post It’s Nearly Christmas!

December 12th, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — admin @ 7:32 pm

W. St.Germain

Victoria in the kitchen

Victoria’s kitchen on High Chaparral

In the September 2009 issue of HCN, I shared with you a ‘simple’ recipe for making fruit preserves. I’m still recovering from the experience but being the brave soldier that I am, I resolved to investigate what a possible High Chaparral Christmas meal involved. Alas, the old assumed knowledge reared its ugly head again. More of the ‘handful of this’ ‘little bit of that’ and a new one (from a cornbread recipe) ‘Take a portion of flour’. A portion! How much is a portion? The seed of doubt soon sprouted, warning me that the article wouldn’t go quite to plan.

I started with the meat. While many ranchers had to satisfy themselves eating beef, yet again – perhaps with a sprig of holly in it – the meat of preference was turkey. In keeping with the exacting eye for detail people had back then, we are told that it is best to have a bird of ‘uncommon size.’ This time they didn’t get me! Even I know what a common sized turkey looks like. The question remained must the uncommonly sized bird be really small or really huge? Logic dictated that it must be huge. So, one up for the hopeless cook. Unfortunately, it was downhill from there.

If turkey was unavailable options included roasting a whole pig or cow – or large part thereof. I’m sure the lady of the house would’ve enjoyed doing that. I know I would. Where do you even begin? If someone were to toss a whole pig at me, I’d be lost (and flat on my back if I didn’t catch it). I’d fare no better with the other animals. I recently watched a cooking show where they stuck a barbaric looking metal pole through one end of an unfortunate pig and out the other in order to put it on a spit. I am positive I couldn’t do that. Mind you, it looked delicious when it was done but if it were left to me, we’d be eating salad. I know it’s done on an outdoor spit but what about snow? And how does one know how long it takes to roast a whole animal? Wouldn’t your arm drop off winding the thing? I decided it was time to move on.

The meat needed accompaniments. Dressed celery was the recommended choice. Here’s where I started floundering. Dressed? They can’t be serious. Dressed how? What does celery wear? Suit and tie or more casual? Given that it’s Christmas, probably formal wear. Further investigation led me to someone who realized that in the distant future, people might not know how to dress celery. Here’s the instruction left for posterity. ‘Wash celery sticks, cut into fine pieces and mix with dressing.’ That really helped. Since pre made salad dressing wasn’t around your guess is as good as mine. Mayonnaise? I did try to learn the secret for you. Did you know there are forums on the internet where people talk about celery? And I thought I was the one who didn’t get out enough. This was when I realized I no longer cared. If I were cooking, I’d serve my celery naked.

High Chaparral ChristmasI have Laura Ingalls’ books so I checked them out for ideas. Guess what she wrote? ‘Ma was busy all day long, cooking good things for Christmas’ What a surprise. Laura did provide some details. Apparently Ma made baked beans, pies, salt pork, dried fruit pies (presumably different from ‘pies’ in general) and of course bread. Oh, and let’s not forget churning the butter. Seems that regular and sweet potatoes were popular and given that Ma had the oven going anyway, she popped them in alongside the uncommonly large turkey, bread, pies and dried fruit pies. Ma must have had a crematorium sized oven. Preserved fruits and vegetables came out of the pantry for the feast, too – like there wasn’t enough happening in the kitchen already. Here’s where I’m thinking ‘forget it!’ What about sweets? I can do sweets – definitely not in the huge volumes these legendary women produced but I do better sweets than savories (or eggs!) Now it got interesting. I learned where candy canes came from!

Children of the Old West loved their ‘sugar sticks’ which date back an estimated 350 years. They were the precursor to curved candy canes. Being ‘boiled sweets’ they kept well. From them, candy canes arose. We can assume children of HC’s time had the cane shape. There are many records of them being popular in America by the 1800’s. The first historical record of this shape dates back to 1670. A German choirmaster gave the all white canes to children as what some would call a reward, others a bribe, to keep still during Christmas services. The original straight stick was bent into the shape of a shepherd’s staff which also becomes a J for Jesus, the Good Shepherd. The rock candy represents Jesus as the Rock of the Christian church. The canes were white to represent his purity, colors were added later.

The red and white cane is the original, with peppermint as its flavor. Now, of course we get all colors and flavors but those would not have been found at the High Chaparral. The Cannons most likely decorated their tree with candy canes since they, as well as dried fruit and cookies, were commonly used for ornamentation.
Hyssop is found in the Old Testament and was used as flavoring and in sacrifices and purification rituals. It is similar to peppermint. Therefore, peppermint was made the flavor of choice because of its similarity to the flavor of purity and sacrifice – more symbolism here. Finally, the red bands of color represent the blood Jesus shed. You will note that there are thick and fine bands of red on traditional canes. The thick bands represent the blood he shed on the cross while the thin ones represent his wounds.

Making boiled sweets of any kind is an exacting science so there’s no way I’ll ever try it. No doubt I’d cause a sticky explosion that would never come off the walls or ceiling but I wouldn’t be at all surprised if Victoria made her own. In our house, we will barbeque the turkey and buy our plum pudding from the cake shop. It’s safer this way and adds the final touch to a perfect Christmas. A perfect Christmas is a Christmas where everyone enjoys themselves, remembers the meaning behind the season, and love fills the air. I expect Christmas at the High Chaparral would have been wonderful in every way and wonderful is the Christmas I wish you all. Stay safe and we will catch up next year.

Did You Know?

Nearly 2 billion candy canes are made every year! Did you also know that 26 December is National Candy Cane Day in the USA?

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