Scurvy, Limeys, Victorian Stockings and St. Nicholas

“A man ought to carry himself in the world as an orange tree would if it could walk up and down in the garden, swinging perfume from every little censer it holds up to the air.”
Henry Ward Beecher

“The giver of every good and perfect gift has called upon us to mimic
His giving, by grace, through faith, and this is not of ourselves.”

― St. Nicholas of Myra

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(bowls of both whole and sliced Calomondians and Kumquats being readied for a cranberry relish / Julie Cook / 2014)

“Shiver me timbers boys.
Looks like the scurvy’s hit the ship”

Scurvy you ask?
A devastating Vitamin C deficiency which was a very common occurrence for sailors, as well as pirates, of the 1600 and 1700’s. Cases have actually been documented as far back as ancient Egypt.

Months aboard a ship, with very little fresh water and food, let alone the luxuries of fresh fruits such as oranges, lemons or limes, rendered sailors deathly sick. It was an abnormality of sailing that left captains and doctors scratching their heads.
Sailor’s gums would swell and hurt. Their teeth would begin to fall out, their legs would swell, turning purple– a condition, which left untreated, would eventually lead to death.

It wasn’t until the 1747 when British doctor James Lind, intrigued by the mysterious ailment afflicting British Sailors, as well as renegade sailors such as pirates, conducted several experiments determining that the sailor’s bodies were depleted of Vitamin C.
Therefore all British sailors were originally issued lemons and lemon juice as part of their sea rations. However, lemons not always being as plentiful as limes, a substitution was hence made. It seems that the acid content of limes is less than lemons, almost by 50%, so the sailors would have to consume larger quantities of limes, earning them the moniker of Limeys.

The gift giving of citrus, particularly oranges, didn’t occur until the Victorian Era when children began receiving an orange in their stockings on Christmas Eve. In fact, the celebration of Christmas itself, much as we know it to this day—that of jolly ol St Nicholas, gift giving, card sending, a decorated tree and stockings being hung on the mantle, is greatly attributed to Victorian England and the arrival of the Industrial Revolution. The custom of placing an orange in a stocking first became popular in England and much later in the United States with the birth of the tansconinental railway system.

Oranges were considered to be an exotic novelty as they had to be shipped to England from more southern Mediterranean climates. And what more special gift could one give to weary winter senses than a tropical fruit such as an orange?! The fact that oranges and other citrus fruit helped to ward off deadly disease by offering much needed and depleted vitamins made even more sense when it came to offering them to children, especially those in disadvantaged families where fresh fruits and vegetables were considered luxuries.

Scurvy was not a disease confined only to those stuck on ships for months at a time, but it was a prevalent disease throughout Ireland during the deadly potato famine. Many soldiers as well as civilians also fell victim to the disease throughout much of Russia during the deadly Crimean war.

The custom of oranges as gifts however dates back even earlier than Victorian England–actually as far back back to 325 BC, to our original St Nicholas who was the Bishop of Myra, located in present day Turkey.

Known for his generosity to the poor and disadvantaged, legend has it that St Nicholas learned of three sisters who’s father was so terribly poor that he could not provide a dowery for his daughters–therefore the girls were to be sold into slavery. Nicholas who had come from a wealthy family took it upon himself to secretly deliver a bag of gold for each girl. It is said he tossed the gold through an open window, which in turn landed in a shoe–hence why many European children began leaving shoes out on the eve of St Nicholas day (December 19th) in order to receive a gift.
The gold, over the years, evolved into being associated with that of a gold ball and eventually an orange.
And as time would have it, St Nicholas who was the patron saint of children, also evolved– eventually becoming associated with the birth of the Christ child and one who would deliver presents to children on a certain night in December (as according to the Julian Calendar)

In the United States, oranges where given as gifts following the completion of the transcontinental railway system, when items such as citrus fruit grown primarily in California and Florida, could be transported all over the country. Oranges were especially popular during WWII as a special stocking stuffer since the rationing of so many food items had become prevalent during the war days. To receive any and all types of fresh fruits were considered a very special treat.

