Tasty Traditions: Melomakarona, Greek Honey Cookies

Tasty Traditions: Melomakarona, Greek Honey Cookies

Melomakarona (Greek honey cookies) are one of the most popular treats throughout Greece during the Christmas Holidays and the intense aromas of delicate spices makes every house smell like Christmas.

μελομακάρονο is an egg-shaped Greek dessert made mainly from flour, olive oil, and honey. Along with the Kourabies it is a traditional dessert prepared primarily during this festive season.

Typical ingredients of the Melomakarona are flour or semolina, sugar, orange zest and/or fresh juice, cognac (or similar beverage), cinnamon and olive oil. During rolling they are often filled with ground walnuts. After baking they are immersed for a few seconds in hot syrup made of honey and sugar dissolved in water. Finally, they are decorated with ground, as well as bigger, pieces of walnut. Dark chocolate-covered melomakarona are also a more recent variation of the traditional recipe.

This easy-to-follow traditional Greek melomakarona recipe makes 60 of these delicious festive Greek Christmas cookies, plenty for everyone to try. Serve over a hot cup of coffee and you have a match made in heaven!

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 1cups light olive oil or 1 12 cups corn oil
  • 1cup butter, at room temperature
  • 1 cup orange juice (or more)
  • 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 1teaspoons ground cloves
  • 2 oranges, zest of, grated
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 cups fine ground semolina (cream of wheat or farina)
  • 6 cups flour
  • 1teaspoon baking soda
  • 1teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt

Syrup

  • 1 1cups sugar
  • 1 1cups greek thyme honey
  • 1 cup water
  • 3cup walnuts, finely chopped

DIRECTIONS

  1. Put the corn oil, butter, beer (or orange juice), cinnamon, cloves, orange peel, and sugar in a mixing bowl and beat until they are thoroughly blended.
  2. Sift about one cup of flour with the baking soda, baking powder, and salt and blend into the oil mixture.
  3. Add the semolina, a cup at a time, into this mixture.
  4. Add enough of the remaining flour, a cup at a time, until you get a rather firm dough (you may need a bit more or less than the amount of flour mentioned in the ingredients list).
  5. Use your hands to do the mixing, as an electric mixer will be useless after the first two or three cups of flour have been added.
  6. Roll the dough into cylinders, about two inches long and one inch in diameter, flatten them with your hands, and place them on cookie sheets that have been greased with a little olive oil.
  7. Bake at 350 degree Fahrenheit for half an hour.
  8. Remove the cookies from the oven and pour hot syrup over them.
  9. Lay the cookies out in a rimmed baking pan large enough to contain them and pour the hot syrup over the cookies, sprinkle them with the chopped walnuts and let them soak overnight.
  10. (Alternatively, if you do not have enough rimmed baking sheets to accommodate all the cookies, you can dip them in batches directly into the hot syrup – keeping the syrup at the lowest possible simmer – and allow to soak in the syrup for 8-10 minutes; remove with a slotted spoon).
  11. For the syrup: mix the sugar, honey and water, and bring to a boil.
  12. Cook on low heat for four minutes and skim off the foam that forms on top.
  13. The next day put them on your prettiest platter, sprinkle each layer evenly with the finely chopped walnuts and wrap with plastic wrap (or put in an airtight container) and serve.
  14. These are great keepers and will last for months!

While you’re baking Melomakarona, listen to these beautiful Greek Orthodox Christmas hymns and enjoy an authentic experience!

St Lucia’s Day in Sweden: Bringing Light in the Winter Darkness

St Lucia’s Day in Sweden: Bringing Light in the Winter Darkness

Luciadagen, or St. Lucia’s Day,  is a special day in Sweden that is celebrated annually on December 13th. Also known as the Festival of Lights, St. Lucia’s Day occurs one week after St. Nikolaus’ Day. It is a wonderful tradition that is meant to bring light into the darkness of the long Scandinavian winter.

On St. Lucia’s day you will see thousands of young girls emerge from the darkness of a Swedish winters day and gently silence the crowds with a procession of light. Dressed as Lucia’s maidens, in flowing white gowns, each girl holds a candle and wears a wreath of glowing candles in her hair. Children solemnly proceed through cities, towns and churches, giving out saffron buns and singing Lucia’s beautiful melodies, dressed as gingerbread men, elves and stjärngossar.

