Category Archives: food
“No,” the dragon said, “it’s inadvisable. The rabble tends to get disturbed when I eat women.”
His face fell. “Are you sure? Not even a little nibble? I mean, I’m sure she’d be juicy and tender…”
The dragon licked his lips, then shook his head.
“Don’t tempt me. Also, she would probably be too sweet; not good for my blood sugar. My doctor has expressly forbidden middle-aged Mary Kay Consultants.”
“You have doctors?” he said with surprise.
“Of course,” the dragon replied.
“Sweetie!” trilled Marcia’s voice from outside the cave. “Where are you?”
Dragon and man both let out a sigh.
“What came first,” my husband asked when I made this gingerbread house last year, “the pastry or the fairy tale?”
Good question. So I looked it up. According to the internet (scholarly fount of all wisdom), there isn’t any clear indication of when the first gingerbread house made its appearance on the scene of Christmas goodies, but it does seem that it was after the Grimms’ “Hansel and Gretel” became popular. Gingerbread men or other gingerbread figures for gift-giving had been around since the Middle Ages, more or less, but shaping it into a house and glueing candy on it seems to have been inspired by this lovely story of child abandonment, attempted infanticide, and cannibalism.
I have to say that that fairy tale was never one of my favourites – I prefer stories without bad guys, and this one has not only one very bad witch, but a nasty stepmother to boot. I did like Gretel’s bad-ass vanquishing of the witch, and the ending where Hansel and Gretel get home to their father and live happily ever after.
What I didn’t notice as a kid, though, was that Daddy isn’t that much of a good guy either. In fact, he’s an utter wet noodle; all his moaning and guilty conscience doesn’t make up for the fact that he lets his wife talk him into abandoning his kids in the forest. It even occurs to him that it would be better for him to share his last piece of bread with them and then starve together with them, but does he act on it? Not Mr Wet Dishrag, no. Standing up to the wife would require a backbone, and that he hasn’t got. Macbeth, indeed, has nothing on Hansel Sr.
Another thing I never knew is that originally, the Grimms told the story with the nasty wife being not the children’s stepmother, but their real, biological mother (the stepmother entered the narrative around 1843, according to Hans-Jörg Uther*). Now doesn’t that put a nice spin on the story? Your mom is feeling a bit peckish, so in order as not to starve, she sends you out into the woods to die. Oh yeah, and Daddy ties a stick to a tree that makes a tapping noise so you think your parents are still around, chopping wood, while they sneak away and leave you to your doom. You’d think the witch would come as somewhat of a welcome relief after that kind of loving home life… So that’s your tragic backstory, before you even run into the cannibalistic witch with the overkill kiddie trap.
Oh yes, that trap? Grimms says specifically that the witch only built the bread house to lure children, not because it was her preferred construction material for superior country cottages. I’d call that overkill, wouldn’t you? Because, as I can tell you from experience, building a gingerbread house is a lot of work.
However, it’s also a lot of fun. Here is a relatively simple version (not cheap, because of the honey, but that does give it a great taste and texture). No windows made of spun-sugar “glass”, but hey, if you want, you can add those, too.
Incidentally, you might note there is no ginger in this “gingerbread” – there never is in German Lebkuchen. Just plenty of other spices, which were historically so expensive they were reserved for Christmas baking (and sometimes all lumped together under the term “pepper”, hence the alternative term “Pfefferkuchen” – pepper cake – for gingerbread. You might know it from “Pfeffernüsse“, the cookie).
(this makes one large house plus several tiny ones and a bunch of gingerbread people or bears. For just a house, half the recipe will do. Imperial measurements are approximate.)
-1 kg (2 lbs) Honey
-250 ml (1 c) Water
bring to a boil; cool.
-650 g (5 c) Rye Flour
-600 g (5 c) White Flour
-100 g (3 oz) each finely chopped Candied Lemon & Orange peel
-40 g (3 Tbsp) Lebkuchen-Spice (see below)***
-30 g (3 Tbsp) Baking Soda
Let rest for a few hours, up to a day or two.
For cookies or small gingerbread houses, roll out 1 cm (1/4″) thick, bake about 7-9 minutes at 400°F (200°C).
Dimensions for the large witch’s house:
Base plate, ca. 20×30 cm (8×12″), prick with fork, bake 12-18 minutes.
Roof (x2): 13×20 cm (5×8″).
House walls: (x2) 8×16 cm (3×6″); (x2) 16 cm (6″) wide with 16 cm (6″) high at the point of the gable.
Cut windows out of the side walls and a door out of one of the gable walls (can also be done immediately after baking). Bake ca. 12 min.
Make fence posts, window shutters, chimney pieces, small trees etc. out of the remaining bits of dough – maybe even a Hansel and Gretel and a witch?
