New Year’s Food Traditions: For Luck and Prosperity

Probably no other holiday in America is more deeply entrenched in food tradition and superstition than New Year’s.

While the first recorded festivities celebrating the arrival of the new year date back 4,000 years to ancient Babylon, it was Julius Caesar who originally established January 1 as the first day of the year, with the introduction of his Julian calendar in 46 B.C. Then, in medieval Europe, Christian leaders, believing the merriment associated with the new year was far too pagan and party hatsunChristian like, replaced January 1 in favor of “more significant” religious days, such as December 25 (the date of Jesus’ birth) and March 25 (Feast of the Annunciation). However, January 1 was reestablished in 1582 by Pope Gregory XIII and his Gregorian calendar, the one most used today throughout the world.

In America, New Year’s celebrations start on December 31 (New Year’s Eve) and continue into the early hours of January 1 with parties, fireworks, concerts, and, of course, lots of food and drink. Exactly which foods, when eaten as part of the New Year’s first meal, are thought to bring prosperity and good luck during the coming year, depends largely on one’s location and ethnic background.

2648_MEDIUMPork, with its rich, fatty meat, has long been a symbol of wealth and prosperity. The pig is also considered a symbol of progress because they always move forward when rooting for food, unlike chickens and turkeys that scratch backward when feeding, representing setbacks and struggles. American Southerners favor ham and ham hocks, while Midwesterners and Pennsylvanians prefer pork ribs, chops, and kielbasa cooked with sauerkraut.

Fish is another food considered to be lucky. Its silveryRed snapper scales are said to be reminiscent of coins, they travel in schools which symbolizes abundance, and they swim forward to symbolize progress. The Chinese believe that serving the fish with head and tail intact ensures a good year, from start to finish. Crustaceans, such as lobster, shrimp, and crawfish, should be avoided since they scuttle backwards.

cabbageCabbage, kale, chard, and other greens are thought to bring good luck by several cultures because their green leaves are symbolic of money and economic fortune. In the southern states, collards are the greens of choice. The Danish tradition is stewed kale sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar, while Germans and Poles enjoy sauerkraut, and the Irish boil cabbage with potatoes.

blackeyed peasLegumes including beans, peas, and lentils are also symbolic of coins. And because they swell when cooked, they are said to symbolize increased financial rewards. Italian families customarily cook their lentils with pork sausage to doubly ensure luck. In the southern states, the tradition is to eat black-eyed peas–one pea for each day in the new year–in a dish called hoppin’ john.

cornbreadCornbread is a favorite New Year’s treat in the American south because its color symbolizes gold. To ensure even more luck, some people add corn kernels, which are representative of golden nuggets. Living in the south is not required.

images (3)People from Spain, Portugal, Mexico, Cuba, and other Latin backgrounds have a tradition eating twelve grapes before the last stroke of the clock, each representing a month of the new year. Every sweet grape means a month pomegranateof luck and good fortune; every sour grape, a month of disappointment. Other good luck fruits include figs–a symbol of fertility and pomegranates whose many seeds symbolize prosperity.

noodlesEating long noodles, especially soba noodles, on New Year’s Day are thought by many Asians to bring long life. The longer they are, the better. But it’s considered bad luck if you break the noodle before getting it all into your mouth, so slurp carefully.

bundt cakeRing-shaped cakes and other round baked goods eaten on New Year’s are considered by many cultures to bring luck and the assurance of good fortune. In some cultures, a coin or special trinket is baked inside and whoever gets the surprise is guaranteed good fortune for the coming year–unless of course they break a tooth.

images (1)So there you have it. Ten ways to start your new year off right. Whatever juju you choose, we hope 2013 brings you all the success and good fortune you wish for. In the meanwhile, let’s all tip our glass to another round as we sing Auld Lang Syne, and wait for that giant ball to drop in Times Square.

Make Em: Pork Roast with Sauerkraut and Kielbasa, Southern-Style Collard Greens, Hoppin’ John, Grandma Etchieson’s Buttermilk Cornbread, Eggnog Pound Cake

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Twelve Days of Christmas Cookies

TreesWhat would Christmas in America be without cookies? There would be no snack for Santa, no visions of sugar plums for the children and no edible decorations for the tree. Christmas it seems was, above all other holidays, invented with cookies in mind.

