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Sunday, December 21, 2014

The Christmas Truce

Gather round everyone I want to tell you a story. It's the story of The Finest Christmas Dinner in the World by Francis Schroeder.

About ten o'clock on Christmas Eve, some five or six middle aged men, one or two of whom walked with canes, would cross the court and climb the narrow oak stairs to the green door with the brass knocker that marked Mr. Cockburn's flat. (pronounced Coburn) In later years they generally brought a few younger men with them...

There would be a clean cloth and a miniature Christmas tree on the gate-leg table. A decanter of sherry and some biscuits on the sideboard, and some sprigs of holly tucked behind the framed engraving of Lord Blackstone. There was always a coal fire in the grate and the brass work gleemed like gold. Mr. Cockburn's dinner jacket was a bit greenish at the elbows, but he bustled about hospitably.

The young men warmed their tails at the fire, sipped the sherry, and generally longed acutely for a really dry martini, ice cold, at the Savoy. The older men talked about the weather, and good old Stanley Baldwin, until Mr. Cockburn produced a chafing dish, polished as brightly as the fender, and some rounds of toasted French bread, and served the following dish:

3 cups boiled rice
1-8oz. can American salmon
4 med. onions, chopped
2 small German cervelat sausages, sliced thin
1/2 wineglass brandy
1 tbs. butter
1 cup water
salt, pepper, dry mustard to taste

Mr. Cockburn dressed the chafing dish carefully, then simmered the whole thing until it was the consistency of a thick stew, and served it to his guests on the toasted bread.

The young men approached this mess manfully, and as they ate, they heard a story. It was always the same story, and it came in snatches first from one, and then from another of the older men. It was the story of the Christmas Truce of 1916

That story has since been told and printed many times. It happened along the Somme, scene of some of the bitterest trench warfare of the entire war. The week before Christmas the interminable rains seemed to stop. The weather was cold, but clear. The wind, as usual was from the East, blowing from Germany toward France.

Nobody knows just how it started. Some say it was the sound of some Bavarian troops singing Christmas carols on the fire step. Others say it was a single foolhardy soldier who climbed on the parapet with his arms full of cigarettes. At all events, suddenly like wildfire it spread up and down the lines.

Laughing, shouting, men went over the top barehanded, to meet at the wire and help each other through. For mile after mile the flicker of lighting matches gleamed like fireflies the length of No Man's Land. There was considerable clinking of canteen cups. For a little while it seemed as though the High Commands would have to give up the war.

Gerald Cockburn was 40 even then, a messenger attached to the Royal Engineers. He happened to be in the front lines on Christmas Eve delivering some sealed orders to a company commander, when the Christmas Truce caught up with him.

What's all the bloody row?" said the young Captain looking up from his dugout table, and the next thing they were both in the thick of it. Gerald Cockburn found himself squatting on the edge of a shell hole with his back against a willow stump. A morose Irish corporal was scouring the inside of a trench helmet carefully balancing it on a fire built on a tin can. A pimply faced German boy was excitedly waving a string of sausages. Somebody had a bottle of brandy, somebody else had a handful of rice. Cockburn remembered four onions in his greatcoat pocket, and there was plenty of bread. When the stew was half ready, a passer-by proffered a tin of plum and apple jam, but the German objected to this violently and he was supported.

The Christmas Truce didn't last long, of course. In two or three hours word got back that the war was getting out of hand, and from miles back, on both sides, the heavy howitzers opened up. It never happened again, and we're fighting a very different kind of German today. Still Mr. Cockburn and his friends continued to hold their Christmas party, and tell the story of the Christmas Truce over again, remaining heavily humorous about the manufacture of their special stew. The young men generally finished their plates and enjoyed it. For there was another spirit beside the brandy in Mr. Cockburn's dinner, the spirit of Christmas.

This article was found in the December 1943 issue of American Cookery Magazine; editor Imogene Wolcott. For some reason, it seems my issue has been misplaced for the time being. According to my notes, the year stated in the article is 1916 but I have to wonder whether this was a typo as the year cited in most internet articles is 1914.

