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Some traditional Christmas dishes

by Anita Kornoff

Let us begin with fruitcake. This originated in ancient Egypt, where it was considered essential for the afterlife. That makes sense to me because it’s always tasted like it must have been stored in a tomb. However, I’m told when fruitcakes are left to age properly, they develop wonderfully rich, complex flavors. Bakers begin by soaking dried or candied fruit in rum for months in advance. Many people find fruitcake more palatable when the bitter citron is omitted. Fruitcakes need a full month of ripening — no shortcuts here.

Roast turkey didn’t appear consistently on Christmas Day menus until 1851 when it replaced roast swan as the favorite dish of Royal courts. But what about the Christmas goose? As far back at the Middle Ages, a roast goose was the centerpiece popular feast day Michaelmas. Before that, tradition says, it was offered as a sacrifice to the gods Odin and Thor. It is less of a U.S. holiday staple nowadays, where it may have become thought of as a “poor man’s supper” because of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. Many of us have never come across a goose on the dinner table (and I’m guessing even fewer have tasted swan–unless you live in Michigan or New York). I’ve prepared goose and considering how difficult the fat is to render out can understand why it’s not too popular. However, some enjoy the rich and flavorful, all dark-meat bird, and you can find plenty of recipes on the internet should you want to try one.

Winning the award for longest preparation time, Kiviak. It is possibly one of the strangest, most bizarre delicacies found anywhere in the world. In Greenland, where it is traditionally eaten by Inuits during the winter Kiviak takes a full seven months to prepare. It begins with hollowing out a seal skin and stuffing it with 500 auks–a sea bird (feathers and all)–to ferment. Was this the dish that inspired turducken? When the holiday finally rolls around, it’s served straight from the seal. Yum, wonder if you can order these on Amazon, wouldn’t they make novel gifts to send to friends?

There are 12 courses in the traditional Ukrainian Christmas Eve supper, each of them dedicated to one of Christ’s apostles. None of the food for the Holy Supper may contain any meat or dairy products. The first dish served of the twelve is Kutia, when a spoonful of it is thrown to the ceiling. The more kernels that stick, the greater the good luck in the following year. After the completion of the twelve dishes, nuts and candies are scattered in the hay under the table for the children to find as an after-dinner activity. Pity the hostess who has to clean up later.

How’s this for a weird Christmas food? South Africa is home to some of the world’s most unusual holiday fare. Every December locals feast on a seasonal delicacy–the deep-fried caterpillars of Emperor Moths. And yes friends, you most certainly can find recipes for their preparation on the internet.

Most people think of Japanese cuisine, which largely centers around seafood and rice, as being relatively healthy. So surprisingly, family Christmas traditions in Japan include eating their big holiday meal from fast-food giant KFC.

What new food will you try for Christmas this year?

Contact Anita Kornoff at museummatters1@gmail.com