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Come October, most love to say that these last three months of the year are the best. Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas are some of the best times for celebrating. What better way to celebrate the upcoming holidays than with chocolate and who doesn’t love chocolate? Starting with Halloween, the sweet celebrations begin. As soon as October approaches, stores begin to not only sell Halloween candy but also Christmas decorations and a few sweets. You may say it’s too early but if you live in the UK and are a fan of chocolate, then it is tradition. This is because chocolate boxes and tins go on sale, and they are some of the most anticipated sweets of the holidays.
Now these are no ordinary chocolates. These beautiful sweets are colorfully wrapped and in random shapes and sizes. Much like a box of standard chocolates, each package will tell you what to expect in each chocolate, except you can pick whichever ones you like!
Quality Street is made by Nestle, identifiable by the purple box or tub. Quality Street was created after a man named Harold Mackintosh inherited his father John’s toffee factory after his death in 1936 and Harold revolutionized Christmas chocolates. In the early days, only the wealthy could originally afford Christmas chocolates since they were made with imported ingredients but with Mackintosh’s plan to use local ingredients, it lowered the prices of his chocolate and made Christmas chocolate affordable to everyone. His invention, Quality Street, is made in the original factory from 1936. In 1988, Nestle purchased the brand and has owned it ever since. In previous holiday seasons, Nestle has released entire single serve chocolate bars devoted to favorite flavors of Quality Street (like honeycomb crunch and even chocolate green triangle). There has even been a giant strawberry! Quality Street was named after a play written by Scottish playwright J.M. Barrie, who was mostly known for writing Peter Pan.
Cadbury Roses are the Cadbury equivalent of Quality Street, launched in 1938 to compete with the main brand of Christmas chocolate. The Roses name apparently comes from “Rose Brothers”. Cadbury Roses have only 10 varieties of chocolates.
Finally, another hit among chocolate lovers is the Cadbury Heroes. This is a mixture of Cadbury favorites like Dairy Milk, Fudge, Wispa, Dairy Milk Caramel, Twirl, Eclair, and Creme Egg Twisted. The best part of this is that they are all miniatures! These “fun sized” treats come in a range of sizes from small bags, to boxes, to large tubs.
All of these wonderful sweets are delicious and are enjoyed throughout generations. Their popularity is growing throughout the world so it’s no wonder it’s gaining attention here in the States. The tradition of Christmas chocolates have been well-established with British families and now American families can create new traditions with them. Try some today. You will wonder how your holidays ever did without!
The final Christmas blog of the year will reflect on Christmas traditions, comparing them side to side with Britain and the United States.
You may have heard of writing letters to Santa and popping them in the mail here in the US, and the United Kingdom does it as well, only they burn their letters by tossing them in the fireplace! You may think that’s a little absurd but it’s common! The British say the letters go up in the smoke and fly up to Father Christmas (aka Santa Claus) up in the North Pole much faster.
Christmas Crackers at dinner are some of the best things about Christmas! Ever since I learned about them, I have added them to my holiday traditions. They’re a little round tube wrapped up in Christmas paper and it looks like a big piece of candy (or large pack of edible crackers which I thought they were til I did my research). Inside is a few toys, a paper crown, and a little (yet corny) joke! In order to crack them open, two people must cross their arms with their right hand on their own cracker, left hand on their neighbor’s cracker and pull! A CRACK sound comes out, which is where the term Christmas Cracker comes from. Speaking of the paper crowns, one must wear the crown at dinner. It is believed to have originated from the Twelfth Night Celebrations, in which a king or queen was appointed to look over the proceedings.
I previously wrote about stocking stuffers but I forgot about where they go! In the US, we hang our stockings on the fireplace, usually when the house gets decorated for the holidays and Santa will usually fill them with treats and sweets if the children have been good. British children traditionally hang their stockings at the end of their beds! Father Christmas will then fill them while they are sleeping (that is, if they have been good).
Finally, American children always leave out cookies and milk (and maybe a few carrots) for Santa Claus for when he stops by and makes his present run. Store bought cookies like Oreos, Chips Ahoy, and other popular brands fly off the shelves or some make it themselves. For the British, that is unheard of. Instead, they leave out mince pies and a bit of sherry, since he is an adult after all!
From all of us at the English Tea Store, have a Merry Christmas! Tell us how your holidays were and how you celebrate!