-500 g (1 lb) Icing Sugar
-2 Tbsp Lemon Juice
-3 Egg Whites
Mix together to thick consistency (kind of like peanut butter). If it’s too runny, add more icing sugar; if too stiff, more lemon juice or water, a teaspoonful at a time. If you want to keep it vegan, skip the egg whites and just use lemon juice.
For the house construction, you might want to trim the edges with a knife so they are straight and hold together better. Support the roof plates (prop a cup under the bottom edge) until the icing has dried a bit and they no longer slide off. When things are holding together, go to town with covering everything in icing “snow” and candies. “Icicles” at the corners of the roof can be achieved by dribbling runny icing down the edge.
***Lebkuchen-Spice (Neunerlei – Nine Spice)
Lebkuchen spice can be bought ready-mixed, but if you can’t get it, here’s my own blend that I made up from the ingredients list on the package. All the spices are ground.
Zest of 1 orange & 1 lemon
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp coriander
1/4 tsp star anise
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp mace
1/4 tsp fennel
1/2 tsp cloves
1/4 tsp cardamom
To build into full-size cottage, multiply ingredients by approximately 500. Proceed as above, but build roof out of smaller tiles and use scaffolding for construction. In case of intrusion by marauding small children, keep phone number of child welfare services on hand to report the parents for abandonment.
*Hans-Jörg Uther, Handbuch zu den Kinder- und Hausmärchen der Brüder Grimm. Berlin: de Gruyter, 2013. p.13.
**recipe adapted from: Christian Teubner & Annette Wolter, Backvergnügen wie noch nie. München: Gräfe und Unzer, 1984.
It’s that time of year again, when countless innocent pumpkins, their one night of jack-o-lantern glory past and gone, are unceremoniously dumped into the compost bin. Ah, the melancholy…
I can’t help but be reminded of the pumpkin shards littering the road as Cinderella limps home, one glass slipper still left on her foot, supremely indifferent to her dress that hangs in rags on her or the rain that streams down her head, as she is still lost in happy memories of the ball and the prince. In both of the Disney films the pumpkin comes to a quite spectacular end, splattering to pieces under the hooves of the palace guard in frantic pursuit of the mysterious princess.
Interestingly enough, I didn’t encounter the pumpkin in the Cinderella tale until I came to Canada and watched the Disney cartoon, which is modelled on Perrault’s telling of the story. The Grimms’ version of “Cinderella”, which is what I grew up with, hasn’t got a pumpkin in it; Aschenputtel gets to the ball on foot. She’s a much more independent sort than Perrault’s French court lady. There also isn’t a fairy godmother, not really. Aschenputtel’s fairy, umm, god-creatures are a pair of turtle doves that live in the tree on her mother’s grave (and peck out the stepsisters’ eyes during the grand finale – yeah, there might be a reason Disney went with the Perrault version).
Pumpkins aren’t too prolific in fairy tale land, but Perrault is by no means the only one who uses them. Another tale that brings in pumpkins, in an interesting juxtaposition with roses, no less, is Clemens Brentano’s “The Legend of Rosepetal”. Brentano was a contemporary of the Brothers Grimm, one of the chief members of German Romanticism. He wrote various fairy tale collections, and his tales are cited as prime examples of the literary fairy tale. However, his Italian Fairy Tales, of which “The Legend of Rose Petal” is one, are actually adaptations of Giambattista Basile’s Pentamerone – in other words, Brentano didn’t “write” them, per se, but took existing tales and retold them. Basile’s version of “The Legend of Rosepetal” is called “La schiavottella”, “The Kitchen Maid” – but Brentano expanded the tale, and, what’s of greater interest to us here, added pumpkins.
The story comes in two parts. Part One begins with the Duke of Rosmital, whose beautiful sister Rosalina is only interested in roses and having her hair combed. Prince Foreverandever wants to marry Rosalina, but she’s having none of it – “That’d be like a rose marrying a pumpkin!” Ouch.
But the prince isn’t so easily put off. He goes to an enchantress, who works things so he becomes a rose bush, which she presents to the princess as a seedling stuck inside a pumpkin to keep fresh. The princess, of course, wants the rose bush to plant in front of her window. But first, the enchantress makes her eat a few spoonsful of pumpkin seed and promise to do a monthly game of “Jump Over the Rose Bush”. The princess agrees to anything, no matter how weird, just to get a hold of that rose bush. Of course, during her very first game, she knocks a rose petal off the bush, which she quickly catches hold of and swallows. Ooops!
“Now you’ve done it,” says the enchantress. “You’ve swallowed pumpkin and rose – so now you’re married to Prince Foreverandever. See ya!” And off she goes. Rosalina passes out from shock, and the next night she dreams she has a rose bush growing from her mouth.
