Today, December 21st, is Winter Solstice, officially the first day of winter. The northern hemisphere of the earth is pointed the farthest away from the sun and, tonight begins its slow return towards it until the June Solstice of 2019. The ancient tradition of Yuletide, one of the oldest winter celebrations in Europe began this morning and will end on January 1st, 2019. Yuletide was a fire festival celebrated by the Northern Europeans. Pre-Zoroastrian Persians and ancient Romans, who celebrated something similar before the common era. Diwali is another festival of lights that begins earlier in the year. Basically any community in the dark, forbidding northern hemisphere, on this shortest day of the year, celebrated fire.
The most enduring British tradition from Yuletide is the Yule Log, a small firestarter from a larger bonfire that was shared with many households by landowners in England. Evergreen trees were fashioned into wreaths and other decorations for the interior of the house for their refreshing smell. The Brits still make cakes fashioned into Yule logs and, of course, we still bring in fir or pine trees, decorate them with lights. Happy Solstice!
The Catskills are home to many great chefs, one of those being Liza Belle, chef at the Blue Deer Center in New Kingston, Upstate New York. A native New Yorker from Long Island, whose mother was an English immigrant, Liza Belle got her start as a short-order cook and found a mentor early on who revolutionized her perspective on food. A prolific baker, especially during this holiday season, Liza shares a Christmas recipe, an English favorite: Sticky Toffee Pudding made with dates and locally-grown wheat that we cooked yesterday. When the cake came out of the oven, it glistened with the sticky dates. The local grain gave it a reddish, grainy finish. Some tips: when you “toast” butter in a milk pan, swirl it around and save the brown, caramelized part that sticks to the pan because it gives the sauce a nutty flavor.
Today is the first day of Yuletide, a 12-day winter fire festival starting today – on the shortest day of the year, December 21st, the winter solstice – with origins in Northern Europe that pre-date Christianity. (This is where the saying “12 Days of Christmas” originated). Most settlers of the northern hemisphere, a dark place that’s frigid this time of year, have always celebrated fire at the start of the winter season and share food and stories with friends and neighbors. Find The Guardian’s version of the traditional Yule log cake here.
Sticky Toffee Pudding
1/2 Stick of Butter 1 1/2 Cups of Flour 1 1/2 Cups of Chopped Dates 1 teaspoon Baking Soda 1 Teaspoon of Baking Powder 1/2 Teaspoon of Sea Salt 1 Cup of Brown Sugar 1 Teaspoon of Vanilla runneth over 2 Eggs