Continuing our members blogs, Ingrid Glendinning shares her memories of a Romanian Christmas, and a traditional recipe that would make great decorations or gifts.
You have probably noticed that the shops seem to stock Christmas items sooner every year, sometimes as early as August when strawberries share shelf space with Christmas Crackers, crazy, but true! You just need to go to a certain garden centre in Dunfermline and witness this!
I am sure that I’m not the only one thinking that Christmas is not what it used to be for many people. I am sure it never used to start being talked about until beginning of December at the earliest but commercialism put an end to that many years ago.
When I was little, growing up in a wee village by the name of Bogeschdorf (Bagaciu in Romanian) in Romania during the seventies, Christmas was something that we weren’t even allowed to officially celebrate, as the Communist Regime at the time didn’t allow it.
But most people did celebrate it in spite of this and I have fond memories of that time. For a start, it was always, always, always a white Christmas and it nearly always snowed on Christmas Eve, as we were walking to Church. Not being allowed to celebrate it made it even more important and special for the people in our village. We really didn’t start any of the preparations for the Nativity Play until about middle of November, and only to give us enough time to rehearse. There were no shops full of Christmas stuff, nor was there any media coverage of it at all. But people in the village had a huge sense of community, especially at Christmas time, when the church would be full to the brim with people. There was no central heating except a tiny wee gas heater for a huge church at -20 degrees Celsius outside, but singing “Silent Night” together kept everyone in good spirits and created an atmosphere that made the hairs on the back of your neck stand up.
Presents were modest, mostly essentials for school and clothes. There was no wish list like there is here, it was always a surprise. Every child got a wee parcel when they left the Church on Christmas Eve and I remember how excited we all were as children waiting for the end of service so we could get our parcel. But the service was still enjoyable for us children as the lights on the tree were real candles and it was huge, nearly reaching the ceiling. No child minded going to church on that night, even though it was freezing.
Then in 1985, my family moved to Germany and we celebrated Christmas there for the first time. We had always been dreaming of celebrating Christmas there and really did think it would be so much better. But you know what? It wasn’t! Never did I enjoy Christmas more than when I was growing up in Romania, probably because of the fact there was no commercialism attached to it, no shops full of unneeded rubbish to buy, no adverts of radio or TV, no bright lights, just the community preparing for a simple community event and lots and lots of snow and cold. I really missed this in Germany and I still miss it today, more than you’d think.
But you may ask what is all this to do with Fife Diet? Well, I think Fife Diet is not just about food, it is about so much more. It is about reconnecting people with true, honest values, community spirit, love, kindness, and food fits into this perfectly well. We don’t need fancy parties, gifts, TV and radio commercials, shops full of unwanted stuff. We need people that understand Christmas for what it is, being together as a family and community.
However, I can’t write a blog and not include some kind of food related material into it.
Like most countries around the people in Transylvania, where I grew up, had their own food traditions at this time of year. Before Christmas most homes would slaughter a pig, and the neighbours and relatives would all help to process the meat into sausages, bacon etc. Nothing went to waste. Even the bones were buried in the garden. We used to make brawn from those not so popular parts of the pig. Community involvement and of course the children’s involvement when the pig was being processed was very important and children learned a lot about where their food came from and how to use it.
One of the traditional recipes at this time of year in Transylvania is Lebkuchen, which I’m sure many of you have heard of as it is a traditional German Christmas biscuit (our community in Romania were ethnic Germans). It uses honey as one of the ingredients, but if you want, you can substitute this with molasses or golden syrup, or a mixture; the result will be just as good. This dough needs to rest for 24 hours before using, so keep this in mind when you make this recipe. Also, once baked, they take a few days to soften in a tin before they are ready to eat plain or be coated in chocolate and decorations, like Ginger Bread.
If you like, you can make little holes into the dough before baking, wide enough for some string. This way you can even hang them on your Christmas tree and enjoy one at a time, straight from the tree.
350 g honey
100 g sugar
100 g butter
Grated zest of one organic lemon
1 tbsp cocoa powder
½ tsp each cinnamon, ground cloves, ground cardamom seeds, ground ginger, mixed spice
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
500 g plain flour
Melt honey, sugar and butter on a gentle heat until the sugar is well dissolved. Leave to cool to room temperature.
Add the egg, grated lemon zest and all the spices to the above mixture. Add the flour and bicarbonate of soda and mix everything into a firm dough by kneading gently. Wrap the dough into foil and leave to rest at room temperature for 24 hours.
After the resting period, knead the dough again gently, and then roll it out 1-2 cm thick. It needs to be quite thick to give the Lebkuchen their authentic look. Cut out any christmassy shapes.
Bake them on a greased and floured baking tray at 180 degrees / gas mark 4 for 15 – 20 minutes. Once baked, take them off the tray whilst still warm and leave to cool on a wire rack.
Once cool, put the Lebkuchen in an airtight tin, and leave for a few days to soften slightly. Only once softened are they ready for any icing decorations or chocolate covering, whatever you like.
Do you have any family christmas traditions you’d like to share? How does local food fit in with your festive feasting? To contribute a members blog, get in touch with firstname.lastname@example.org