Today, December 6th …
What a relief to have a jolly saint for the day – one who is rotund and generous rather than skeletal and ascetic! It is of course St Nicholas’ day – the saint who has been transformed by popular vote into “Santa Claus”, who even in real life was associated with anonymous gift-giving. He was born in the third century AD in what is now Turkey, and is now particularly revered in Northern Europe, where his day marks the beginning of the Christmas season.
He is the only saint who has a special beer brewed and named in his honour. The Swiss lager called “Samichlaus” (Santa Claus) is made on December 6th one year and released on December 6th the next. At an awesome 14% alcohol the beer probably assists in the development of jollity even more than most!
As befits a jolly saint, he is also associated with the most fun food – gingerbread – the food which is also a toy, as it can be made into gingerbread men or gingerbread houses, or even in some areas, gingerbread pigs.
“Gingerbread” did not always mean “cake”. Originally it simply meant preserved ginger, but by the middle ages it was a fudgy sort of concoction, made with honey and breadcrumbs flavoured with a variety of spices, which could be cut or moulded into different shapes. Supposedly Queen Elizabeth I had gingerbread made to represent her favourite courtiers, which is a good enough reason for me to give you a courtly recipe from her era, from “Delights for ladies …” (Hugh Plat, 1602).
To make Gingerbread.
Take three stale manchets [small loaves] and grate them, drie them, and sift them through a fine sieve, then adde unto them one ounce of ginger being beaten, and as much Cinamon, one ounce of liquerice & anniseedes beeing beaten together and searced [sifted], halfe a pound of sugar, then boile all these together in a posnet [3 legged metal pot], with a quart of claret wine till they come to a stiff paste with often stirring of it; and when it is stiffe, molde it on a table and so drie it thin, & pring it in your moldes, dust your moldes with Cinamon, Ginger, and liquerice, being mixed together in fine powder. This is your Gingerbread used at Court, and in all gentlemens houses at festivall times.
Tomorrow … Prayers in the kitchen.