The next month, when the bush has another rose blooming, the princess isn’t feeling so good. By the third month, she keeps having dreams of turning into a pumpkin, which become more and more intrusive, until finally, by month nine, she is convinced she’s a pumpkin, and that she’s going to die! (Yeah, that’s one way of describing it…) What do you know, when she wakes up, beside her bed there’s half a pumpkin, in which lies a beautiful baby girl whom she names Rosepetal.
Part Two: We’ll skip over a few things. Suffice to say, this is where the story turns “Snow White”, “Bluebeard”, and “Cinderella” at once. Little Rosepetal grows up. Mommy gets jealous of her, and in her rage accidentally kills her kid by stabbing her in the head with a comb. Oh dear. She has the girl put in a glass coffin and kept in a spare bedroom, and then she and the rose bush at her window both die from grief.
Rosalina’s brother (the duke from the beginning of the story) marries a nasty woman. One day, she opens the door of the forbidden chamber and finds the girl in the glass coffin. She takes out the comb and wakes the girl, Snow-White-style, and then goes all Cinderella and makes the girl her slave, making her do dirty work and abusing her. Eventually, to carry on the Cinderella theme, Rose Petal asks the duke to bring her a gift from the market.
The gift (a little doll) is the instrument of the duke’s finding out the truth about his niece and his wife. He kicks out the wife, finds a princely husband for Rosepetal, and in the end, Rosepetal even sees her parents, Rosalina and Prince Foreverandever-the-Rosebush. She gets their blessings on a life of Happily Ever After, and they waft off into the ether. Shortly thereafter, a little prince is born, and he, Brentano says, told this story to him for nothing more than a piece of gingerbread. The End.
Cute, isn’t it? Basile’s version is very similar, but without the pumpkin. And presumably the gingerbread at the end.
Personally, I like this version. However, I’ll skip the gingerbread, but I’ll make a pie out of my leftover jack-o-lantern. Pumpkin pie is really easy to make. Here’s how:
Fail-Safe Pumpkin Pie
Preheat oven to 400°F (200°C).
1 single unbaked 10″ pie crust
2 c cooked, mashed pumpkin (chop up jack-o-lantern, put in pot, cover with water, boil until soft, cool, peel, mash)
3/4 c brown sugar
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp allspice
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp vanilla
1/4 c cream
Whiz all and sundry in food processor, dump into crust, bake for 45-55 minutes or until filling puffs evenly all the way to the center.
Remove from oven, cool on rack, serve with whipped cream.
Observe minute of silence for memory of jack-o-lantern or of Prince Foreverandever.
Once again, it’s peach season – my favourite season. Well, apart from Christmas. And spring. And early fall. And… Whatever, you get the drift. And as I was thinking about how much I love peach season, I was reminded of one of my earliest blog posts, from 2010. So I looked it up, and thought it might be worth reposting. Here it is, from 22. August 2010 (excuse the rough edges; it was early days in the blogosphere for me). The picture is brand-new, though, from just now. Aren’t they gorgeous?
On the third day, God created plants. And I’m quite sure that at the very end, when he’d made all the other stuff, he said “Now, for the crowning achievement: The Peach!” And he created it round and fuzzy, juicy, yellow-and-pink and delectably sweet. And God saw that it was good. And the evening and morning were the third day.
I didn’t make any canned peaches last year, so we were reduced to buying the ones from the grocery store. The kids weren’t impressed; it’s just not the same, they said. And they are right, of course. Now, the thing is that when I was a kid myself, back in Germany, tinned peaches were one of my favourite things, a high treat that we didn’t get very often (there’s a fun recipe called “Falsche Spiegeleier”, Fake Fried Eggs, with is half a canned peach in a flat dish with vanilla custard poured around it. It does look like a fried egg, and is quite a yummy dessert). I thought they were wonderful. But then that was before I came to Canada, and experienced the marvel of real, fully-ripe, still-warm-from-the-sun peaches picked right off the tree. In fact, perhaps it was the peaches that lured me over the Atlantic to permanently settle here? (No, don’t tell my husband. It had nothing to do with marrying him at all. I only married him for his guitar, anyway.)
One of the things I like best about summer is bringing home a box of peaches from the farmer’s market or the orchard down the street, and having them sit on the kitchen counter for a few days, getting ever more ripe and tender; and then, while leaning over to get something from one of the upper cupboards, getting a big nose-full of that incomparable scent of soft sweetness. It’s beyond me why the makers of fake foods think they can reproduce that aroma with “peach flavouring”. Hah! I scorn their attempts, I laugh in their faces – hahahah!
Now to put all that goodness into jars for winter, when the snow flies and the scent the house is filled with is cinnamon simmering in the potpourri burner on the windowsill.
Life, the universe, and Peach Season. I love it.