2013-12-19 / From The Garden

FROM THE GARDEN

Yuletide Inspirations
By Cynthia Gibson

Many of today’s Christmas symbols have quirky histories. Among our most enduring traditions is placing ornaments on the Christmas tree and baking cookies. Ornaments range from traditional images of the season, including Santa and nutcrackers, to the unusual and offbeat. Many ornaments, which at first glance would appear to have nothing to do with Christmas, are actually deeply rooted in European folklore.

Vegetables were traditional motifs for tree trimmings in the 1800s. The harvest vegetables, such as carrots, peppers, potatoes, tomatoes, cucumbers, and onions were the most popular. They were placed on the tree to give thanks for the bountiful harvest.

Fruits and berries were also among the earliest of tree decorations. Fruit-filled baskets, often distributed by churches to the needy, are symbolic of Christmas giving. Molded glass ornaments eventually replaced the fresh fruit once used on the tree by Victorians. Grape clusters are the most common fruit glass ornament, mainly because of the grape’s religious significance.

The pickle ornament is a German symbol of good luck. In the past, the first child to find a pickle on the tree received a special gift on Christmas morning.

Ornaments depicting unique mushrooms with bright red caps dotted with white spots are also popular at the holidays. They might have a white or beige stem and a bit of green or brown color at their base, representing the forest ground.

This Amanita muscaria mushroom is the prototype for these ornaments and candy you see at Christmas. It is often pictured with elves or gnomes on advent calendars. This mushroom grows around pine trees and is a favorite of reindeer. What is not commonly known is that it has toxic properties and is also a hallucinogen. It is nicknamed the “fly mushroom”; when broken into pieces and placed in a small dish of milk, the mixture will kill flies during the summer. The red-topped mushroom with white flecks is seen all over Europe and especially Germany this time of year. It is a friendly symbol representing good luck and blessings for the new year.


The classic red fly agaric mushroom of western U.S. and Europe also known as the Amanita muscaria. In many European cultures, it is associated with Christmas and is considered a symbol of blessing for the new year. The classic red fly agaric mushroom of western U.S. and Europe also known as the Amanita muscaria. In many European cultures, it is associated with Christmas and is considered a symbol of blessing for the new year. In German, the name of this ornamental mushroom is “Gluckspilz,” meaning “luck mushroom.” Placing mushrooms on the Christmas tree was a symbol for luck and would bless your home at the same time. These mushrooms are seemingly custom-made for fairy tales and Christmas stories, and are delightful images for children and adults alike. Having “lucky” mushrooms on your Christmas tree is a lovely tradition.


The pickle ornament is a German symbol of good luck. The pickle ornament is a German symbol of good luck. These clip-on mushroom ornaments bring back memories of Christmas trees that were simple, focusing on delights from the forest and the kitchen. Red fly mushrooms are also prized as pastry and confectionary treasures in Europe.

Gribochky (Mushroom Cookies)

Makes 24

2 cups all-purpose flour sifted
1/2 cup cornstarch sifted
1/4 tsp. salt sifted
1/2 tsp. baking powder sifted
1 stick of sweet butter at room
temperature
1 cup sugar sifted
1/2 cup sour cream
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon sifted
(optional)
1 large egg

The Glaze
1 cup confectioners’ sugar sifted
1 tbsp. milk
Red food coloring (add drops
according to the shade of red
you desire)
1/4 cup confectioners’ sugar for
dusting the mushroom cookies
4 oz. of semisweet dark chocolate, melted


Clip-on mushroom ornaments . Clip-on mushroom ornaments . Preheat oven to 350°

Line baking sheets with parchment or waxed paper. You will use up to four cookie sheets, two for mushroom caps and two for stems.

In a large bowl using an electric hand mixer on medium speed, beat the butter and sugar until it is creamy. Add the cornstarch, flour, baking powder, and salt and mix until well integrated. Next, add the egg, vanilla, and sour cream. If you’d like to add ground cinnamon to the dough, this is the time to do it. Make sure all ingredients are well mixed. The dough should be stiff.

With floured hands on a floured surface, use half the dough for making the mushroom caps. Take a small bit of dough (0.7 oz.), roll it into a ball and place it on the cookie sheet. Press down to flatten the bottom of the cap but not the top of the mushroom, as the top should be rounded.


These Russian cookies are called “Gribochky.” They are easy to make and a fun project that children will love. These Russian cookies are called “Gribochky.” They are easy to make and a fun project that children will love. For the stems, take a bit less dough (approximately 0.5 oz.) and form a conical stem; it should look narrow at the top and wider at the bottom (think of a teepee). Place these onto a separate cookie sheet. Repeat the process until all dough is used and you have 24 mushroom caps and 24 mushroom stems. Bake the cookies for 10-12 minutes or until they are just beginning to turn brown. After five minutes of baking, turn the cookie around for the duration. After baking, cool on wire racks for five minutes or until you can comfortably hold the mushroom cap in your hand. Carefully poke a small hole in the underside or bottom of the cap.

In a double boiler, slowly melt the dark chocolate. Baker’s chocolate works very well. After the chocolate is melted, place the top of the double boiler on a potholder next to a cookie sheet lined with new waxed paper. Hold (if you are right-handed) the mushroom cap in your left hand and dip the pointed end of your mushroom stem into the chocolate. Place the stem into the hole of the cap. If the bottoms are wide enough, the mushroom should be able to stand upright. If the mushroom stems are wobbly, dip the base of the stem in chocolate first and place it on a tray lined with wax paper, then glue the tops to the stems with more chocolate. What is better than more chocolate? The chocolate will cool very quickly and both pieces should easily be held together to form the mushrooms.


Cynthia Gibson is a gardener, food writer and painter. She gardens and tends her miniature orchard in Newport. Cynthia Gibson is a gardener, food writer and painter. She gardens and tends her miniature orchard in Newport. In a small bowl, mix the confectioners’ sugar, milk, and food coloring. Glaze the mushroom caps with a small brush and wait for them to dry. Finally, dust the mushroom tops with confectioners’ sugar, using a very small sieve. It will take a bit of patience, but completing this charming project for yourself or with children will give you “good luck mushrooms” for Christmas. They taste as good as they look!

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