When you have a holiday dinner, what is traditional at your table? For my family, it’s pretty similar to the food at Thanksgiving, except we have a ham and sometimes a turkey (with some delicious stuffing) since I have a sister who refuses to eat ham (thank the teacher in high school who scared her out of eating it). My family also changes the date quite often. Sometimes we’ll have it on Christmas Eve or on Christmas Day.
Much like the Americans, the British gather with their family and friends to celebrate the holidays and have a nice meal. It’s a bit different from the American Christmas dinner, only the dishes are slightly different. They have a roast turkey which can be covered with streaky bacon (or the bacon we know of in the US, the crispy bacon), along with the trimmings and side dishes of roasted potatoes (roasted with oil and some herbs whereas us Americans like to mash ours), and herb or chestnut stuffing. An unusual side that goes with dinner is pigs in a blanket, little sausages wrapped in bacon. In the US, they are more associated with football parties and other gatherings but is a savory part of the British Christmas dinner.
Then come vegetables. In the US, we’re well known for dishes like candied yams and green bean casserole. The yams are usually popular as they are plentiful at this time of year. Candied yams are made in various ways, like using brown sugar, cinnamon, and molasses or simply topping with marshmallows. Green bean casserole is easy to make and very satisfying. Made with cream of mushroom soup and topped with crunchy onions, it’s usually gone at my house! For the British, they enjoy roasted parsnips, mashed turnips (or as they’re called in the UK, suede). Then there is the brussel sprout. A popular dish for the British, it’s on many plates for the traditional Christmas dinner. It’s a common debate on whether people like them or not but for the ones who do, it’s a divine treat for their holiday dinner! Cooked in many ways.
To sauce things up are gravy, which can come from the drippings of the turkey or usually from a mix. Cranberry sauce is enjoyed with the turkey but not as widely as the US where millions of cans of the tart berry sauce are sold each year. In the UK, cranberry sauce is sold in a jar while the US comes in a can but two varieties, jellied or whole berry. It can also be made at home with fresh cranberries! Finally, bread sauce! Dating back to the medieval times, this is an oldie but goodie. Made with bread crumbs, cream, and other ingredients.
Don’t forget dessert! Christmas cake, puddings, and mince pies with a bit of brandy butter are plentiful along with hot cups of tea and mulled wine. Also plentiful is the warmth and spirit of the holidays from enjoying a lovely meal with loved ones.
What are your favorite holiday dishes and traditions?
Now I realize a lot of you will not be making your own Christmas cake, it seems to be a British tradition at Christmas, some people do and some do not, I think every household in the UK who make their own cake will have their own recipe for Christmas cake. I always make my own but not too early otherwise it tends to get eaten before Christmas day! Also I make a tester one just to make sure the main one is okay and it gives the family something to try.
You will need to start the night before by soaking your fruit in alcohol or cold tea, the amount of fruit you use will depend on how you like your cake, I like mine full but some of the family do not and most of my family do not like nuts! Sometimes the cook cannot win! This recipe makes either an 8″ deep square tin or 9″ shallow round tin.
So start by weighing out:
- 4 – 6 oz juicy apricots
- 2 – 4 oz glace cherries
- 4 – 6 oz sultanas
- 4 – 6 oz currants
- 4 – 6 oz raisins
- 2 – 4 oz pineapple pieces
Soak this in either a glass of alcohol, (depending on what you have use whiskey, rum, brandy or wine) or a cup of cold tea. This plumps up the fruit nicely if you leave it overnight.
Next we need the basic cake mixture :
- 10 oz butter
- 10 caster sugar or dark brown sugar
- 1 tablespoon golden syrup or black treacle
- 5 eggs
- 12 oz plain flour
- 1 teaspoon mixed spice or ground ginger
- 4 or 5 ounces nuts if liked
- 4 oz candied peel if liked
- a few drops of vanilla essence
Cream the butter and the sugar together until light and fluffy then add the beaten egg, vanilla essence and syrup or treacle. Fold in the flour and mixed spice using a figure of eight movement. Finally add the fruit, nuts and candied peel if using and stir in gently.
Put your cake mixture in a greased and lined tin and cook for 1 1/2 hours at 325 F or 170 C or gas mark 3, then cover the top with foil and lower the oven to 300 F or 150 C or gas mark 1-2 for a further 2 – 2 1/2 hours.
