The Season of Pompion Pyes

The season is upon us where every coffee shop begins to sell “pumpkin spice” whatnots and most major grocery stores begin to stock up on the orange-brown goo filled pastry.

Ah 1800s Thanksgiving…  Nothing like a pumpkin pie to get your mind off the Napoleonic wars.

The pumpkin has been a part of the North American diet for thousands of years, and was introduced into the European diet shortly after Columbus made landfall and brought back the wonders of the Americas.  Native Americans had been boiling and stewing the squash for millenia, using it as a successful ward against things like scurvy and malnutrition.  Depending on the source, pepon, later called pompon, later called pompion, later still to be called pumpion, was introduced into the European diet between 1536 and 1651.  By 1651, the “Tourte de Pompion” was included into Francois Pierre La Varenne cookbook that achieved a great deal of publicity.  La Varenne wrote that you should, “Boile it with good milk, pass it through a straining pan very thick, and mix it with sugar, butter, a little salt and if you will, a few stamped almonds; let all be very thin. Put it in your sheet of paste; bake it. After it is baked, besprinkle it with sugar and serve.”

The humble pumpkin slowly gained popularity as it spread through the European subcontinent, gathering dozens of methods of preparation.  The pompion pie of the 1600s looked little like the pumpkin pies of today, one recipe called for baking the pumpkin strips with raisins, currans and sack (honestly don’t know what that is, all research for “sack spice” or “spice sack” only results in pictures of burlap) at which point the chef would put the whole shebang in a pie crust on top of a thick layer of apples.  Some New England recipes simply asked the people to hollow out a pumpkin, fill the gourd with apples and spices, then bake the amalgam of dust and goop in the ashes of a fireplace.

In 1796, the official recipe for pumpkin pie (closest to the stuff we mostly eat now) was written in The American Cookery by Amelia Simmons (who literally called herself “an American orphan” in the headline of the book)

Amelia Simmons, An American Orphan, wrote it down.  If you see something that looks like an “f” in this, it’s really just an “s”.  Thif if juft the way they wrote back then.

After 1796, the pumpkin pie simply got refined.  There were moments where people doubted the subtle power of the orange squash, but the moments passed.  For example, after the Civil War when Abraham Lincoln made Thanksgiving a national holiday, Southern reporters criticized the North’s strange ritualism; with one reporter saying, “This is an annual custom of that people, heretofore celebrated with devout oblations to themselves of pumpkin pie and roast turkey.” (That is correct, Abraham Lincoln made Thanksgiving a holiday.  It was a response to the Union Victory at Gettysburg, making the “distinctly American holiday” distinctly pro-Union)  In the end, the canning revolution took hold and instant “pumpkin pie in a can” recipes began to spring up in 1929 that dramatically cut down the preparation time for the pies, further cementing the place of the pumpkin pie as the king of the Thanksgiving desert bar.

 

Citations:
http://www.ibtimes.com/pumpkin-pie-thanksgiving-dessert-history-374312
http://whatscookingamerica.net/History/PieHistory/PumpkinPie.htm
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pumpkin_pie
http://www.history.com/news/hungry-history/the-history-of-pumpkin-pie
http://www.kitchenproject.com/history/Pumpkin/PumpkinPie.htm
http://time.com/3958057/history-of-pie/

This one is about Lincoln making Thanksgiving:
http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/lincoln-proclaims-official-thanksgiving-holiday

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History of a Holiday: Why Eggs and Bunnies on Easter

For a holiday that is supposed to be about rebirth of Christ, it seems odd that the holiday has become so associated with candy, rabbits and eggs.  Coming at the end of Lent, most people think of Easter as a firmly religious holiday that has a totally secular bent to it.  The truth behind it is that Easter is a Pagan holiday/festival that was absorbed into the Christian faith and later absorbed into secular society.

Easter was originally celebrated two days after Passover, so it would arrive any day of the week given the year.  It wasn’t until 338 when Emperor Constantine declared that the day would happen on Sunday that the day was given a solid date.  More than that, the name “Easter” has little to do with Christianity.  Easter loosely correlates to the old Germanic word for dawn, and more than that, to the goddess of the dawn.  Eostre was the Pagan goddess heavily associated with Spring and Fertility, and festivals for her were held roughly around mid April.  The holiday slowly distanced itself further and further from the original traditional meaning and timing.

