Easter time

So it’s Easter time again… But it’s a different date to last year. So why is it that the date of Easter can vary by up to a month? The problem is that Easter is one of the festivals that tries to harmonise the solar and lunar calendars. As a general rule, Easter falls on the first Sunday, following the first full moon after 21 March. But not always…

The problem comes because a solar year (the length of time it takes the earth to move round the sun) is 365 days, 5 hours, 49 minutes, and 12 seconds whereas a lunar year is 354.37 days. Calculating one against another is seriously complicated! There are literally dozens of permutations that are way beyond me to explain, but take my word for it – it’s complicated!

Having got the peculiarities of the date out of the way, what about the various traditions we associate with Easter? Two of the most popular are the Easter egg and the good old Easter Bunny!

A lot of us may chomp on chocolate eggs at Easter but originally eating eggs was not allowed by the church during the week leading up to Easter, known as Holy Week. Any eggs laid that week were saved and decorated to make them ‘Holy Week eggs’ that were then given to children as gifts.

The first chocolate eggs appeared in France and Germany in the 19th century but were bitter and hard. As chocolate-making techniques improved, hollow eggs like the ones we have today, were developed. Unsurprisingly, they very quickly became popular and remain so!

As with so many ‘traditions’ that we hold dear today, we only need to go back as far as the Victorians to establish how the Easter egg as a decorated gift developed. They adapted the traditional egg and, with their customary lavishness, created satin covered cardboard eggs filled with Easter gifts.

So finally, where does that fluffy little character the Easter Bunny fit in? The story of the Easter Bunny is thought to have become popular in the 19th century. Rabbits usually give birth to a big litter of babies, or kittens, so they became a symbol of new life. Legend has it that the terribly industrious Easter bunny lays, decorates and hides eggs as they are also a symbol of new life. But she doesn’t do all the work alone though – in Switzerland, Easter eggs are delivered by a cuckoo, and by a fox in parts of Germany.

Happy Easter to one and all – and don’t eat too much chocolate!

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More food fun…!

Top to bottom: Sally Lunn Bun, Cornish Hevva Cake, Bath Chaps and Spotted Dick.Following on from an earlier blog, here are some more foods with funny names… childish, me…?!

The Sally Lunn Bun
In the 17th century, the ‘Sally Lunn bun’ became synonymous with the fashionable city of Bath. ‘Sally’ is thought to have been a Frenchwoman named Solange Luyon but, thanks to her colleagues’ poor French, when the bun became a popular delicacy in Georgian times it was mispronounced and became known as the Sally Lunn bun. 

However, as is often the way… there is disagreement over the name’s origin. A similar French breakfast cake known as a ‘solei et lune’ (it being golden on top like the sun and pale on the bottom like the moon) gave rise to the suggestion that the baker could have been crying “Sol et lune! Solei lune!” in her French accent and passers-by misheard it as ‘Sally Lunn’. I quite like both of these explanations.

Cornish Hevva Cake
Cornish hevva cake, also known as heavy cake, is a simple cake associated with the pilchard fishing industry. It is said that when fisherman hauled aboard a pilchard shoal they would cry “hevva” to let their wives know to start baking the hevva cake. Its history is reflected in the diagonal lines scored across its top before it goes in the oven so it comes out looking like a fishing net. I can well imagine them all shouting ‘heave’ as they toiled away, but I guess the ‘hevva’ story is altogether more interesting!

Bath Chaps
Bath Chaps are the lower portion of a long-jawed pig’s cheeks and sometimes part of the tongue, pickled and boiled, skinned and rolled in breadcrumbs. The word ‘chap’ is a variant of ‘chop’ that, in the 16th century, meant an animal’s jaws and cheeks. They were very much a West Country delicacy and may well have been delicious, but are probably a little too graphic-sounding for many of us today!

Spotted Dick
Well, I suppose I had to finish off with this one! The ‘spotted’ part is due to the raisins or currants studded all over the pudding. The word ‘dick’ is said to have denoted a plain pudding and could be a shortening of pudding to ‘ding’, which then became ‘dick’. Amazing how words and phrases change over time!

 

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Funny food!

Top to bottom: Fidget Pie, Toad in the Hole, Singin’ Hinnies and Dead Man’s Arm… sorry, that should be Jam Roly Poly!Coming across things with funny names always makes me chuckle and I think some of the old-fashioned names we have for particular recipes are a hoot! Of course, working out their original meaning is often guesswork, but there are some very interesting ones out there. Here are a few you might enjoy…

Fidget Pie
Fidget pie is a traditional English dish made from a small pastry case filled with gammon, onion, potatoes, cider and apple and topped with cheese and a pastry lid. Some believe the name comes from the Anglo-Saxon word ‘fitched’, meaning five-sided. The Oxford English Dictionary says the word appeared in the late 18th century as fitchet-pie, perhaps from fitchet, a dialect word for ‘polecat’, because of the strong, unpleasant odour of the pie during cooking. Really?!

Toad in the Hole
Some say this quintessentially British dish got its name because the sausages in batter look like little amphibians peeking out of a hole. But there’s also the possibility it could be linked to a pub game known as ‘toad in the hole’ in which players try to throw a heavy disc – the toad – through a hole in a lead-topped table. Could there have been some resemblance between the two when they were put on the table? I think I prefer the first option.

