Friday, December 30, 2011

New Year, All Year

New Year, All Year

As Old Year draw closed, gifts displayed and art's posed,
T'is time for dear life's heart's reflection;
Let no quest go unwrought, Be as friend and let not
Your soul strive unfaithful defection.

Some friends be unconstant, but be thee undaunted.
Be true and full of heart.
Give though unrewarded, Thy resolution be awarded
By light's true work of art.

So as others tow their souls, bereft of charity's bowl,
and wander aimlessly through the night;
With each act of aid, and warm action laid,
Thy floating soul be their guiding light.

S.L. Bartlett
copyright 2010

Friday, December 16, 2011

Friday Fictioneers: Annie's Distain

Come up with a story, 100 words, more or less, based on the above picture

Annie’s Distain

I gazed at the pitiful thing for a few seconds. “Brroew.” What is this horror that disturbs my sensibilities?

The female human, my servant, gazed at the tree, admiring it. “Pretty tree, Annie?”

I looked up at her with my ears perked, my green eyes glaring. “Brrr.” A dog would pass on that branch as a toilet. “Rmeoowww.” It is not even fit for climbing.

The human female looked down, concerned about my emphatic complaints. “Are you hungry, kitty?”

I stalked off in distain. This was not a tree. Trees were for hiding in the branches, waiting for imaginary squirrels resembling shiny decorations to shimmy and quiver as I stalked them. This was a disgrace!

“Meeeoowwwwrrrrrrr.”Congratulations! You have completely destroyed Christmas.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Colonial Christmas Traditions: Part III

Hartwell Tavern
Unlike today, Colonial Americans (and even north in Quebec which, at that time, was basically all of Canada), had to rely on what they could gather from the bush and hunting, gathering wild berries, what the ships brought in as spices and fruit, and what they could garden. Venison, quail and wild bird, and rabbit were only some of the meat that was hunted even by the most prosperous of land and plantation owners.
Wild quail

Cooking, needless to say, was also primitive compared to what we are used to. Pots were often made of iron lead (and we know what lead poisoning was), and often meals were shared from a communal plate. Prosperous families could afford eating utensils, but modest families ate with hands or wooden spoons. Meat was generally broken apart by fingers and eaten. Bread was dipped in sauces & gravies, melted butter, or eaten unadorned.

Here are few more rustic, old recipes all dating from pre-Revolutionary or Revolutionary War society, and I focused on foods prevalent in 1775-76 Virginia. Enjoy!

12 pounds roast
Salt, pepper and flour dredge
4 cups flour
2 cups water  
1 tablespoon currant jelly.
Wipe meat carefully with wet cloth and cover with a large sheet of buttered paper.
Make a thick paste of flour and water, roll our 3/4 inch thick and lay over the fat side of the haunch.
Cover with three or four sheets of white paper and tie Securely with cord
Put in dripping pan and roast and do not .forget to baste often to prevent paper and string from burning.
A twelve pound haunch will take 3 hours to roast.
Half an hour before it is done remove from the oven cut strings, take off paste, and paper;
Dredge with flour, salt, and pepper
return to oven and roast to fine brown color
Serve with a brown sauce to which a tbs. currant jelly is added

1/2 cup molasses
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup sour milk      
1 egg
1 tsp. Soda
1/2 tsp ginger
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp nutmeg
2 cups flour or just enough to handle easily
Fry in hot fat (380). Turn once.
Makes about 2 dozen donuts.

1/2 cup sugar
2 tsp. Soda
1/2 cup shortening (chicken fat preferred)
1/2 tsp salt
1 egg beaten
l tsp. Ginger
1 cup molasses
1 tsp. Cinnamon
3 cups sifted pastry flour
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
1 cup boiling water
1/4 tsp cloves
Heat oven with control set for moderate oven ~ 350 degrees.
Butter and flour two pans 10x7 or 8" square if thicker loaf is desired.
Mix and sift flour, soda, salt and spices.
Cream shortening and sugar
add molasses and beaten egg.
Stir in dry ingredients.
Slowly add boiling water.
Turn into prepared pans.
Bake until it comes away from the sides of the pan, requires about 25-30 minutes.
It should be slightly and evenly rounded over the top, never cracked open.

