I come from a long line of European women who did a lot of baking: fresh bread and buns, pies, squares, cookies and strudels. Although my mother and grandmother baked throughout the year, Christmas was my favorite time because that’s when the really special treats were made, things that you didn’t eat just every day: hot roasted chestnuts, fruitcake, butter tarts, honey cake, shortbread and chocolate Yule logs.
As I grew older, I began to wonder why so many Christmas desserts and snacks featured nuts, dried fruits and lots of spices. As I learned more about these traditional Christmas foods, I realized that nuts and dried fruits were some of the only food items available in the northern hemisphere in winter. We tend to forget nowadays that 150 years ago just about everyone was on the 100-mile diet (no Mandarin oranges for Christmas back then!). Spices were too expensive for common people to use frequently, so they were saved for special occasions, like weddings and holidays.
In this series of blogs, I will be talking about some of the plant foods that tend to show up in traditional Christmas baking. First up, get ready to learn more about Christmas nuts (and no, I’m not referring to your crazy uncle Joe).
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