A lovely traditional Christmas…?

Most of us strive for a traditional Christmas starting with the advent calendar, making and sending cards, dressing the tree, buying the turkey and some of us even leave out carrots, milk and biscuits for Santa and his reindeer. But how much of it is ‘traditional’? And how long does something need to exist to be classed as ‘traditional’.

The Christmas tree became popular in England after Prince Albert introduced the idea in 1841. He brought a Christmas tree over from Germany and put it in Windsor castle. The royal couple were illustrated in a national newspaper standing in front of it and the ‘tradition’ began…

The turkey appeared on Christmas tables in England in the 16th century and popular history tells of Henry VIII being the first English monarch to have turkey for Christmas. A famous Christmas dinner scene appears in Dickens’ A Christmas Carol (1843), where Scrooge sends Bob Cratchitt a large turkey.

Christmas Pudding. For several centuries, a dish called frumenty was part of the traditional Celtic Christmas meal. Frumenty was made primarily from boiled, cracked wheat with almonds, currants sugar and saffron being among a range of ingredients that were added,

Over the years the recipe changed. Eggs, fruit, spice, lumps of meat and dried plums were added. The whole mixture was wrapped in a cloth and boiled… and that is probably how plum pudding began!

Santa Claus, also known as Saint Nicholas, Father Christmas and simply Santa, is a figure with legendary, mythical, historical and folkloric origins who brings gifts to the homes of the good children during the late evening and overnight hours of Christmas Eve.

His red and white outfit was introduced by an American cartoonist Thomas Nast – working for Harper’s Bazaar in the mid/late 1800s and it is around this time that he acquired a sleigh, reindeer and bells! Although many people believe Coca Cola made him red and white this is an urban myth –bishop’s vestments (St Nicholas) had been red for many years before Coca Cola used him in a long running commercial in the 1930s!

The tradition of sending cards at Christmas began here in England in the mid 1800s – an Englishman called Henry Cole wanted to send a note to his friends to wish them Happy Christmas and look how popular making your Christmas cards is now!

It’s always interesting to know where our traditions come from!

 

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Brandied mincemeat filo waterlilies

If you fancy a change from the traditional mince pie this year, why not try these? I personally prefer filo to shortcrust pasty – try them and let me know what you think!

Serves about eight. 

You will need:

For the brandied mincemeat

This recipe makes enough for 6 x 1lb jars and as an alternative you could try ginger wine or whisky instead of the brandy!

  • 450g apples, peeled and cored
  • 225g suet
  • 350g sultanas
  • 250g raisins
  • 225g currants
  • 225g candied peel (chopped)
  • 3 oranges (grated rind and juice)
  • 1 lemon (grated rind and juice)
  • 50g flaked almonds
  • 4tsp ground mixed spice
  • ½ teaspoon each nutmeg and cinnamon

Mix all the ingredients together in an ovenproof bowl, cover with foil and stand in the oven heated to 120ºC/225ºF/Gas ¼ for about three hours. Take the bowl out and allow to cool, then mix in the alcohol and spoon into clean, dry jars. Cover and seal as usual.

For the waterlillies 

  • Approx 20 sheets of filo pastry
  • 225g (8oz) melted butter 

Using good kitchen scissors, cut the filo pastry into 5 – 5.75cm (2-21/2 inch) squares. Cut a stack at once, don’t do them one at a time or you really will be there until Christmas! Keep the pastry covered with a clean damp cloth as much as possible to avoid it drying out. Butter a nine-hole bun tin and place a square of pastry over the hole. Brush the top of the pastry with melted butter and cover with another square of pastry, placing the second square at an angle. Continue to layer about 5 sheets of pastry, buttering in between and rotating each square a little each time to give a petalled edge effect – see diagram. Fill each pastry case with between 10 – 15g (1dsp to 1tbs) of mincemeat and bake in a pre-heated oven at 160ºC (325ºF), gas mark 3 for 45 minutes.