As for why we have eggs, the egg has long been an incredibly important object in religion and culture because of its miraculous ability to bring forth life from a lifeless container.  Originally, Christians were thought to have painted eggs red, allowing them to signify both the blood of Christ and his escape from the tomb at the Resurrection.  Another reason why the egg may have become integrally linked to Easter was that the Church forbid the consumption of eggs during lent, so the day lent ended (Easter) would be marked by a moment when people were allowed to chow down on them without God frowning.

With time, other symbols got added to the holiday (Eostre was said to have a small horde of bunnies who carried the light of dawn across the sky) and the Hare got permanently tangled into the mythos of the Easter holiday.  Hares were long thought to be hermaphrodites who represented fertility and life; so their connection to the holiday that represented fertility and life was a short stretch.  In the 1700s, German families in America told their children that they would be visited by the “Oschter Hase” if they were good and it would lay brightly colored eggs for the good children.  Kids would build small nests for the Rabbit to lay its eggs in and over time, that evolved into egg hunts and baskets full of candies.  Jelly beans and chocolate eggs made their break into the holiday tradition in the early 1800s (and the 1930s for the Jelly beans) in large part simply because of their shape.  Easter shaped candy is a multi-billion dollar business these days simply because of the raw expenditure on sweets.

As a fun little parting tidbit, in other parts of the world, the Easter Bunny is not necessarily a bunny.  Australia has the Easter Bilby (kinda looks like a ratsquirrelmouse) while Germany has everything from the Easter Fox to the Easter Stork.  Some kids even get eggs delivered by an Easter Cuckoo.

 

Citations; eggcelence in reference:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Easter_Bunny
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/%C4%92ostre
http://www.history.com/topics/holidays/easter-symbols
http://www.history.com/topics/holidays/easter-symbols/videos/holiday-foods-easter-eggs
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Easter_Bilby

History of a Holiday: St.Patrick’s Day

March 17th is now the day where we gather around pubs after donning merry green attire to celebrate all things Irish.  The day itself falls on the Feast of St.Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland.  Oddly enough, St.Patrick was neither Irish, nor were his celebrated endeavors particularly well recorded.

Born around 380 AD, Maewyn Saccat lived in Bannavem Taberniae for the early part of his life.  While likely in Scotland, Bannavem could have been located in Wales or in England during the time of the Roman occupation of the British Isles.  Known better by his Christian name, Patricius (Patrick a la Romanization), Maewyn resided in Great Britain until around 396 AD, when a group of Irish raiders captured him and forced him into slavery in Ireland.  Patrick found himself herding sheep for the Irish pagans for the next six years until God spoke to him in a dream and laid down an escape plan for him.  Patrick walked 200 miles across Ireland where he hopped a boat and sailed to his homeland in England/Scotland/Wales.

His religious experience led to him joining the Church and becoming an ordained priest, when God sent up another smoke signal to the young Patrick in his dreams.  Patrick decided to return to Ireland with the Pope’s blessing and set about converting the locals of the island.  He found immense success with the population and converted huge parts of the population as he wandered about, setting up schools, convents and monasteries as he went.  The Druids who were the religious authorities of the land found Patrick’s constant conversions to be an irritation and they pressed for his arrest.  Legend is that he escaped all the attempts, being guided by his God may have had something to do with it.