1 cup butter                  
3 eggs
2 cups sugar            
½ pint milk
3 cups flour              
1 pint raisins
½ tsp each nutmeg, cloves, orange rind
Heat oven to 325-350 degrees.
Butter loaf pan, probably 8"x4"x4".
Sift flour, salt, and spices along with soda, cream butter and sugar until fluffy.
Add in beaten eggs and beat well.
Add flour, to which raisins have been added-just a little at a time, beating well after each addition.
When all the flour has been added, beat the entire batter until smooth and velvety.
Turn into prepared pan and bake 60 to 75 minutes

SYLLABUB (Soft custard pudding)
Syllabub is also classified as a rich eggnog type of drink to which brandy may be added, and often served with tea cakes
4 egg yolks                
2 cups milk
1 tablespoon flour  
1 teaspoon vanilla
3/4 cup sugar    
1 pint whipped cream
Brandy or wine
Mix half sugar with flour
Bring milk to boil and add sugar and flour.
Cook in double boiler 10 minutes.
Beat egg yolks, add in other half sugar, and finally add this to milk mixture, stirring slowly.
Cook 5 minutes, stirring constantly.
Remove from fire and add vanilla.
Let mixture cool.
When serving fill a tumbler half full of this custard

Thursday, December 8, 2011

'Twas a Redneck Night Before Christmas..."

It's at this time of year, now my children are grown, that my memories go back to the fun, chaotic times of Christmas’s past, when my children were quite impressionable.

By “impressionable”, of course I mean "easy to fool".

It was one year when my youngest were six and seven years old and asking questions. It showed me that they were beginning to doubt the existence of Santa Clause. Being one that loved to play head games with my kids, I was greatly troubled by not being able to think of an imaginative way to prevent this suspension of belief. I made the mistake of mentioning it to my husband in the presence of my oldest boy, Adam, who was thirteen at the time.

Now in a family such as my husband's, each boy eventually went through a "manly" right of passage. So when Adam suggested he climb up on the roof with my wreath that had loud bells, my husband enthusiastically embraced it as his oldest son's initiation into manhood.

As a mother, I was horrified at the idea of my son, my darling boy, climbing about on top of my house during a blizzard with high winds. I told him, "No! Absolutely not! Are you both crazy, sending a boy up there?"

Needless to say, during the worse storm I've seen so far that year, there was my teenage son getting prepared for the "Great Xmas Little Kid Fool" Mission. I was protesting strenuously, while my husband was snickering on the couch. The younger kids were already bathed and in their room, supposed to be sleeping. Of course, sounds of jumping and crashing were coming from their shared room, and I shuddered to think how it would look in the morning. It was Xmas Eve; any thoughts of sleep were far from their minds. It was a good thing that, as an established "Mother from Hell", I had impressed on them the importance of staying in their room when it's bedtime on pain of death, or at the very least, severe bodily harm.

Adam left out the back patio door and proceeded to climb up the tree, where its broad branches would allow passage to the roof of our 1-1/2 storey farmhouse, the wreath with Xmas bells clutched firmly in his gloved hand. I stood nervously by the back door, listening carefully for any sounds that would alert me to the instant death of my beloved oldest son, all the time murmuring, (loud enough for my husband to hear), "This is the stupidest idea you guys have come up with yet!"

"Relax, woman. The boy will be fine. You worry too much." My husband, lovingly known as “Himself”, now disavowing any responsibility, relaxed and watched TV, oblivious to any danger his son faced with this doubtful quest on this snowy night.

As I listened to all the outside noises with anxiety, I heard my son scramble onto the roof and crunching his way over the peak to the front end of the house. This was where my younger sons’ bedroom window was located. I followed the line of noises with my eyes on the ceiling, as if I could see his progress. Finally, the crunching stopped. Then I heard the bells ringing vigorously and a falsetto tenor howling out a hearty "Ho, Ho, Ho..." from the roof.

All destructive sounds ceased from my younger son's room. Then I heard Ryan, my No. #2 son, whisper loudly enough for me to hear, "What was that?"

I could almost see them both staring with wide eyes, listening again for the sound.

Then it came again, but this time with a distinctive difference. "Ho, Ho...HooooooCRAP!", and a suspicious sliding sound. I rushed into the room to see the boys staring fascinated out the window at a boot that was waving outside the window, swinging wildly on the other side of the pane and threatening to kick out the glass. The bells on the wreath were ringing frantically.

With horror, I realized that Adam was slipping off the roof!

