rare substance was first used for its supposed medicinal qualities. Recipes for hard candies, flavored with herbal essences including oil of peppermint or wintergreen, could be found in the pharmacopoeia of medieval apothecary. Originally manufactured as a remedy for winter colds, coughs, and chest infections, savvy businessmen soon capitalized on their popularity and began making the candies for general use.
Fruitcakes are common to many countries and their variations are endless. Also called bishop’s bread, twelfth night cake, panettone, stollen, three kings cake, stained glass, crown jewels, or tiffany cake, among other monikers, they come in a multitude of shapes and usually contain spices, dried fruits, and nuts. Tiffany cakes contain so much crystallized fruit that when the thin slices are held to the light, they look like a stained glass picture. That’s the type of fruitcake I remember eating as a child.
Many Christmas foods are tied to a person’s ethnic background. Folks in Eastern Europe serve a type of porridge on Christmas Eve. Made from wheat berries, honey, and poppy seeds, the porridge represents hope and immortality. In the UK and Ireland, roasted goose is often the centerpiece of the meal, with steamed pudding a typical dessert. Several countries feature 12 or 13 dishes at their Christmas Eve supper with the 12 representing the apostles and the 13th Christ. In Japan, where turkey is virtually unobtainable, some Japanese serve KFC fried chicken instead—really. A typical Southern Christmas meal starts with sugared pecans and deviled eggs, with ham and candied yams part of the main meal. Red velvet cake, divinity, pecan tassies, and Southern tea cakes, a type of sugar cookie, finish off the meal.
Over the generations the make-up of holiday dishes can change depending on the availability of raw ingredients and a person’s geographic location. How do you keep your family’s food traditions alive?
People often find themselves invited to various parties and potlucks during the Christmas season. I recently made a crustless quiche using broccoli from the garden. In keeping with the holiday color scheme, I roasted a red pepper and used thin strips to decorate the top of the quiche. This dish travels well and there is no need to keep it hot. It is delicious warm or at room temperature.
Crustless Broccoli Quiche
You can roast the pepper yourself or use some from a jar.
1 small red bell pepper
1 small head broccoli
1/2 red or sweet onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
3/4 cup grated cheese (Swiss, sharp Cheddar, Gruyere)
1 tablespoon flour
1 and 1/2 cups light cream
1 teaspoon dried herbs (your choice)
Salt and black pepper to taste
Cut the pepper into thirds or halves. Remove seeds and flatten the pieces a little by pressing with your hand. Roast skin side down over an open flame; I use tongs to hold the pieces over the flame on my gas stove. You can also roast it on a hot barbecue or under the broiler. The idea is to blacken the skin without cooking the flesh too much. Place in paper bag, fold the top closed, and let sit 15 minutes. Peel off the blackened skin and cut 6 to 8 long, thin slices. Reserve the slices and dice the remaining pepper. Set aside.
Butter a 9- or 10-inch pie plate. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Chop the broccoli and steam or sauté until just crisp tender. Saute the onion and garlic in a little olive oil until soft. Mix the cheese with the flour.
In a large bowl, beat the eggs, cream, herbs, salt and pepper until well combined. Add the diced red pepper, broccoli, onion and cheese and stir to distribute evenly in the custard. Pour into prepared pan and decorate the top with the reserved red pepper slices. Bake 30 minutes until set and golden or until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean. Let rest at least 10 minutes before serving.
MY WINTER GARDEN is still suffering the effects of our continued warm temperatures. You just never know what to expect with Mother Nature’s changing moods. Gardeners and farmers are at a disadvantage trying to make critical decisions of when to plant crops with long-range weather forecasting still a guess at best. Going over my garden journals I find fewer and fewer patterns adhering to past schedule for when to plant certain crops, when to expect invasion of differing pests, and so on. My blueberry bushes are blooming and the fig tree is bearing small fruit. I have to wonder what will happen this spring. Will the blues flower again? I don’t think any berries will make it from this batch of blooms, cooler weather will surely arrive at some time and freeze them off. Will we have an extended winter, once it does arrive? Only time will tell.
If you have not planted a fall garden, why not start one now? Even a few pots of good soil will yield lettuces and herbs for your dining delight.
I THINK I hear Santa in the next room, rustling his presents so I’ll close for now. I hope all you good girls and boys find just what you asked for under your Christmas tree on the 25th. Even more important, I hope you find the precious gifts of peace and joy in the New Year. Until next time, the kitchen is closed.
Be sure and check with your local chambers of commerce, churches, and newspapers for the Christmas festivals and activities that make our Nature Coast such a wonderful place to live.
January is national blood donor month, national hot tea month, and national soup month. In keeping with national blood donor month, the Old Town community is hosting LifeSouth Community Blood Centers’ bloodmobile on Monday, January 4 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. The bloodmobile will be at Hitchcock’s Foodway, 26064 SE Highway 19, Old Town. To donate, a person must be 17 or older, or 16 with written parental consent, weigh at least 110 pounds, and be in good health. A photo ID is required. For more information, call toll-free 1-888-795-2707 or visit www.lifesouth.org. All donors receive a recognition item and cholesterol screening.