Patrick died on the 17th of March, cementing his position as an early force in Church conversion attempts.  Here’s where the interesting bit begins.  Very little is actually known about St.Patrick.  What we do know comes from his biography and some scraps of writing that survived the last 1600 years.  What is now considered to be common knowledge about Patrick (i.e. the use of the shamrock to teach the trinity, the driving the snakes out of Ireland) are all based on local folklore and mythos that developed over the years.  Just like legendary figures from the early years of any group, (Rome wasn’t actually started by a kid whose mom was a wolf, that just sells magazines) St.Patrick has become much larger than life.  One story is that while converting a certain town, he stuck his walking stick into the ground.  The population was so stubborn that when he finally finished converting the town, the stick had grown roots and become a tree.  Another holds that while fasting, Patrick was attacked by a swarm of snakes, who he warded off with the power of his conviction, driving them all into the water and off the island.  Just so you all know, Ireland has no snakes.  Never has.  The closest thing to them is a wee legless lizard that scientists found in a little Irish town in 1970.  So either snakes never migrated to the islands, or Patrick scored a critical hit when scaring snakes.

The other curious thing about St.Patrick besides him being the most Irish non-Irishman is the way certain things have become associated with him.  The Four-Leaf Clover is emblazoned on nearly every cheap St.Paddy’s day knickknack and found on every third image of the holiday, but the story is that St.Patrick showed the people of Ireland the basic concept of the Trinity by using a shamrock (3 leaf clover).  It was actually the Druids who managed to sell Four-Leaf Clovers as lucky charms, not the Catholic Saint.  Odd how some of the things we see most as St.Patrick-ey are actually the product of the religion he tried to eradicate.

Citations, so you don’t overlook your four leaf clover:

Just so that isn’t a weird segue, it’s from a 1927 song http://www.fourleafclover.com/vshop/4-leaf_clover_song

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saint_Patrick%27s_Day
http://www.history.com/topics/st-patricks-day/who-was-saint-patrick
http://www.history.com/topics/st-patricks-day
http://www.theholidayspot.com/patrick/historyofpatrick.htm
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saint_Patrick
http://www.biography.com/people/st-patrick-9434729?page=2
http://landscaping.about.com/cs/lawns/a/clover_lawns_2.htm

History of a Holiday:Valentine’s Day

Every year it rolls around, February 14th we buy candy, cards and stuffed objects to ply our loved ones with.  Chocolates, suckers, mints and all things heart shaped, which are not really heart shaped by the way, hearts have chambers and ventricles and look totally different.  The Valentine’s day heart is really just a thinly veiled image of a nude person’s gender specific bits.  Male and female, upper and lower, all it takes is a wee bit of imagination and a 180 degree rotation.  The holiday itself has origin roots in the Roman empire, like most of the modern holidays do.

Originally celebrated on and around February 15th, Lupercalia was the Roman holiday we associate with the Feast of St.Valentine.   Men would sacrifice goats, cut them into little bits, dip the strips into the dead goat drippings and then bolt nude around the city and wallop women with the gore to promote fertility.  Modern medicine has since deemed bloody goat slaps less than effective as a fertility treatment, but in Ancient Rome, whacking your woman could end sterility and cause pregnancy.  Lupercalia also supposedly had a tradition where the eligible bachelors of the towns would draw slips of paper out of an urn with the name of one of the bachelorettes on it.  The two would be obligated by tradition to hook up, and often ended up marrying.

Valentine’s day of modern times comes from the legend of a Christian martyr.   In the year 270 AD, the Roman empire was falling apart at the seams.  Claudius II took the throne and tried to keep his empire together through a strong military.  One of his famous acts forbade soldiers from marrying, assuming that they would fight more efficiently if they were not linked to their homes because of families and spouses.  The legend of St.Valentine is that he declared Claudius to be a nimwit and continued marrying soldiers in secret.  When he was caught, he was imprisoned and, depending on the story, either healed the blind daughter of his jailer (with saintly healing powers, this is the Catholic story), helped the blind daughter (by being a nice guy, this is the Protestant story), or slept with the daughter (this is likely the honest truth).  When he met with Claudius, Valentine refused to give up his God to follow the Roman ones and was sentenced to death on the 14th of February.  The legend is that he wrote a letter to the jailer’s daughter and signed it “from your Valentine”, which could potentially be the origin of the card-giving epidemic that came about later.

The leap from Lupercalia’s sex and fertility holiday to Valentine’s martyrdom holiday came in the 5th century when Pope Gelasius declared Lupercalia outdated and replaced it with the feast of St.Valentine.  It wasn’t until much later when the date was associated with love and all that.  In medieval France and England, it was believed that birds chose their mates on the 14th of February.  Chaucer linked the two together in a story and the idea of love on the 14th became more and more integral to the holiday.  Then you get to today, where a full 25% of the cards purchased in a given year are given out.

