"On the twelfth day of Christmas my true love sent to me
A partridge in a pear tree."
It's Twelfth Night. Well the day that my family always thought was Twelfth Night - the 6th January. The day the Christmas decorations had to be taken down for fear of a year of bad luck.
I say it's my traditional Twelfth Night because it's twelve days after Christmas. But apparently some people think it's actually the 5th - can't they count? Or else the 17th. Now this one is more explicable because it has to do with the change from the Julian Calendar to the Gregorian Calendar in 1750, whereby, for that year 11 days were lost. Also a bit confusing when it comes to family history I have to say.
Even more confusingly apparently the Christmas decoration thing is also done on 2nd February - Candlemas.
But for me it's the 6th of January, so the Christmas decorations are down. They actually came down yesterday. Oh no - the Christmas cards are still there! Not that we had many decorations this year because the very young were not here. They were on the German/Czech border where I think Christmas is done in a very traditional but different way. So here are just a few little foodie things about Twelfth Night.
Traditionally it was a day when people went wassailing. What is wassailing? Well it can be visiting houses, singing carols and offering a drink from the wassail bowl in return for gifts. Which is interesting because all of that seems to have been transferred either to Halloween or to pre Christmas. The second meaning of wassailing was to gather in apple orchards, recite incantations and sing songs to the tree to promote a good harvest later in the year. And in various parts of Britain they still do this.
Karen of the website Lavender and Lovage has a bit more detail about it all and also a recipe for a Wassail drink, of which she says:
"it’s basically a spiced hot cider that is fortified with port and sherry and is served with hot, baked apples."
Just right for a cold night out in an orchard.
The only other traditional food associated with Twelfth Night is the King Cake. I think I've done that before, but here is a particularly spectacular version of it from Mary Berry. I'm not giving a link because I doubt that any of us are going to give this particular cake a go. The cake under all that amazing decoration is a kind of fruit cake. What makes it special is what is buried in it. A bean. Yes a bean - and if you were the lucky person who found it you became king or queen for the day, because:
"On this day, the King and all those who ruled would become the peasants and vice versa. The Lord of Misrule took over, turning the world upside down."
There were less good things in the cake too - a clove meant you were a villain; a twig meant a fool and a rag meant a tarty girl. A twig and a rag? Hardly hygienic!
But I can't let the twelfth day of Christmas go by without at least a nod in the direction of the partridge and the pear tree, not that you are going to find many partridges in Australia. Well you can, of course, get them online and doubtless there are restaurants that serve them but they are not in your local supermarket. Anyway here are some examples - there are heaps - of partridges cooked with pears: Roast partridge and cinnamon pears with warm barley and roots salad from Mark Lloyd in Olive Magazine; Partridge with pears and Christmas stuffing from Galton Blackiston (what a name) on the Great British Chefs website; Roast partridge with pear and thyme/London Unattached; Partridge in a pear tree/Monica Galetti in The Independent and Partridge with pears and perry from House and Garden - that's the one at the bottom of the collage below and in many ways the most tempting looking.
I guess in lots of ways it's an obvious sort of combination. Game birds are often paired with fruit of some kind. Could you substitute a chicken I wonder? Well of course you could. Chicken is so basically bland that it will go with anything, but it wouldn't have quite the same effect as pairing a delicate fruit like pear with a robust meat like partridge. But not something I'm ever going to make I think.
And I just have to post this gorgeous looking variation on Poires Belle Hélène that I came across whilst looking for those partridge recipes. I thought the photograph was a true work of art. It's by Henry Harris in The Guardian. It looks stunning - if you've got the right plate and it's probably not that difficult to do either.
Happy Twelfth Night.