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In Sweden, the winter solstice was formerly observed on December 13th (in accordance with the old Julian calendar). The date marked a pagan festival of lights in honor of the shortest and darkest day of the year–a time when it was believed that demons and spirits would plague the earth and animals could talk (not unlike early celebrations of Halloween). The threshing and slaughtering were expected to be done, as people braced themselves for the start of winter.

With time and the spread of Christianity, however, the Swedish winter solstice became enmeshed with the figure of Saint Lucia, and December 13th became a celebration in her honor–complete with costumes, music, processions, and glogg. 

Several legends exist to explain Saint Lucia’s martyrdom. In one version of events, young Lucia would sneak away during the night to bring food to starving Christians hidden in the catacombs of Rome. Traveling the dark tunnels, she placed candles in a wreath around her head, so she might carry as much food as possible to those starving underground. Eventually she was discovered and was put to death.

Swedish lore builds on the story of her death, telling the tale of a winter that brought terrible famine to Sweden. On the dark, bitter night of December 13th, a ship approached across Lake Vannern. The starving Swedes gathered on the shore to watch the ship approach and saw in the distance a woman dressed in white, standing at the helm, the light of the ship encircling her head with a gentle glow. Familiar with the Italian lore of Saint Lucia delivering food to the destitute Christians, the villagers believed she had come to rescue them from certain death.

The modern tradition of observance began in the 1700s and involves the eldest daughter in a family dressing up as a Lucia in a white dress with a red sash, and wearing a wreath of candles on her head (today, electric candles are often used). The Lucia’s crown is made with lingonberry branches, which are evergreen. The crown, together with the candlelight it carries, symbolizes the celebration of light in darkness, enduring through the long winter’s night.

The Lucia is accompanied by handmaidens, who each carry a candle, and star boys, who wear pointed paper hats and carry stars. The processions of the Lucia, handmaidens, and star boys typically end with a rendition of Santa Lucia (several Swedish variations exist of the Neapolitan tune), and often the Tipp Tapp song. Prior to the 1700s, when the Swedish population was still quite rural and agrarian, celebrations were far less formal. Children dressed up and went door to door singing, and receiving snacks and snaps in exchange.

Each year, Lucias are chosen in schools, offices, and towns–there is even a national Lucia chosen to be drawn around in carriage, visiting hospitals and senior homes. Though the holiday is most closely associated with Sweden, it is also celebrated in parts of Denmark, Norway, Finland, Bosnia, and Croatia. Some believe Lucia travels by donkey distributing presents, and children will leave a sandwich for the two travelers, just as many children across the world leave cookies and milk for Santa. To accompany celebrations, lussekats (a sweet saffron bun) are eaten in the morning, while in the evening, ginger biscuits accompanied by the mulled wine glögg.

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In the video below, you can hear the song that is traditionally sung during St. Lucia processions throughout Sweden. It is extraordinarily beautiful.

This St. Lucia’s Day may you and your family be both bearers and witnesses of light within the darkness. God Jul!

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Iceland’s Yule Lads, a celebration of Icelandic folklore

Iceland’s Yule Lads, a celebration of Icelandic folklore

Here in North America, children are visited by jolly ole’ Santa Claus, who rewards them for their good behavior by giving them free gifts on Christmas Eve. However Iceland celebrates the winter holidays a little differently. Thirteen nights before Yule (Christmas Eve), the Yule Trolls take turns visiting Icelandic children. They leave behind sweets or rotten vegetables in the child’s shoes, depending on the child’s behavior.

Icelandic children place their shoes on the windowsill to make it easier for the trolls.

These trolls are the sons of the foul child-eating mountain trolls, Grýla and Leppalúði. Unlike Santa Claus, these trolls are not so Jolly and good-spirited. They hide sleeping in their cave for most of the year, but during December they awaken to strike fear into the hearts of misbehaving children. Alongside the trolls is the black tyrannical Yule Cat named Jólakötturinn, who will devour children who are not wearing at least one new piece of clothing on Yule (Christmas Eve). He may also eat the food of those who are lazy and do not work hard enough. My favorite Icelandic star, Björk even wrote a song about this malevolent kitty.

Each mischievous troll has his own distinct personality and habits. The famous poem Jólasveinarnir by Jóhannes úr Kötlum written in 1932, describes the individual trolls very well. Below I will quote from that poem.

The artwork below is from https://www.pinterest.com/artpatra/

The first troll is named Stekkjarstaur or “Sheep-Cote Clod.”  This little troll is known for his desire to harass sheep and for his stiff wooden peg legs.