Hopefully y’all learned something new, something cool or something different, like how the holiday originated from a giant goat and sexual-lotto orgy festival.

Citations, got no clever one liner after the goat and lotto orgy one:

Dating in Rome must have been a lot Easier with Festivals like that:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Valentine%27s_Day
http://voices.yahoo.com/origins-valentines-day-heart-symbol-849689.html
http://www.theholidayspot.com/valentine/history_of_valentine.htm
http://www.history.com/topics/valentines-day
http://www.historyofholidays.com/history_of_valentines_day_main.html

The Wrapped are now Unwrapped, now what?

We celebrated the Christmas Holiday, but what did we forget, and what comes next?

The origin story to Christmas is quite muddy.  Nobody is truly sure whether to trace it back to Norse and Viking origins or if it traces back to Roman ones; and because historians love to lock down a single progenitor of any tradition, the sources never seem to agree on one or another.  The Norse origins are heavy ones that loosely link it to Odin and his Wild Hunt where he rides across the skies with dead warriors, raising hell and portending some sort of catastrophe.  The Roman origin story on the other hand, links it to Saturnalia.  Saturnalia was the Roman festival to the god Saturn, who was the god of everything from harvests to commerce.  Some historians believed that Saturn also took in a large set of traits from Babylonian and Assyrian gods of the harvest (what with the Roman tradition of stealing everybody’s culture).  Saturnalia, typically a three to four day affair, would occasionally run an entire week long from around the 17th of December to the 23rd of December, complete with mass animal sacrifices and a healthy quantity of Barbecue.  It would be accompanied by a whole host of crazy social upheavals where servants would be served by their masters, gambling would be allowed in the streets and sweets and treats would be made out of paste, simply to punk those who tried them.  Meant as a way of celebrating the “Golden Age of Saturn” before the modern era when all men were equal, it gave the farmers and the lower classes (slaves) a week of celebration after the harvests were finished.

Not to be confused with other wonderful Roman holidays, Saturnalia was the after the harvest fest, whereas the pre-planting festival (Romans loved to party) was Matronalia.  The party that was held on the first of March was another social upheaval occasion, where men gave gifts to women and female servants were given the day off as a “thank you” for the work that they would be putting in over the next year.  Another fun Roman holiday is Lupercalia, the February 13-15th holiday celebrating fertility.  What makes Lupercalia so memorable, besides the strange similarity to Valentine’s day, is the fact that men would go blazing through the streets in their birthday suits hooting and screaming as they battered anyone who got in their way with goatskin thongs.  Romans believed that the naked thongslaps would help pregnant women give birth, or help women become pregnant.  Nobody knows romance like a Roman.

As far as what comes after Christmas, as of the 26th, Kwanzaa began and will continue until the first of January.  Now in its 48th year, Kwanzaa is the first African-American specific holiday.  Began in 1966 to give African Americans an alternative to simply following suit with the dominant culture, it was created by Maulana Karenga to celebrate Pan-Africanism and to celebrate African history in America as a greater community.

As a bonus to this post, I’ve added a link that has the Gullah version of the Christmas Story.  Gullah is the language of the Gullah people who hail from near the coast of South Carolina, forming a culture and a community unlike many around them.  They have an different language which is in part English, in part Creole, part African, and wholly intriguing.

Hopefully y’all learned something new, something cool or something different.  When Valentines day comes this year, just be happy you won’t be assaulted by stringy goat strips.  Some traditions really need to be brought back…

Citations, while I still have faith that people use the links:

Odin, Saturn and Parties, oh my:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wild_Hunt
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saturnalia

Goatskin thongs aren’t clothes, But if anybody would rock that, it would have been a Roman
http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/351677/Lupercalia
http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/369539/Matronalia

Kwanzaa
http://www.ibtimes.com/what-kwanzaa-5-things-know-about-pan-african-holiday-photos-1520638

Gullah: De Shephud Dem Go fa See de Chile Jedus
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gullah_language
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gullah
http://measuredcoffeespoons.blogspot.com/2011/12/jedus-bon-christmas-story-in-gullah.html

Christmas: the holdiay of Light, Yule logs and the Krampus.

