Archive for December, 2015

Many cultures observe unique traditions on special occasions. People begin the new year with food customs in an attempt to assure health, happiness, and prosperity. Worldwide, several foods such as cakes, grapes, fish, pork, greens, and legumes represent good luck.

Cakes and other pastries are often enjoyed from Christmas through New Year’s Day. Commonly round in shape, they consist of many different flavors. Some incorporate a variety of fruits and may include an object inside, such as a coin. The lucky person to find the object in a serving is assured great success in the coming year.

The Spanish consider grapes a way to achieve prosperity. The tradition dates back to 1909 when grape growers in one region initiated a way to use excesses from the year’s harvest. They eat twelve grapes at midnight, one for each stroke of the clock. The custom later spread to other countries.

The consuming of fish, especially cod, to start the new year dates back to the Middle Ages. Certain types of fish were preserved and safely transported to other areas. Likewise, cured herring remains a popular fish in Poland and Germany.

To many, pork symbolizes progress. Pigs push or root forward in the ground and serves as a symbol of moving forward. Roast pig is popular in several countries including Cuba, Italy, Spain , Portugal, Hungary, Austria, and the United States. Southern states favor ham hock, usually used to season cooked greens or their choice of legumes.

Cooked greens are common in many cultures. They signify money and indicate fortune for the coming year. The Danish choose kale with a touch of sugar and cinnamon. Germans and many other regions eat cabbage or sauerkraut, while southerners in the United States make collard greens their choice.

Legumes also symbolize money since the tiny peas/beans enlarge as they cook to represent  expanding fortunes. Southern Americans often cook black-eyed peas with hog jowl. The most well-known treat for prosperity in that region is Hoppin’ John. For a history of this delightful dish, see my blog of September 19, 2011. That blog also includes my favorite recipe which I have repeated here for you to consider this New Year’s Day. It’s quick and easy to prepare.

Whatever your choice of food for good luck, make it healthy and enjoy the delights of many healthful foods during the coming year. Happy New Year!

Hoppin’ John

6          cups canned and drained or cooked dried black-eyed peas

4          cups chicken broth

2          cups water

1          (6.6 ounce) package long-grain and wild rice with seasonings

4          cups diced canned tomatoes

1          pound smoked spicy sausage, cut into 1″ pieces and lightly seared*

½         cup chopped ham

Combine all ingredients in a deep saucepan. Bring to boil, reduce heat to simmer and cook 20-25 minutes. Soup will thicken as it sets. Freeze any leftover portions for up to six months.

* Searing cooks out part of the fat. To reduce fat content even more, use a smaller amount and add more lean ham.





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I never understood the meaning of sugar plums. I associated the term with the sugar-plum fairy in Tchaikovshy’s The Nutcracker or the noted verse “visions of sugar plums danced in their heads” from Clement C. Moore’s A Visit from St. Nicholas. Sugar plums are much more.

The term initially applied to small candies, usually round, made from dried fruits and nuts. The trend began in the 1600s. In earlier years, the word “plum” referred to any dried fruit. Maybe it’s time to return to the nostalgia of earlier years and move away from sugary treats. Along with the mystical memories of fairies and dancing, they deserve a place of prominence for a healthy, less sweet treat.

Although sugar plums of yesteryear weren’t necessarily made from plums, some recent versions do use dried plums (prunes). Traditional recipes combine almonds, dried plums, figs, apricots, powdered sugar, seasonings of toasted anise, fennel, and caraway seeds and ground cardamom. Ingredients often are moistened with honey, formed into balls, and rolled in sugar.

A simple version combines eggs and sugar with almonds, coconut, dates, plus almond and vanilla extracts. The mixture is rolled into balls and baked like cookies. Other varieties combine dried dates, apricots, cherries, raisins, white chocolate chips, and chopped nuts moistened with fruit juice and rolled in turbinado sugar (regular sugar will do). More modern types of sugar plums may use red gelatin with sweetened condensed milk. Other recipes add cocoa or for a different flavor try varied types of nuts.

Most of these recipes are simple and take little time to prepare. Serve these tasty rounds piled high on a decorative plate and listen to the oohs and ahs. For a last-minute treat that will delight the family and provide a more nourishing fare, try one of these recipes on Christmas Eve.

To all my readers, a Merry Christmas.

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