He came stiff as wood,

To pray upon the farmer’s

Sheep as far as he could.

He wished to suck the ewes,

But it was no accident

He couldn’t; he had stiff knees –

Not too convenient.

The second troll is named Giljagaur or “Gully Gawk.” He likes to hide in the gullies waiting until he has the opportunity to steal some cow milk!

Gray his head and mien.

He snuck into the cow barn

From his craggy ravine.

Hiding in the stalls,

He would steal the milk,

While the milkmaid gave the cowherd

A meaningful smile.

The third little troll is named Stúfur or “Stubby.” He is known for being very short and loving to lick the leftovers out of your pans!

A stunted little man,

Who watched for every chance

To whisk off a pan.

And scurrying away with it,

He scraped off the bits

That stuck to the bottom

And brims – his favorites.

The fourth troll is named Þvörusleikir or “Spoon-Licker”

Like spindle he was thin.

He felt himself in clover

When the cook wasn’t in.

Then stepping up, he grappled

The stirring spoon with glee,

Holding it with both hands

For it was slippery.

The fifth troll is named Pottaskefill or “Pot Scraper.” Similar to Stubby, he will eat the leftovers out of pots instead.

Was a funny sort of chap.

When kids were given scrapings,

He’d come to the door and tap.

And they would rush to see

If there really was a guest.

Then he hurried to the pot

And had a scrapingfest.

The sixth troll is named Askasleikir or “Bowl-Licker.” He enjoys hiding under your bed until you put your bowl down. Then he will steal it and lick it!

Was shockingly ill bred.

From underneath the bedsteads

He stuck his ugly head.

And when the bowls were left

To be licked by dog or cat,

He snatched them for himself –

He was sure good at that!

The seventh troll is named Hurðaskellir or “Door Slammer.” He slams your doors throughout the night. What a noisy, annoying fellow.

A sorry, vulgar chap:

When people in the twilight

Would take a little nap,

He was happy as a lark

With the havoc he could wreak,

Slamming doors and hearing

The hinges on them squeak.

The eigth troll is named Skyrgámur or “Skyr -Gobbler.” This little buddy’s favorite food is skyr which is a traditional Icelandic dairy dish, similar to yogurt.

Was an awful stupid bloke.

He lambasted the skyr tub

Till the lid on it broke.

Then he stood there gobbling

– his greed was well known –

Until, about to burst,

He would bleat, howl and groan.

The ninth troll is named Bjúgnakrækir or “Sausage Swiper.” This mischievous little guy hides in the rafters and pilfers pork links while they’re smoking.

He climbed up to the rafters

And raided food from there.

Sitting on a crossbeam

In soot and in smoke,

He fed himself

On sausage fit for gentlefolk.

The tenth troll is named Gluggagægir or “Window Peeper.” This nosy little creature looks through your windows at night with hopes that he will find something worth stealing.

A weird little twit,

Who stepped up to the window

And stole a peek through it.

And whatever was inside

To which his eye was drawn,

He most likely attempted

To take later on.

The eleventh troll is named Gáttaþefur or “Doorway Sniffer.” He has a long nose. He uses his fantastic sense of smell to sniff around, searching for a traditional Icelandic bread called Laufabrauno.

A doltish lad and gross.

He never got a cold,

Yet had a huge, sensitive nose.

He caught the scent of lace

Bread while leagues away still

And ran toward it weightless

As wind over dale and hill.

The twelth troll is named Ketkrókur or “Meat-Hook.” This little thief uses his famous hook to steal your meat!

His talent would display

As soon as he arrived

On Saint Thorlak´s Day.

He snagged himself a morsel

Of meat of any sort,

Although his hook at times

Was a tiny bit short.

Lastly, the thirteenth troll is named Kertasníkir or “Candle Stealer.” He will stalk children so he can steal their candles and then eat them!

´Twas cold, I believe,

If he was not the last

Of the lot on Christmas Eve.

He trailed after the little ones

Who, like happy sprites,

Ran about the farm with

Their fine tallow lights.

Then one by one they trotted off

Into the frost and snow.

On Twelfth Night the last

Of the lads used to go.

Their footprints in the highlands

Are effaced now for long,

The memories have all turned

To image and song.

Stay safe from the Yule Trolls this year, and Gledileg jol, Bestu jolakvedjur med osk um gledi og frid a komandi ari! (It’s an Icelandic holiday greeting which translates to, Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!)

~Written by: Eva