Category Archives: Christmas

Of Rose Water, Cloves, & Honey

TENTH DAY of CHRISTMAS
St. Titus’s and St. Gregory’s Day

Again today, like yesterday, there are no particular customs associated with this, the Tenth Day of Christmas. It is the Feast Day of St. Titus and St. Gregory. Titus was a disciple of St. Paul in the first century, and St. Gregory was a bishop in the sixth century. It’s also St. Rigobert’s Day and St. Ramon’s Day.

If you still have it in you to celebrate another grand event or two, well, very soon will come Twelfth Night and Epiphany. In this house, we sometimes mark these closing days of the Yuletide season quietly, and sometimes with a big meal and a gathering of family and friends. Whatever you decide, this Tenth Day of Christmas is a good one to use for preparations. With Twelfth Night and Epiphany, our focus shifts a bit toward the Magi and the star that they followed. We bring out the illuminated paper star lanterns and we make Christmas sweets that, no matter how much we try to make earlier, we never seem to get made until the last few days of Christmas. Maybe it is a subconscious decision, for these baked goods feel older, more influenced by ancient flavors, flavors the Magi were probably familiar with: Baklava flavored with honey and walnuts, our friend Paula’s Kourambiedes cookies, each studded with a clove, and our Three Kings Cakes, flavored with honey, rose water, and currants.

For years now on the blog on this Tenth Day of Christmas, we’ve been giving you our recipe for Three Kings Cakes with the idea that it is a very good day to bake them. Perhaps this is the best custom around for the day! The recipe yields three cakes, cakes you will prepare in three loaf pans. You will end up with one cake for each of the Magi, who have traditionally been called Caspar, Melchior, and Balthasar, though no one knows who they were really. As the story goes, it took the Magi all this time to travel through the desert, and seeing the child lying in the straw was their great epiphany. We happen to sell a wonderful rose water made at the Sabbathday Lake Shaker Community in Maine. If you’re local and you need some to bake these cakes, let me know and together we’ll find a way to get you a bottle in time, even if it means meeting up in a parking lot somewhere!

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THREE KINGS CAKES
makes three cakes

For the Batter
1 cup butter
generous 3/4 cup sugar
2 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 1/2 cups currants
3 cups applesauce
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
4 cups flour

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Cream together the butter and the sugar, then add the eggs and vanilla. Beat smooth before adding the remaining ingredients. Grease 3 loaf pans (about 8″ x 4″ x 3″ or so) and divide the batter amongst the pans. Bake for one hour, or until a toothpick poked into the center of each cake comes out dry. Let the cakes cool in their pans on a rack.

For the Syrup
1/2 cup honey
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
1 cinnamon stick
6 whole cloves
2 tablespoons rose water

Once the cakes are baked, combine the syrup ingredients, except for the rose water, in a saucepan over medium heat. Once the sugar dissolves, add the rose water. Remove the cinnamon stick and the cloves and then pour the hot syrup over the cakes in their pans, divided equally amongst the three cakes. The syrup will soak into the cakes. Allow to cool completely before unmolding from the pans. Serving the three cakes on three platters makes for a nice presentation on Epiphany Day or on Twelfth Night.

Image: Our pottery studio, still a work in progress… but finished enough that Seth hung a fir wreath on the door this Christmas. This has nothing at all to do with St. Titus or St. Gregory, I realize, or St. Rigobert or Ramon, for that matter. But I am very excited about the project, and I’m hopeful that 2018 is the year that Seth Thompson gets back to making pottery. He’s awfully good at it.

 

Be a Light Bearer

NINTH DAY of CHRISTMAS:
St. Genevieve’s Day

Francophiles, rejoice! While there are no particular customs (that I am aware of, anyway) associated with this Ninth Day of Christmas, it is St. Genevieve’s Day. Genevieve, sacred to Paris, that fair city’s patron saint. She lived in Paris in the fifth century as a nun and is credited with saving the city from an attack by Attila and his Huns in 451. This she did through fasting and prayer, encouraging the residents of the city to join her. And around 475, she founded Saint-Denys de la Chapelle in Paris, which stands today as part of the Basilica of St. Denis.

As the patron saint of the City of Light, I like to think of Genevieve in terms of her connection to light––as another of the midwinter saints who are light bearers at this dark time of year and who encourage us to be light bearers, too. She is often depicted holding a candle. As the story goes: the devil would time and again blow out her candle as she went to pray at night. Genevieve, however, relit her candle without need of flint or fire, always overcoming the darkness. As our wheel of the year goes, we are already thirteen days passed the Midwinter Solstice; already light is increasing as we begin the journey toward summer’s warmth once more in the Northern Hemisphere. The light of St. Genevieve promises to never be snuffed by the darkness.

There are plenty of you out there who love the food and culture of France. I think today, this Ninth Day of Christmas, is a fine day to enjoy those things fully. Joyeux Noël et bonne année!

 

St. Macaroon, and Your January Book of Days

EIGHTH DAY of CHRISTMAS:
St. Macarius’s Day

We enter the more contemplative period of the Twelve Days and today, for this Eighth Day of Christmas, we remember St. Macarius, who, truth be told, was not much fun in his older years. He was an extreme ascetic who lived the life of a hermit in the desert and ate only raw vegetables and maybe, on a special day, a bit of bread dipped in oil. But earlier on in life, St. Macarius was a confectioner in his native Alexandria. Macarius the confectioner is remembered more fondly than Macarius the ascetic; he is a patron saint of cooks, confectioners, and pastry chefs, some of whom call him St. Macaroon, as Macarius does not exactly roll easily off the tongue. And so today, perhaps enjoy something a little sweet––a bit of that boozy Christmas fruitcake, maybe, or something more attuned to Alexandria––dates stuffed with nuts and rolled in sugar seem like something St. Macaroon might have made in his shop centuries ago.

We also have for you today our monthly gift to you, the first one in the new year: it’s your Convivio Book of Days Calendar for January 2018. We found ourselves one day last week at the historic House of Refuge on Gilbert’s Bar at Stuart, Florida. The United States Lifesaving Service, which eventually became part of the Coast Guard, built Houses of Refuge about every 26 miles on the wild, untamed Atlantic coast of Florida, places designed as shelter for rescued shipwreck survivors. This was in the late 1800s; ours was built in 1876. The building is lovely and the coast it sits on is rocky, which is not what most folks think of when they think of the South Florida coast. The limestone outcroppings emerge from the sand like rocky cliffs, waves crashing up against them. It’s easy to see why so many ships wrecked along the coast. The house, warm, a place of obvious refuge, is decorated for Christmas now, with the kind of decorations we like best. Like the garland of oranges and cinnamon and nuts and cranberries in the kitchen. It graces your January Book of Days, reminding you, hopefully, of the warm pleasures found in simple things. For me, that often involves the kitchen… which brings us back around again to the Eighth Day of Christmas and to St. Macaroon, patron saint of cooks. May these warm feelings of hearth and home be yours, too, all through this day and the new month and new year.