I know it’s only November, but Christmas is now visible on the horizon and for any of you folks, like me, who send gifts abroad to family and friends forward thinking, planning and then making activity are now in full swing. Last recommended posting dates for surface mail are flying past as I write and the airmail dates are looming, and as I like to make gifts such as sweets or preserves I am already busy in the kitchen in my spare time.
I have just made this coffee and hazelnut fudge – a test run – and it looks good and is more interesting and flavoursome than regular fudge. This year I’m also going to try and find a traditional recipe for panforte. This Italian speciality is a rich, nutty sweetmeat from Siena and is thought to date from the 13th century.
Gift giving is such an integral part of being human, and, at Christmas, it is also uplifting to know you are on the long continuum of Christmas traditions and rituals.
And, now for a little explanation of the top picture. It is an illustration from a 14th century manuscript held at the Bodleian Library, Oxford, and shows ‘Mummers’. The medieval mumming traditions include entertaining stories of death and re-birth and the triumph of good over evil enacted by disguised/masked participants. Although mumming had been a 13th century village, folk activity, by the 14th century more elaborate and sophisticated mummers’ plays were incorporated into the Christmas celebrations at the English Court of Edward III. This depiction of Mummers comes from ‘The Romance of Alexander’ a text in French verse illustrated by the Flemish illuminator Jehan de Grise. You can see all the pages from the manuscript at the Bodleian Library online and a brilliant enlargeable photo of this specific manuscript page MS. Bodley 264, fol. 21v