Ryan turned to me with wide, brown eyes and whispered in awe, "I think Santa is falling." Chris, being the enthusiastic horror movie fan he watched with his father when I wasn't home, (definitely against my wishes), started to giggle.

"Santa's falling, Santa's gonna die," his stiff little arms wrapped around himself and rocking back and forth with glee. I was too horror stuck to reprimand him for his callousness. Instead, Ryan whipped his head around to him and snapped, "You know if Santa dies, you don't get any presents!" It was only then that Chris' greedy little mind grasped the consequences. "Oh yeah," he whispered, all delight gone at Santa's dilemma.

The boot was still weaving outside the window and scraping the siding off the house, and I knew my son was frantically trying to find a foothold.

I finally snapped out of my frozen horror and raced out of the room, skidded on the floor as I turned by the living room door and scrambled to the back door, quickly pulling on my boots. "What's up?" asked Himself in that irritatingly calm manner.

Trying to shock him out of his apathy, I snapped, "SANTA is falling off the roof."

"Santa's getting clumsy in his old age," was my dear, loving husband's only retort, smirking and returning his attention to the TV. Occasionally he glanced with curiosity out the front window, in case a body went flying by to amuse him.

Just as I was reaching for my jacket, not bothering to take the time to lace my boots, Himself decided to ease my distress, since that took less effort than rescuing his eldest son. "You realize, don't you, that there is six feet of snow on that side of the house. I'm sure 'Santa' will have a soft landing, eh?"

I considered and I had to admit I hadn’t thought of that. It did calm me a little. However, I also considered the possibility of smothering in that six feet of soft snow, so I continued to dress, though what exactly I was going to do I had no idea. After all, I wasn’t young anymore; climbing trees went by way of my 35th birthday. Just then, I heard Adam scramble over the peak and slide down the drainpipe as a shortcut route off the top of the house.

I heard later from Adam that he had managed to grab a foothold with his other foot on the evestrough, to stop from falling off the roof. Looking a few days later, there was a distinctive V-shape where his boot had bent it.

I gave a large sigh of relief as I noticed he wasn't dragging any broken limbs. He had even managed to maintain a grip on my favorite wreath. He stowed it quickly by the back door, out of sight, as the boys rushed through the living room and out to the kitchen, completely forgetting my rule about leaving their room in their excitement.

"Adam, Adam…you should have seen it! Santa was up on the roof, and he almost fell off, and we saw his boot, and we heard the reindeer rush to his rescue..." Ryan was babbling in excitement and expanding on the facts a little.

"Really? Santa, eh? Sounds kinda stupid to me," Adam said as he removed his coat, shaking it free of snow all over my clean kitchen floor and leaving puddles everywhere. "I don't believe in Santa. It was probably just a big bird." He winked at me, ignoring the glare I was giving him regarding the mess he was making everywhere. He tossed his coat on the floor despite the closet being a whole foot away, just so it would leak more snow on my floor.

"Birds don't wear bells, do they?" said Chris with scorn, always the sarcastic voice of reason.

"Bells? You heard bells?" Adam looked suitably impressed.

"Yes, there were bells, and hoof sounds from the reindeer, and ....and...everything!" That's Ryan; so eloquent.

Ryan continued to babble to Adam as my oldest headed for the stairs to his room, Chris toddling after with his particular sideways crab walk, a result of a broken leg and FOP that fused while it healed. Adam showed unusual patience towards his brothers, smiling indulgently at them as they recounted the whole episode to him. “Himself” merely smirked, the proverbial Christmas Grinch.

After the boys had recounted the whole adventure for the second time, Adam's patience, always thin when it came to his younger brothers and wanting to get back to his music, told them, "Well, I don't believe in Santa, so I think you're just making this all up."

"Tell him, Mom...tell him!" Ryan and Chris both looked at me appealingly. They both looked at Adam's retreating back as he headed up to his room.

Chris looked at me gravely after Adam had closed his door. He commented, "Adam's not going to get any presents this year!" Ryan nodded his head in sad agreement as I hustled them back to their beds.

This was the year that my boys, with their divergent personalities that too often caused conflict between them, all played a part in the elements that made this the perfect Christmas Eve, despite my moments of terror. My oldest, Adam, who had a mischievous sense of humour and would go to great lengths to pull off the perfect joke; Ryan, my No. 2 son, who is still impressionable but will be the happiest of my sons, because of his bright view of the world; and finally Chris, my handicapped son who has a sophisticated, intelligent sense of cynicism, but hides it well with all but his own family.