Leave the cake in the tin until completely cold. Then transfer to a wire rack. If you want a nice moist cake on Christmas day then you can add some extra alcohol on a weekly basis between now and Christmas Eve when we will be putting the marzipan on and icing it, by pricking the base of the cake all over with a skewer and adding liquid with a teaspoon.
Store in an airtight tin until needed.
Once Halloween is over, the holiday season begins to quickly creep faster and faster upon us! With Thanksgiving being nearly forgotten about thanks to the anticipation leading up to “Black Friday” and people’s impatience go shopping for Christmas gifts so early, it adds more excitement to the holidays. While new traditions are born as the years go by, some will stay the same for generations to come.
Advent is a Christian tradition, which begins on the fourth Sunday before Christmas and begins the church’s year. It is closest to the Feast Day of St. Andrew the Apostle. It is believed the word Advent is derived from Latin, which means “the coming”. Advent Calendars generally do not follow the Advent waiting period but instead begin on December 1st and ending on Christmas Eve.
Before the Advent Calendars, people would count down to Christmas by lighting candles or crossing days off their own calendars. The calendars everyone knows with the chocolate originally started in Germany back in the 1800s, when one opened a small door and revealed a picture which were based from the Hebrew Bible, from December 1-24 (sometimes til December 31st, for New Year’s). This tradition soon spread throughout Europe and North America and now there are different kinds of Advent Calendars. While they still conceal a picture, there is usually a small surprise inside, like a piece of chocolate or other sweet.
Advent Calendars are still popular gifts to give to loved ones, big or small and teaches children to be patient when it comes to waiting for the big day when Santa Claus (or Father Christmas in the UK) makes his stop!
With December coming to a close, the frantic holiday rush picks up and it’s hard to find a good time to wind down and relax with a good cup of tea. My seasonal picks for the month of December from the English Tea Store are sure to delight and soothe even some of the most frazzled holiday preppers.
For a good holiday tea to entertain your guests who enjoy tea, English Tea Store’s Holiday Spice is a must. The spicy flavors and a hint of orange will take you into the spirit of the holidays along with a burst of energy to keep you going. I enjoy my cup without milk and a hint of sweet.
For those in the mood for some mint flavor, you are in for a treat! The English Tea Store chocolate mint tea is a good pick-me-up. At first, I thought chocolate tea was not my thing and I am a huge chocolate lover but I felt not in tea. Once I opened up my bag, however, I was in heaven. A minty chocolate scent burst up to my nose and I thought to myself, This is tea? I immediately brewed my cup in anticipation, sweetener and milk nearby. I expected it to taste a little bit like a peppermint mocha and it does, but not as strong as I thought it would be. Milk made the flavors more subtle yet. Delicious.
Finally, my favorite is the peppermint tea. If you have never tried peppermint tea, you must. Fine tea leaves allow room for minty flavor in your cup. It’s good any time of day, even before bed since it’s caffeine free! Plain sweetener is just fine but some honey is also good for more natural sweetness. I like to mix both. If you like peppermint with a caffeinated kick, I would suggest the Stash White Christmas tea if you order it before it’s gone. It has not only peppermint but a bit of ginger in it.
I hope you join me again next month for January’s tea roundup. In the meantime, I wish you all a Merry Christmas and Season’s Greetings!
Boxing Day is actually a holiday in the Commonwealth nations, including the UK and Canada. It is considered a bank holiday, so many buildings like the banks and post offices are closed that day. It is also said to give people an extra day to spend with family and friends who they were unable to be with on Christmas Eve or Day and to recover from the holiday festivities. The origins of Boxing Day are mixed. Some say it was a Christmas box given to servants by a household for working during the year, others say it was created by servants who had to work on the Christmas holiday. The British use the holiday to kick back and relax from all the Christmas festivities, especially with all the hard work of spending so much time getting ready. When I was a child, Christmas was way more fun when I didn’t have to help set up or help clean up, but it IS more for the children in my family.
In Canada, Boxing Day is more of a shopping day, often compared to the US’ Black Friday in November. Retailers open back up and post sales, but there is also a rise in gift returns for the people who did not like what they received. The sales are mostly to get rid of the stuff from what they didn’t sell from the holiday season. I always find the best deals after the holidays, sad to say!
Talking about shopping and relaxing is making me want to go have a nice cup of peppermint tea and take a nap. I shall sign off to go celebrate the holidays with my family but I will see you all in the New Year! It’s been a hectic December and I do hope you have a lovely holiday. Post your pictures and tell us your holiday traditions to our Facebook page or on here in the comments! Happy Holidays from us to you!