Which brings us back around to today and the growing prevalence of oranges, and their citrus cousins such as grapefruits, which are currently whisking their way to grocery stores shelves across the country as our “winter” fruits now make their debut. With the growing seasons of the citrus crops in both California and Florida coming to fruition, now during the Christmas season, there’s no better refreshingly bright addition to a home than either a scent infused, clove studded, pomander or the heavenly scent of citrus infused baked goods and cookies. Be it an orange, tangerine, pomelo, meyer lemon, key lime, kumquat, or grapefruit to name but a few, be sure to add a little Vitamin C to your diet and enjoy some citrus during the holidays. . .

Keeping Christmas

“Are you willing to stoop down and consider the needs and desires of little children; to remember the weaknesses and lonliness of people who are growing old; to stop asking how much your friends love you, and to ask yourself if you love them enough; to bear in mind the things that other people have to bear on their hearts; to trim your lamp so that it will give more light and less smoke, and to carry it in front so that your shadow will fall behind you; to make a grave for your ugly thougts and a garden for your kindly feelings, with the gate open? Are you willing to do these things for a day? Then you are ready to keep Christmas!”
― Henry van Dyke

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It’s time to roll up our sleeves, knocking out some of that holiday cooking!! I always start with one of my husband’s favorite accompaniments to any holiday meal— featuring that most holiday festive little red orb, the cranberry. But to accompany those tart little beauties, a citrus is necessary. . .hence, our story of the lowly calamondin and it’s cousin the kumquat.

A couple of months ago you may remember the picture of my kumquat tree–it was heavy laden with nice bright green round orbs. I was in a bit of a panic as the green orbs needed to hurry up in order to turn a luscious orange before the first frost. Long story short, the tree is now living in the basement with green orbs which are finally deciding to turn orange, slowly but surely.

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The reason behind the need for a kumquat tree is actually for the provision of a key ingredient in a highly guarded important seasonal family recipe. My aunt, who lives in south Florida, yes the one now minus a kidney, who by the way is doing quite marvelously thank you very much, use to make a delightful holiday relish. It was called Martha’s cranberry calamondin relish. What’s a calamondin you ask? It’s a sour little orange looking type fruit and is a key ingredient in the cranberry calamondin relish–hence the name.

About a year or so ago I asked my aunt for the recipe, thinking I’d try my hand at this amazing little relish rather than wait for jars to arrive via a visit or UPS. My aunt was a little shady about the whole thing. What’s the deal I was wondering. Is she going to give it to me or not? Finally I wore her down. I wrote feverishly as she recalled the ingredients over the phone, and double checked the accompanying e-mail. The last sentence of her e-mail was chilling.
“Immediately delete this e-mail and don’t you tell anyone this recipe or I will have to kill you”

Hummmm. . .I think it’s written down in some sacred tome that it’s ok for relatives to say that sort of thing to one another as I think there is a fine line between love and hate in families—as no doubt many of you are currently discovering during your own balancing act during this lovely holiday season.

My aunt can be a scary person so I heeded her ominous words.

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The recipe is simply divine. My husband loves it. He eats it by the spoonfuls. It’s tart and sweet all rolled into one. A heady concoction that pairs so beautifully with holiday meals. It is somewhat reminiscent of a wild lingonberry sauce. I once had something similar served alongside a hearty plate of sauerbraten when traveling throughout Austria. Something about the sweet tart coupled with a gamey savory—a beautiful amalgamation of tastes converging in one’s mouth.

Yet the one huge glaring missing key to the success of the recipe, if I was going to try my hand at tastebud heaven, were the calamondins. Has anyone, who lives outside of some tropical region, ever heard of a calamondin? I for one had not.

Think, think, think. . .

What could I use as an alternative??? I know, what about those kumquat things they sell at the grocery store–the ones I only see during the holidays as if they are imported small treasures from some exotic land. . .aka Florida?!