They still talk about that magical Christmas Eve, especially now that they're all grown up and have realized that as brothers, they have to stick together and be kinder to one another. You see, they know now that Santa isn't real, but they are also certain that their older brother's love for them, even though he was too often at odds with them previously, was so strong that he risked life and limb to keep the Christmas magic alive for them.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Colonial Christmas Traditions: Part II

Good bread and good drink, a good fire in the hall
Brawn, pudding and souse, and good mustard withall:
Beef, mutton and pork, shred pies of the best:
Pig, veal, goose and capon and turkey well drest:
Cheese, apples and nuts, jolly carols to hear,
As then in the country is counted good cheer.”
Thomas Tusser (c. 1520-1580)

“Christmas is come, hang on the pot,
Let spits turn round, and ovens be hot;
Beef, pork, and poultry, now provide
To feast thy neighbors at this tide; 
Then wash all down with good wine and beer, 
And so with mirth conclude the Year.”
Virginia Almanac (Royle) 1765

These two poems were written far apart in years and distance, but it shows that many of the traditions you enjoy today were brought over by your former country-ruling patrons, the English. Many of these traditions in revelry, manners, dress and society kept true for about 200 years, especially in Virginia. Even despite the conflict that erupted in 1775 could not erase these memories of “home”, the mother land, England, with dancing and feasting the central part of the holidays.

Captain John Smith, whose life was saved by the young girl who loved him, Pocahontas (though she ended up marrying John Rolfe of Virginia), wrote in 1609 that he kept “Christmas amongst the Savages: where wee were never more merrie, nor fedde on more plentie of good oysters, fish, flesh, wild fowle, and good bread, nor better fires in England then in the drie warme smokie houses of Kecoughtan.” (Kecoughtan is now part of Hampton, by the way.)

Seventy years later, in December of 1680, twenty-one visitors entered William Fitzhugh’s home. A Frenchman was among them, who later wrote, “There was good wine and all kinds of beverages, so there was a great deal of carousing.” Fitzhugh provided for entertainment “three fiddlers, a jester, a tight-rope walker, and an acrobat who tumbled around.”

Here are two recipes you can try out this season, if you’re feeling adventurous. First, in the spirit of Captain John Smith who spent the winter with the native American people, I give you a recipe for wild rice that I have used myself. Wild rice was considered “a great gift” for the aboriginal people and it was treasured for its versatility, taste and nutritional value.

1½ c. Wild Rice
½ lb. cornbread, day old & cubed
1 c. Onions, (wild onions or chives if you want to be strict about tradition) chopped
1 c. root vegetables like lily roots and wild carrots, chopped, (or regular carrots and add celery)
½ c. animal fat (or butter if that grosses you out), melted
1½ c. partridge or wild turkey stock (or chicken), hot
½ tsp. Salt
½ tsp. wild Sage (Or domestic if you can’t find it

1. Prepare wild rice according to package directions.
2. Sauté root vegetables until tender in animal fat or butter.
3. Combine  with cooked wild rice and cornbread cubes.
4. Toss lightly with melted butter, seasonings and stock to moisten ingredients well.
5. Bake in uncovered pan at 350º F for 1 hour.
6. Use as a stuffing in pork chops, acorn squash or partridge bird (I have used cornish hens, not able to "hunt down" any partridge).

And here is a traditional drink carried over by those Colonialists who actually celebrated the holidays and to this day is still enjoyed by many, This is an ancient recipe dating from 12th Century England.

1 Gallon heated apple cider
1/2 ounce brandy
1/2 ounce rum flavoring OR (even better) 1/2 quart light rum
3 sticks cinnamon
3 to 6 whole oranges
small bag of whole cloves
Simmer mixture with 3 sticks whole cinnamon to melt--DO NOT COOK.
Allow to cool, pour into punch bowl.
Separately stick whole cloves around entire surface of 3 to 6 whole oranges.
Place oranges into baking pan with 1/2 inch of water, and bake at 350°  for 45 minutes.
Place oranges into punch bowl
Serves 40
Serve with pound cake, nut cake, or cheese and crackers.