This is basically a recipe for a sherry trifle but you can adapt it to your own taste. The layers are simply soaked cake, fruit, custard, and whipped cream. So you will need;
8 Sponge Boudoir Fingers or 4 small buns (sponge or pound cake)
2 tablespoons of sherry
Jelly of your choice, I used pineapple
1 small tin of fruit of your choice, I used sliced pineapples
Ready made custard/pudding OR 1-1/2 tablespoons of custard powder + 3/4 pint of milk + 2 tablespoons sugar
1 pint of fresh double cream (heavy)
Make up the jelly using 1/2 pint of boiling water and top up with 1/2 pint of cold water (or a the juice from the tin of fruit with water to bring to 1/2 pint). Cover the sponge pieces with the fruit, in my case pieces of pineapple. When the jelly is cool pour gently over the fruit and sponge and leave to set. Meanwhile make the custard and leave it to cool.
If you are making your own custard, blend the custard powder and sugar with a little milk and then add the remaining milk and microwave on full power for two mins. Stir and microwave for another two mins. Pour some cream on the top of the custard completely covering the top and leave to set. By pouring cream on top you prevent a skin forming.
When the jelly is set mix the custard and cream together and pour the custard on top of the jelly. At this point you can keep the trifle in the ‘fridge for a few days. Just before you want to serve whip the double cream up and spread on top of the custard and sprinkle hundreds and thousands on the top.
Over the recent years, I have been learning new Christmas traditions and rituals in other parts of the world, particularly the UK. In one of my recent posts, I talked about Christmas crackers which was something new to me. Growing up in California, Christmas was a totally different thing. For one, we didn’t have snow unless we went up to the mountains and the ski resorts, so our holidays were usually perfectly sunny and clear or gray and rainy. With my dad being from Mexico and having spent a Christmas one year with his relatives, we celebrated Christmas on Christmas Eve with tamales until midnight on Christmas day when we got to open our presents. Then after the births of my nieces and nephews, we started doing Christmas presents late in the day instead of the morning because we waited for my oldest sister to arrive from her husband’s family’s traditions. We switched up the days we did Christmas. Some years it was Christmas Eve, other years it was Christmas Day. Usually it depended on the circumstances of my oldest sister.
In today’s post as a part of my holiday series, I’m going to talk about traditions. My family doesn’t have an entirely regular tradition but at least we all try to get together for the holidays. I’m trying to incorporate more tradition into my life, like eat tamales, try to watch A Christmas Story and Elf at least once a year, and to try something new, like the Christmas Crackers which the nieces and nephews really enjoyed.
While people in the US have their own traditions and customs, the British have something a little more different. The British call Santa Claus “Father Christmas” who will leave presents in stockings or pillow cases at the ends of the beds, by the beds of the children, or by the fireplace in homes. Instead of the standard milk and cookies left out for Father Christmas, he gets a nice brandy and mince pie. Letters are written to Father Christmas but instead of being put to the post, they are tossed into the fireplace where the smoke is drifted to Father Christmas so he can read them. The people of Britain also send Christmas cards, buy gifts, sing carols. The Queen delivers a Christmas Day message to the Commonwealth broadcast from her home reflecting on the year gone by.
Another thing the British and Americans have in common is that nearly everyone bakes and eat goodies for the holidays. While the Americans make Christmas cookies, fudge, and peppermint bark, the British celebrate the holidays with mince pies, Christmas puddings, and the Christmas cake. Today I will talk about the mince pie. In the US, these are relatively unknown but huge in Britain. A mince pie nowadays consists of candied peels, vine fruits like currant and sultanas, which is a type of raisin in Britain, and apples inside a pastry crust. These are the most common ingredients inside the mincemeat. You can enjoy them hot or cold and you can either make them yourself (a lovely recipe here on our very own blog and get the mincemeat here or even try these.
Mince pies originally had various chopped meats in them, hence the name mincemeat pie. It is believed mince pies were made to use to use up leftovers in the 16th century in order to keep the meat supply going but over the years, the recipes have been adjusted to what people know today. The pies were originally oblong in shape to represent the cradle of the Christ but they are round today and the meat has been omitted.
Next time I will discuss Christmas cake and Christmas pudding.