While Christmas cookies have been around since Medieval Europe, it was the Dutch settlers who introduced them to America during the early seventeenth century. In fact, the word cookie comes from the Dutch word koekje, meaning “little cake.”

candy caneOriginally cookies were largely hand formed. But by the mid-1800s, cheap, elaborately decorated tin and copper cookie cutters were being imported to this country from Germany. These cutters, often shaped as stylized Christmas images, were designed not only for making cookies to eat, but also for ornaments for the tree. The widespread availability of these utensils significantly increased the popularity of Christmas cookies, and recipes began to appear in cookbooks showing how to use them.

The term “cookey” first appeared in print in 1703, but it would be 1796 before the first Christmas cookie recipe was published in this country. In American Cookery, considered by most food historians to be the first American cookbook, Amelia Simmons wrote the following:

“Christmas Cookey
To three pound of flour, sprinkle a tea cup of fine powdered coriander seed, rub in one pound of butter, and one and a half pound sugar, dissolve one tea spoonful of pearlash [a rising agent] in a tea cup of milk, kneed all together well, roll three quarters of an inch thick, and cut or stamp into shape and slice you please, bake slowly fifteen or twenty minutes; tho’ hard and dry at first, if put in an earthen pot, and dry cellar, or damp room, they will be finer, softer and better when six months old.”

xmas treeThere is probably no better known holiday cookie tradition than that described in the poem The Night Before Christmas, written by an Episcopal minister named Clement Clarke Moore. Until it’s publication in 1822, leaving a Christmas Eve treat for the “Jolly Old Elf” was unheard of. During the Depression of the1930s, naughty children began leaving cookies and milk out for Santa in hopes that in exchange for the “bribe” he would leave a gift. Children who were good left the snack out as a token of their thanks.

Americans consume over two billion cookies a year, or about 300 for each person. How many of these are eaten during the Christmas holidays is not know. What is known is that Americans have enjoyed these delightful confections for over four-thousand years. This year, why not celebrate the wonders of the season by starting your own cookie tradition. With that thought in mind, may we present GrubAmericana’s classic Twelve Days of Christmas Cookies.

sugar cookieSugar Cookies, are also called Amish sugar cookies or Nazareth sugar cookies. This classic cookie was created by the Germans who settled near Nazareth, Pennsylvania in the mid-eighteenth century. In 2001, it was adapted as that state’s cookie.

spritzSpritz Cookies, also known as Swedish Butter cookies, originated in Germany and Scandinavia. The delicious vanilla flavor and rich buttery texture of this pressed cookie makes it one of the world’s most popular.

Christmas Citrus Squares. This modern take on the clasic seasonal bar consists of layers of delicate crust, red current jam, and a wonderful Clementine flavored custard.

Gaiety_Pastel_CookiesJello Pastels are a colorful, quick, and easy-to-make cookie that’s sure to be a big hit as a holiday gift, party treat, or just a family snack. So popular that you might think about making a double batch.

Chocolate Covered Snow Peaks. These easy-to-make chocolate dipped meringues are a favorite of Food Network’s Tyler Florence and will be one of yours, too. Why not let the children help with these?

cancy caneCandy Cane Cookies. The whole family will have fun making these fun decorative cookies to hang on the tree, or just to enjoy them with a warm cup of cocoa while relaxing next by the fireplace.

Big Batch Kris Kringle Cookies. This luscious blend of pecans, white chocolate, and dried cranberries is sure to turn even the loudest “bah-humbug!” into “ho-ho-ho!”

Chocolate Bliss Macadamia Cookies. If your family and friends enjoy the heavenly flavor of chocolate and nuts, this is the cookie for them.

glass starStained Glass Stars. As beautiful as they are good to eat, these cut-out cookies are sure to astound both family and friends alike.

Swedish Christmas Cookies. This buttery ice-box cookie has the lemon-cardamom flavors also enjoyed by the Norwegians. A true European classic.

Paradise Macaroons. These cookies are gluten free, yet unbelievably scrumptious—so sweet and moist. A double batch of these may be the order of the day.

Cinnamon Stars are a classic German gluten-free cookie that is sort of a cross between a macaroon and a meringue, with a hint of spiciness.

Hanukkah_Sugar_CookiesHanukka Cookie is included in recognition of our friends of the Jewish faith. This rich butter and cream cheese cookie can be rolled out, cut into holiday shapes, and decorated in any number of ways. Hanukkah (or Chanukah), also known as the Festival of Lights, is celebrated this year from December 8 – 16. Hanukkah is observed by the lighting of the Menorah, one candle each night of the holiday.

There you have it–a baker’s dozen of some of our favorite Christmas cookie recipes. So happy baking, and may this season bring you and yours everything on your holiday gift list and much, much more.