Monday, November 8, 2010


   Cranberry's are actually an evergreen shrub or vine.  The fruit starts out white and turns a deep red as they ripen.  The leading producer of cranberries is Wisconsin where half of the U.S. production of cranberries is harvested.  The second largest U.S. producer is the State of Massachusetts, and they grow 28% of the total domestic production.  The peak growing season for is from October to January, just in time for the holidays.  The Native Americans were the first known people to use cranberries as food and probably taught the early settlers about them.  Those two facts together may be how cranberries are considered traditional Thanksgiving and Christmas food.
  The Indians made a dish called pemmican, that is a mixture of cranberries and venison or bear meat, but they also used cranberries for medicine and for dye.  Cranberries are rather tart and not usually eaten raw.  Instead they are used primarily as sauces, juice or sweetened dried cranberries.

   When buying cranberries, you want to choose hard, shiny berries that are bright red.  They will keep in the refrigerator for 8 to 10 days and they can be frozen for 2 to 3 months.
   Cranberry sauce is one of the most common uses for cranberries, and it is easy to make, it is simply cranberries, boiling water and sugar.  Incidentally, it takes about 1 pound of cranberries to equal 4 cups of fruit.  Besides cranberry sauce, they are good sweetened and used as a topping for ice cream, cake or custard.  They are also often used as a glaze for ham or chicken.  Cranberries are extremely versatile and can be used in relish, in dressing or mixed with other fruits.
   Cranberries have approximately 26 calories for a 3 1/2 ounce serving and are a great source of vitamin C and dietary fiber.  Pioneer sea captains ate cranberries to prevent them from getting scurvy.  They are also believed to help provide protection from bacterial and viral infections so cranberries are definitely good for you.

Cranberry harvesting

   Cranberries are also a great addition to a gelatin salad, especially if you add apple or crushed pineapple along with some nuts.  You can also chop us cranberries and use them in muffins in place of blueberries or cook them until the skins pop, run them through a sieve and used the pulp in cranberry bread.
   Yes, cranberries are one of those things we connect with a pretty table spread with a large turkey or ham, dressing, mashed potatoes, sweet potato casserole and pumpkin pie, but they are useful for much more.  With all the emphasis on food in the 21st century, cranberries have gained recognition as a "superfruit" because of their nutrient content and antioxidant qualities.  So, this year, try some new cranberry recipes; or be different, freeze some and eat them in February or March instead of November and December.


      Burning Yule logs is a tradition dating back long before the birth of Jesus.  In pre-Christian times, the Yule log was burned in the home hearth on the winter solstice in honor of the pagan sun god Odin, known also as the Yule Father or Oak King.
    The winter solstice, known amongst pagans as Yule or Gwyl Canol Gaeaf, falls on December 21 or 22, whichever is the shortest day and longest night of the current year.  The Yule festival symbolizes a battle between the powers of light (Oak King) and powers of darkness (Holly King).  A Yule log, typically a thick branch taken from a oak tree, would be burned in the hearth beginning on this night as a celebration of the Oak King's triumphant defeat over the Holly King.

Burning the Yule log

   The traditional Yule celebration would begin at dawn with the cutting of the oak branch, which was then ceremoniously carried into the house.  Lit by the father or oldest member of the family, the Yule log would be left to burn for the next 12 days.  When evening arrived the family would gather for dinner, which would typically included mutton, goose, pork, beef, special Yule breads, porridge, apples, sweets, nut and Yule ale.
   As Christianity spread throughout Europe the traditional Yule celebration became associated with the celebration of Christmas and the birth of Jesus, the Yule
Father being replaced with Father Christmas.  In Serbia, the Yule log, or badnjak as it is called there, is cut and burned in the hearth as part of its Christmas festivities.  In years past, the head of the family would go into the forest on Christmas Eve morning to cut down the badnjak.  Before bringing it home he would take the log to the church for a special blessing.  In more recent years, the badnjak ins usually gotten at marketplaces or form the churches.

Oak King

   The Yule log is a part of French tradition as well, especially it's Yule Log Cake or Buche de Noel.  This traditional Christmas dessert is made from a sponge cake that has been baked in a shallow pan.  After baking, the cake is filled with a creamy frosting, rolled up into a cylinder, and frosted with the remaining frosting along the top and sides so as to resemble a tree log.  A small portion of the cake is usually cut off and placed alongside or on top of the larger piece in order to reveal the bark-like appearance of its insides.  For some bakers, adding meringue mushrooms for that extra woodsy look not only enhances the realism of their Yule log but also is a lot of fun.  "The Bouche de Noel" is a very favorite, traditional French cake during the holidays.
   The creation of this culinary Yule Log, now baked throughout the world, dates back to Napoleon I.  A stern believer that cold air caused medical problems, Napoleon issued a proclamation requiring households in Paris to keep their chimneys closed during the winter month, preventing resident from burning the Yule log.

Yuel log cake or Buche de Noel

   French bakers invented the Buche de Noel as a symbolic replacement.  In England, according to the Pennsylvania Forest Stewardship Program,  On Christmas Eve, members of the household ventured into the woods to find and cut a great tree, preferably an oak.  Size was important, because the Yule log had to burn throughout the twelve days of Christmas.  Once cut, the log was dragged home with much celebration.  As many people as possible grabbed onto the ropes to help pull, because doing so was believed to bring good luck in the new year.  Even passersby raised their hat in tribute.
   The Yule log was dragged to the hearth of the great open fireplace, a common household feature in old England.  The log was lit with a scrap of burned log carefully preserved from the previous year, a practice that ensured the continuity of good fortune not only from year to year, but also from generation to generation.

   As a Christmas tradition, burning the Yule log eventually spread from England to America.  It's more popular fame as a tradition in the U.S., especially in New York, comes in the form of a televised Yule log broadcasted first in 1966 at the WPIX television station in New York when Fred Thrower, the then General Manager for the television station, brought the tradition of burning the Yule log into viewers homes.  Inspired b a Coke commercial he had seen depicting Santa Claus in front of a fireplace the previous year.  Thrower, and then WPIX-FM programming director Charlie Whittaker, created the Yule Log, a Christmas program featuring an actual Yule log burning in a fireplace.  The crackling wood fire, accompanied by the music of Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops, Nat King Cole, Johnny Mathis and others, played non stop for two hours on Christmas Eve.  Filmed at Gracie Mansion, the Yule Log was Thrower's Christmas gift to New Yorkers who hadn't a home hearth.  The program aired continuously from 1966-1989.

Traditional Yule feast
    Breaking tradition is not something most are willing to accept.  In most cases it's unthough of.  Canceling the Yule Log was not to be an exception for Joe Malzone, creator of the fan site, Bring Back the Log and others who missed the program.  "I had gotten more than 600 emails from people all over the country, which I forwarded each and every one to WPIX.  It was becoming quite clear that those who grew up with the log definitely wanted to see its return".  Malzone was once again able to enjoy the Yule Log in 2001.  Since then, similar programs have been broadcasted throughout the country on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day.
   Having options such as Thrower's televised program and France's culinary dessert should keep the Yule Log tradition around for year to come, especially in homes where there is no fireplace.