Singin’ Hinnies
While they may sound like a 1980s pop group, Singin’ hinnies are actually flat, scone-like cakes from the Northumberland area, originally made from a large piece of dough that was cooked on a griddle over the home fire before being split into segments. Singin’ hinnies take their name from the sizzling sounds they make as they cook. They are said to sing because butter and milk or cream would drip and sizzle merrily in the scolding pan. The term ‘hinnie’ is another way of saying ‘honey’ and is used as a term of endearment, often to describe children.

Dead Man’s Arm
Another name for the jam roly poly is the ‘dead man’s arm’, not just because it looks like one when the jam spurts out, but because it was often wrapped in an old shirt sleeve to be steamed. I think I will stick to calling it jam roly poly, thank you, slightly more appetising!

I have a few more up my sleeve (pun intended!) so will share those with you in a later blog. But meanwhile, do share any interestingly named dishes that you know of. There are lots of regional variations I am sure!

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Christmas traditions – part two!

I have found it quite fascinating looking into what we think of as the ‘traditions’ of Christmas, so here’s a second helping for you.

Wreaths

The wreath has always been used as a symbol of power and strength. In Rome and Greece, kings and emperors often wore laurel wreathes as crowns. Harvest wreathes – the predecessors to our modern decorations – were used in rituals for good harvests, and predate written history. Ancient Europeans often used evergreen in their wreathes to symbolise strength and fortitude as an evergreen will live through even the harshest of winters. Wreaths have been used as a decorative sign of Christmas for hundreds of years. The wreath has significant meaning for the season with its circular shape representing eternity as it has no beginning and no end. From a Christian perspective, it represents an unending circle of life.

Carolling

Christmas carols grew out of the first Christmas hymns, which developed in fourth century Rome. While these Latin hymns were sung in church for generations, the first true carols developed in France, Germany, and Italy in the 13th century. These carols, written in the language of the area where they were composed, were enthusiastically sung at community events and festivals. They were not composed specifically as Christmas carols, but rather as holiday songs that were sung at many separate festivals and celebrations. Later on, the songs would become associated primarily with Christmas. The modern practice of going door-to-door carolling probably has something to do with the root word for carol, “carole” or “carula” which mean a circular dance, so going ‘round the houses’!

Mistletoe

Mistletoe is a parasitic plant that perches on a tree branch and absorbs nutrients from the trunk – hardly one of the most romantic forms of life! Celtic legend says the plant can bring good luck, heal wounds, increase fertility and ward off evil spirits. While it’s hard to say what (if any) truth lies in these legends of yore, at the very least, it provides an excuse to sidle up and kiss someone! The tradition of smooching underneath the mistletoe began (of course!) in the Victorian era and was once believed to inevitably lead to marriage. But it seems to have lost a little of that power. Now, when someone kisses you it might just mean they’ve had a few too many sips of holiday punch!

What ever your thoughts on carols or mistletoe, I hope you have a fabulous Christmas!

 

 

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The traditions of Christmas, or not…!

I was thinking about Christmas stockings for my family and started wondering about how this slightly strange practice came to be, and then I thought – aha, perhaps that’s an idea for a blog. I checked back and saw that I wrote about some of the origins of what we think of as ‘traditional’ Christmas practices THREE years ago! My goodness, I’ve written a lot of blogs and articles since then! Anyway, here are some interesting facts that I didn’t cover last time…

Christmas Stockings

As with so many of these traditions, I have come across various explanations as to how the practice of stocking-stuffing came about and it owes more to myth than fact. We know, thanks to the poem ‘T’was the Night Before Christmas’, that hanging stockings by the chimney with care dates back at least to the poem’s 1823 publication. But the story of how stockings came to be hung by the fire is a hazy one. Legend says the original Saint Nicholas, who travelled around bringing gifts and cheer to the poor, came upon a small village one year and heard of a family in need. An impoverished widower could not afford to provide a dowry for his three daughters. St. Nick knew the man was too proud to accept money, so he simply dropped some gold coins down the chimney, which landed in the girl’s stockings, hung by the fireplace to dry, so the tale goes. And so, the modern tradition was born.

Gift giving

Christmas’s gift-giving tradition has its roots in the Three Kings’ offerings to the infant Jesus. Romans traded gifts during Saturnalia, and 13th century French nuns distributed presents to the poor on St. Nicholas’ Eve. However, gift-giving did not become the central Christmas tradition it is today until our friends the Victorians got to grips with it! Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, who also gave us the Christmas tree, also popularised the whole present giving ritual.

The X in Xmas

I know a lot of people don’t like to see Christmas abbreviated to Xmas, seeing it as rather disrespectful, but the true origins have a strong basis in Christianity. In the abbreviation, the X stands for the Greek letter Chi, the first letter of the Greek word for Christ. I was amazed to discover that the term X-mas has been used since the 16th century, and became widely used in the 18th and 19th centuries. In the modern world, X has been taken to be used as an abbreviation for any word with the “krys” sound in it. Chrysanthemum, for example, is sometime shortened to “xant” on florist’s signs, and crystal has sometimes been abbreviated as “xtal”. Hmmm…

I’ve got a few more thoughts on our Christmas traditions that I’ll share with you later in the month…

 

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