When it really comes down to it, Christmas is a plain damn weird holiday in the way we celebrate it.  We lop down a tree, festoon it with colorful objects that represent slight personal memories, then string it up to shine brighter than a Yule log.  Incidentally, has anyone wondered what on earth a Yule log is before?  It may sound like some sort of holy fruitcake (fruitcake’s own personal history is quite far reaching as well), but the Yule log has a long and varied history that likely extends to before Christmas was even a part of the holiday season.

To begin with, just so we’re all clear on the point: Jesus was NOT born on December 25th.  That date was added later because of the lovely closeness to the Winter Solstice, which traditionally represented the point in the year that the days once again got longer and, in a sense, “when light begins to defeat the darkness”.  Christ’s actual date of birth is fully up for grabs, and has been guessed at many, many times.  Some people believed it to be in March, some in November, and my personal favorite: Hippolytus believed that Christ must have been born on a Wednesday.  What we do know with relative certainty is that December would not have been the time the census would have happened.  Roman censuses would not take place during the Winter months and Shepherds don’t tend in the fields at night during the rainy season of the winters.

Now, as to why we light up Christmas trees with fancy baubles and brilliant displays?  Originally, the trees would be coated with candles to brighten the darkest days of winter; until in 1882 when a fellow of Thomas Edison broke out the 80 light display on a tree to show off the power and majesty of electric lights.  By 1900, the light displays were popular, but also expensive; advertisements gave readers the idea of “renting Christmas lights” to decorate for the holidays.  Within 30 years, there were over 15 companies selling Christmas lights and the business of illuminating trees with man-made lightning had caught on.

The lights of the Christmas tree seem to trace their history to the Yule Log tradition.  A tree of exceptional girth would be brought into the celebration grounds and burned over the course of several days, bringing light and warmth to the nights.  Eventually it was grafted onto Christmas and the log would be burned over 12 days of Christmas, with any spare bits being used for various purposes.  Among the uses, a log could be used for warding off lighting in the year to follow the burning!  In Belgium, always the chocolatiers, they make a desert cake/pudding out of chocolate to be shaped like the log and consumed.

Moving on from log shaped cakes, the log shaped roll of candied blobs and sadness that we call the fruitcake also hails from a long tradition.  Traced back to Egypt, the fruitcake ancestors would be placed around the mummies as what could have been meant as a food for the afterlife.  Later found in Rome, soldiers would use fruitcakes as their rations because of their portability and extreme shelf lives.  As sugars and sweeteners became cheaper, fruitcakes became more rich and dark, eventually being banned in England in the 1800s for being “sinfully rich”.  The ban was repealed because the cakes were an essential part of teatimes.

Krampus as a topic requires more than I believe my writing skills can muster.  Just check it out in the citations section, German children had it rough.

Hopefully y’all learned something new, something cool or something different.  Next time you chow down on one of those fruitcakes, just remember: the Egyptians used them for mummies because they would survive into the afterlife.  It’s the Twinkie of the ancient world.

Citations, cuz it scares the Krampus away:

Jesus has the saddest birthday ever.  People show up to his party months late
http://www.ucg.org/bible-faq/when-was-jesus-christ-born-was-jesus-born-december-25-christmas-day
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hippolytus_of_Rome

Edison patented Christmas First!
http://gizmodo.com/5425395/christmas-lights-the-brief-and-strangely-interesting-history-of

Passing the Yule Log, Cake around
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yule_log
http://www.whychristmas.com/customs/yulelog.shtml

Fruitcakes and Krampus, who could ask for anything more?
http://recipes.howstuffworks.com/menus/fruitcake1.htm
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Krampus <– THIS IS THE ONE TO READ ABOUT

In Keeping with the Winter Theme

Like the title says, winter is a fantastic font of random information.  Today’s installment of holiday history is brought to you by snow.  Kind-of.  Just consider snow to be a really thin thread of logic that loosely ties the parts together.