 

 

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Christmas planning…

I know we all want the ‘perfect’ Christmas – the elusive nirvana of a huge gathering of happy relatives where nothing ever goes wrong… Everyone adores their presents, they praise the lightness of my gently warmed mince pies, the mulled wine is irresistible and yes, nobody gets too tipsy…

I could go on – my cards are all beautifully made and not one person forgotten, the presents are wrapped as if by a professional and my hair and make up are flawless as can be seen in all the rose-tinted photographs of the event…

OK back to reality! I will overheat the mince pies and only the dog will appreciate them, my naturally inclined to frizz hair will do just that as jets of steam shoot out of the oven as I check the turkey – and I just know I will forget a present or a card!

So why not join me in some clever forward planning this year – and let’s catch all those little ‘fails’ before they happen.

1.     I will have a stock of Christmas cards sitting in the letter rack ready to be addressed and sent when the inevitable “Oh no, I forgot them!” card arrives through the door!

2.     Buy something small but lovely for a male and a female gift, so that if someone arrives unannounced you have something that might work – if not – have them yourself as a treat after Christmas!

3.     Use a portable kitchen timer – I have one that you hang round your neck – then you can’t get chatting with someone in the sitting room while the mince pies harden to stone in the oven!

4.     Frizzy hair – well any of you that struggle with frizz will have your own best cures – but mine is strong hairspray – apply way more hairspray than you are used to using and then the oven can try and do its worst and there’s a good chance you will survive!

5.     Try and remember that nobody has a picture perfect family or Christmas and if yours brings happiness and is pretty OK – then you have worked your own little bit of Christmas magic!

If you have any ‘top tips’ to help us all get through the festive period – please share!

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House-Mouse mathematics!

Every design we have featuring the House-Mice makes me smile. Ellen Jareckie the artist has an amazing talent and a gift for just adding a spot of humour to everything she draws. Here the mice are checking their homework but in terms of seeds, oats and raisins!

I have sent House-Mouse cards to all ages, both male and female – their humour seems to appeal to so many different people – I am such a fan – oops you knew that already!

This card is pretty simple to make. Layer the main decoupage image up on some lilac card and the sentiment too. Then build up the decoupage using Pinflair glue gel, or similar.

Using an 8” x 8” scalloped card – add some layers of lilac card and a toning backing paper, rounding off the corners to blend with the scalloped edges. Add the decoupaged image at a jaunty angle, then add the sentiment beneath it.

Finally embellish with silk or paper leaves and flowers and a butterfly with a bit of sparkle!

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Scenting pinecones

Now is definitely one of my favourite times of year for scavenging and trawling the local paths and woods. Pine cones are of IMMENSE use to a crafter and can be used so many different ways, but my particular favourite is to use them as a Christmas pot pourri.

The fibrous material that makes up a pine cone is also, fortuitously, really good at retaining scents. So I capitalise on this ability and have a lovely big basket or bowl of pine cones near the open fire, or around in the kitchen throughout the dark wintery season.

The first and most important task is to dry out the pine cones – take great care as small bugs seem to lurk and these need to be removed. Start by shaking each cone well, outside on a sheet of newspaper. Tap it and give it a good shake – some people wash them in a very dilute bleach solution, again to eradicate any bugs – I usually just shake them a bit and then the drying process sorts out bugs as you will see. However the bleaching technique can be used to vary the colours of the cones in your collection if you’d like some lighter ones.

Once you are happy they are well shaken, bring them indoors and arrange on a wire cake rack, over a baking sheet and put in a very low oven (sort of thing that would be perfect for an Aga if you have one!) and leave for 4-5 hours. This should dry them nicely – if they were sopping wet then you might need a little longer – just check them and see.

Then decide what fragrance you want – either a bought pot pourri oil (like a refresher oil) or your own mixture of essential oils. Drop some oil onto each cone, stick them in a sealable plastic bag and leave for 24 hours or more. Then bring out of the bag and arrange in your chosen container. The scent can then be topped up by dropping oil onto the cones and shuffling them around in their container.

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