Monday, December 5, 2011

Colonial Christmas Traditions: Part 1

“At Christmas play and make cheer
For Christmas comes but once a year”

Well, the tree is up, though in my opinion it’s much too early. However, my youngest son is home for a month from his assisted living facility, and he wanted the tree up and helped me decorate. When my children beg, it works wonders on this “Mother from Hell”; boosts the ego, you know.

I’m also starting the baking. Now when it comes to baking, I should have been living in the Colonial America times, I suppose. I hate store bought items, and try to use what we gardened or gathered as much as possible. We use the apples we “borrowed” from our next door neighbor for pies, along with saskatoons and blueberries we gathered from the bush, and our vegetables from the garden for Christmas dinner. We even get our turkey from a friend who has a farm (whom we graciously and generously allow to kill and clean the thing, too, before bringing it home). One year, when I was sick but still had the family coming for Xmas, I had the unmitigated gall to use store bought pie crust! Oh, the shame of it, according to my sons. It was ten years ago, and my oldest still asks me “Is it YOUR pie?” Of course, being the smart ass I am, I quip back “If I bought it, you bet it’s mine!” Then I have to listen to a tirade of how awful store bought crust is, blah, blah, blah. I finally inform him that yes indeed, I did make the pie, and the crust, and yes the blueberries are wild, etc. just to shut him up. I will never live down that one year that I tried to cop out.

When I think of how we celebrate Christmas here in Canada, which is basically the same as in the United States with a few slight differences, I go back to how they celebrated the holidays back in pre-Revolutionary America, and even for a short time after the war ended. In the process of researching for our novel, which is set in spring and summer of 1775 when hostilities broke out between colonialists and Crown, I found a few very interesting facts about how Christmas was celebrated, or more accurately, how it wasn’t.

In fact, many colonial celebrations were banned, including Christmas, claiming it was a pagan tradition based on Old English religions. In New England, the Puritans passed a law, particularily in Massachusetts, that punished anyone who observed the holiday, and the Quakers merely ignored it. The other denominations just went to church services, and that was the extent of their celebrations.  It was the Roman Catholics and Anglicans, mostly in the southern areas of America who started the observance of Twelfth Day, which started on December 25 and usually ended January 6, which was much different from our celebrations today. The traditions slowly migrated north through the late 1600’s and early 1700’s and it was a perfect excuse for the adults, with the children having very little to do with it, spent attending balls and parties and any other festivals that were an excuse to escape the harsh weather in the northern most climate of America. The children were relegated to the home fires in the care of elder siblings or servants.  There was no Christmas magic for them.

Some of the traditions we have today originated with the colonialists. Holly, laurel, and garland because of the availability of the materials, and that they look good during the winter, providing greenery in the dull of the short winter days. Mistletoe was also hung, according to the pagan belief of couples courting and spooning underneath it. In that, the Puritans had it right.

The wealthier plantations were decorated elaborately and large feasts were readied for everyone, even the slaves. The food was also similar in many ways, including ham, turkey or roasts, along with root vegetables which kept well all winter, and honey, nuts and apples were used to sweeten the pastries. It was a source of pride to put on as expansive a feast as money would allow, for that was how each plantation’s hospitality and prestige was measured.

Of course, Christmas trees was not part of a colonial Christmas, since it was a Germanic tradition that did not come to popularity until Queen Victoria adapted it from her German husband, Albert brought it from his homeland. Soon, all of England and most of Canada adapted the tree as part of their Christmas, which then quickly came to America in the late 1800’s. However, Christmas carols were sung and were mostly religious in word. “Joy to the World” was extremely popular in America, based on many historical records and letters found during this time. Gift giving was also traditional for those who celebrated, but not as we give them today. Instead, gifts were given to “dependants”, which means servants, apprentices and slaves, and in prosperous households, the children. It does seem the children were often afterthoughts, doesn’t it? And the “dependants” never gave gifts in return, nor was it an elaborate procedure. They would only receive one special gift and they were treasured and valued much more than they are today.

As more and more immigrants came to America, their traditions were often adopted and integrated into their own household celebrations.

The research I’ve done has inspired my interest in Colonial Christmas holiday traditions, and I’ll be writing more here as I draft more articles. I am especially interested in recipes and food traditions, so I’ll be elaborating more on those in the days leading up to our modern Christmas date. Stay tuned, especially if you’re interested in celebrating or adopting at least one or two of your ancestors Christmas traditions. Do you have any traditions that hark back to your heritage?