In 1972, Richard Nixon traveled to China after a long period of political standoff between the States and the People’s Republic.  Nixon had the classic list of random locations to visit and gladhand Chinese diplomats, but he insisted upon a special trip being made.  He wanted to see the Great Wall of China, and as we learned from Watergate; what Nixon wants, Nixon goes to great lengths to have.  It was deep in winter during his trip, so inclement weather had struck and the journey to the Great Wall as well as the Wall itself were coated with a layer of snow.  Beijing’s Municipal government issued an all call to the citizens, asking them to grab dustpans and brushes and gather snow from the road and the part of the Wall that Nixon wanted to see.  Overnight, some 100,000 Chinese citizens went out and cleared snow from the roads and Wall so that Nixon and his wife could see it the next morning.

I won’t pretend to have a good segue into this next part, it’s really just a cool story about the Great Wall that needs to be told.  The Myth of Jiayuguan pass (Jiayuguan translates directly to “Excellent Valley Pass”)is a classic story about the Great Wall from when the gate section in Gansu was being built.  The myth is that the builder of the gate was told to estimate the number of bricks he would need.  He told the officials that he would need 99,999 bricks and when questioned added a single brick to the estimated number.  When the gate was built, a single brick remained leftover and was placed loosely on top of the gate, to show that it was not needed.

Back to snow stories and clunky transitions: Cocaine!  Another name people use for it is, believe it or not, snow.  Coca-Cola in the 1890s had trace amounts of cocaine in it because of the coca extract that went into flavoring it.  America’s drink didn’t remove the cocaine in it until 1929, by which point they had also began using the jolly elf of Christmas as their chief winter salesman.  The Coca-Cola public relations peoples enjoy telling the story that they are the entire reason for the chubby, ruddy cheek’d beard becoming the red suit we know today.  There are however, several images of the incarnadine Kringle from years before the Cola company began their advertising flood, as early as 1906.  While Coca-Cola was not the first to produce a happy red man, they were certainly a large reason for it becoming a standard image that can be recognized readily nearly a century later.

Part of the other reason why Coke has been able to spread their brand image (and the images they advertise, like Santa and the 1993 introduction of polar bears) so far and so successfully was World War II.  Coca-Cola, while quite popular in the early 1900s, was blasted to rockstar status during the Second World War.  They had paired their company brand with patriotism in the First World War, and when the Second World War hit, the company promised servicemen that it would sell them their Cola for the same price they sold it during the Great War, $0.05 a bottle.  Whenever a region was taken over by the American forces, advisers would set up a bottling operation to keep the flow of Coke going.  Cola even commissioned studies to prove that soldiers who were well hydrated would fight better.  Colonel Robert L. Scott said when he shot down Japanese fighter planes he only thought about “America, Democracy, and Coca-Colas.”  10 billion bottles of Cola later and the brand was a smash hit globally by the end of the war, and the brand images were disseminated widely.

Hopefully y’all learned something new, something cool or something different.  And the next time the television shows little polar bears chugging coke amid deep snowfall, just think to yourself how many subtle ironies you have just witnessed.

Citations, cuz it’s easier than persuading you I’m Omniscient:

Snow.
http://nsidc.org/cryosphere/snow/science/formation.html

Nixon abroad
http://www.icrosschina.com/FeaturedJourneys/WhatsSpecial/201311/t20131113_7126.html

The architect totally named “Excellent Valley Pass”
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jiayuguan_(pass)

Coke, Cocaine, Snow, Santa and some really strained word associations
http://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/british/snow_2
http://www.snopes.com/cokelore/cocaine.asp
http://www.coca-colacompany.com/holidays/the-true-history-of-the-modern-day-santa-claus
http://www.snopes.com/holidays/christmas/santa/cocacola.asp
http://www.1stwebdesigner.com/inspiration/coca-cola-advertising-history/
and a Bottle of Rum: A History of the New World in Ten Cocktails, by Wayne Curtis, (Crown Publishers, New York. 2006)