Which brings us to the small purchase I made a couple of summers ago—a small burgeoning fruit ladened kumquat tree. Sadly, I realized much later, that my little tree would never produce the required amount of fruit for the recipe so I would still need to supplement from the grocery store’s seasonal stock pile.

And I suppose it is safe for me to tell you that I have tailored this recipe to me and my own culinary skills—adding a little bit of this and a little dash of that—yet it is the image, that is burned on the inside of my retinas, that simply forbids me from sharing verbatim the full recipe here with you today. I will, however, share the images of it all coming together- – –


Step 1, you will need a bunch of these:

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and a bunch of these succulent garnet beauties—

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Assemble all your ingredients—oops, I forgot to showcase a couple of key players. . .oh well, just use your imagination as to what they may be—

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Oh, and you’ll need one of these. . .

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WAIT!! Is that a Coke?! You didn’t say anything about a Coke!! Well, I saw a leftover can sitting on the counter. . .so just a splash, as I am a true southerner, Coke goes into everything we consume.

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Don’t forget to release the Kraken—

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Simmer away listening to the pop, pop, pop of those little scarlet gems

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Voila–Cookie’s new and improved cranberry kumquat relish—–

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And let’s not tell Martha we talked about any of this shall we. . .

And as I heard him exclaim, ‘ere he drove out of sight,
“Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good-night!”

Functional or Decorative or both. . .

It is the mission of art to remind man from time to time that he is human, and the time is ripe, just now, today, for such a reminder.
Ben Shahn

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(one of Michael’s beautiful wooden cheese/ cutting boards with a couple of my kumquats)

When I was in the classroom, early during each term I always had the same discussion with my kids by posing this question. . . “what makes art Art? What is it that constitutes “art” as being what we perceive and define Art to actually be? Was it merely something pretty to look at, something aesthetically pleasing, something worth a lot of money, etc? Which would eventually lead to the discussion of decorative verses functional—eye pleasing verses utilitarian.

The kids and I would then examine the Arts and Crafts Movement sorting out the relationship the Crafts industry has with the Art world and of the role “functional art” plays in the bigger picture known as the World of Art. And just so you know, in this retired art teacher’s humble opinion–it has everything to do with “Art”

So imagine my joy upon discovering that a fellow blogger friend, who I met not long ago, is a woodworker—meaning he creates beauty from pieces of wood—and his beautiful pieces are of a high functional practicality. His name is Michael Laico of Michael’s Woodcrafts
http://michaelswoodcraft.wordpress.com

I have typically been more of a painter of sorts throughout my life as painting, drawing, even printmaking, have been more along the lines of my strengths. I have always admired and envied those who are the 3D artists among us—those who sculpt and form material such as clay, tubes and sheets of metals, as well as scrapes and pieces of wood, into not only visual but tactile treasures. Michael is of the aforementioned category.

I love finding such treasures, especially in time for the holidays as giving gifts, those which are made by hand, possess both beauty and functionality—which in turn are the best gifts to give as well as to receive. They are both personal and useful, which makes them some of the more treasured gifts as they may be passed down from one generation to the next and in turn develop into family heirlooms.

Michael has a great blog where he not only showcases his woodworking talents but his aptitude for photography as well as his strengths in the kitchen as he offers a wealth of tasty recipes. But it is his gift with a lathe that sparks my eye.

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From cutting boards, to cheese boards, to rolling pins, to ice-cream scoops to even birdhouses, Michael offers a wonderful selection of pieces each individually crafted into not only functional pieces of rich beautiful wood but into pieces that are truly aesthetically and tactilely pleasing.

Of course I had to order a few items as Christmas gifts, but let’s keep that as our little secret shall we as I don’t want anyone finding that out too early ..

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So as I focus this week on the things of which I am most thankful for, I add Michael and his talents, as well as his desire to share those talents with someone such as myself, to my list of gratitude..as well as for the other very dear folks I have met and now consider to be wonderful fiends via this world of blogging.
Grace and peace to you all. . .