There will be one more Cookbook Wednesday posting this week. I suppose I got my days, weeks mixed up:) I totally understand if everyone is doing the holiday hustle and bustle and will not be able to join us for Cookbook Wednesday. It will be the last Cookbook Wednesday for a while unless of course, you "guys" would prefer it goes on. It is most certainly up for a vote, lol...Louise 

Resources
1. The Christmas Truce
2. Operation Plum Puddings
3. Christmas Truce @ The History Channel
4. The Christmas Truce

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Cookbook Wednesday | An Old Fashioned Christmas

By the time you’re done reading today’s Cookbook Wednesday post, my Christmas cards and gifts should be on the way to their destinations; hopefully. I have no one to blame but myself. I’ve been a slacker lately. Well, kinda. Actually, I’ve been “playing” in the kitchen, trying to learn how to add some pizazz to this blog of mine for the new year (a new font would be nice) and just plain ol’ being lazy! It seems my sparks are flying in so many directions I can’t keep my mind on just one thing. This too shall pass:)

Let’s talk about An Old Fashioned Christmas published by the folks at Time-Life Books in 1997. I’m a huge fan of Time-Life Books and believe me when I tell you, this book does not disappoint. Just look at this Table of Contents.

Pretty impressive, don’t you think? This book has all a girl could ask for and then some. The tone of the book sings deck the halls with decorations, crafts and of course festive foods. I had a difficult time choosing what to highlight out of this wonderful book especially since Bellefonte, the first place I lived when I moved to Pennsylvania, just celebrated their 33rd Annual Victorian Christmas. I only live about 20 minutes away but I just didn’t make it this year. Harry’s wife Ruth told me it was an experience right out of Charles Dickens.

There are wonderful chapters on both Pennsylvania Celebrations and Victorian Celebrations in An Old Fashioned Christmas but, I’ll need to share them another time. Today I’d like to share a few pages in the book dedicated to Louis Prang, a German immigrant who came to America in 1850, who is often referred to as the “Father of the American Christmas Card.”

It’s widely accepted that the first Christmas card was printed in London in 1843, when Sir Henry Cole hired artist John Calcott Horsley to design a holiday card that he could send to his friends. But it was Boston-based printer Louis Prang who introduced the Christmas card to the American public…Prang published his first Christmas cards for the American market in 1875. Their popularity was immediate. By 1881, he was reportedly printing five million Christmas cards a year. Prang’s earliest cards were simple flower designs with the words “Merry Christmas.” Later cards often featured more traditional holiday motifs, some of which were adorned silk fringe, cords and tassels.(New York Historical Society)
Louis Prang, one of the founders of the Dixon Ticonderoga Company, was born in 1824 in Breslau, Silesia (present day Poland). He studied printing and dyeing techniques in Bohemia before immigrating to America in 1850. Prang developed a four-color printing process known as chromolithography in the 1860s. Prang's system was the first workable system to reproduce color in print. He used chromolithography to reproduce great works of art for classroom use. Prang set up a workshop in Boston, Massachusetts in 1860 and began to produce the first colored cards. Most of his business at first was to reproduce masterworks of art and maps for use in classrooms.
…It was the American public’s fascination with Civil War territory disputes, battles and troop movements coupled with the lack of newspapers’ ability to print photographic images which provided Prang with a unique opportunity to put his skills to use. He manufactured some of the first mass produced maps with red and blue lines, which illustrated troop movements and positions of opposing forces on the battlefields. It allowed those on the home-front to track troop advances and retreats through victories and defeats throughout the war…(Louis Prang, "Father of the American Christmas Card" Presented by the Sandusky Library, Sandusky, Ohio

Mr. Prang's greeting cards ranged in prices from 50 cents to $15 each (remember this was the 1800s). Here’s more of his story from the pages of An Old Fashioned Christmas.

It just wouldn’t be Cookbook Wednesday without a recipe now would it? There are oh so many recipes to choose from in the Holiday Baking section. I finally decided on this recipe for Sweet Potato Swirl Bread. It’s swirled with cocoa!

Doesn’t it look yummy?

If you would like to see more of Mr. Prang’s work, the Boston Public Library has over 1,400 pictures on their flickr pages. That’s where I found this cute little girl holding Holly dated between 1861-1897.

Next week will be the last week for Cookbook Wednesday for this year. I have joined the Linky website for future linky parties so be prepared for a few blog hops in the future:) If you would like to share a cookbook for Cookbook Wednesday, we would love to have you join us. Just grab the logo and enter below. Louise

Resources
1. Prang & Co's Art Publishing House in Roxbury, Mass in 1873
2. Printer Louis Prang Issued 'Checks’
3. A Prang Christmas Chromolithograph
4. World’s oldest mass-produced Christmas card in SMU collection