The most elaborate sugarplum variation dates from the nineteenth-century Czarist Russia and has nothing whatever to do with fruit. Take the largest walnuts you can find, and without shelling them, dip each carefully in lightly beaten egg white and cover with gold leaf. Let dry on a rack and hang on the Christmas tree with gold threads or wire. You could do the same with silver leaf, of...
The original sugarplums were made in Portugal of fresh black figs or green plums, cooked and recooked for days on end in ever-thickening sugar syrups, to produce a sort of glaceed fruit. Prunes, figs, dates and other dried fruits are now prepared as sugarplums. All can be wrapped in plain or colored foil, to be hung on the tree, or given as small gifts. Visions of Sugarplums by Mimi Sheraton,...
A Christmas custom from medieval England and meant for the intrepid… most effective in a darkened room. Place a handful of blanched almonds and clusters of seedless raisins on a heavy china platter. Heat one cup of brandy, pour over platter and ignite. Guests must snatch raisins and almonds one at a time from between flames. Dried prunes, apricots, figs or dates can be substituted for...
Candied Fruit Peel
4 large grapefruit or 6 navel oranges 3 1/4 cups sugar 2 teaspoons powdered ginger (optional) Cook 2 1/2 cups sugar in 1 1/4 cups boiling water until a light syrup forms. Add ginger and grapefruit or orange peels (remove membranes but leave white underskin) and stir through syrup. Simmer for 40 minutes and place on wax paper. Dredge with sugar and cover. Let dry overnight. ...
This creamy chocolate confection is named for the dark-skinned Balthazar, the Ethiopian Wise Man who brought the gift of myrrh to the Christ Child. Gaspar and Melchior, the other Magi, apparently have not inspired any Christmas recipes. Ingredients: semisweet chocolate, walnuts, confectioners sugar, rum, grated orange rind & egg whites. Visions of Sugarplums by Mimi Sheraton, 1968.
The whimsical sugar-frosted fantasy is believed to have been invented by Jakob Grimm in the eighteenth century when he wrote of the Hexenhauschen (witch’s house) in the tale of Hansel and Gretel. Althought it is a German creation, it is equally popular throughout Northern Europe and the United States. Visions of Sugarplums by Mimi Sheraton, 1968.
Epiphany Jam Tart
Jams of all colors create the effect of stained glass in this Victorian specialty. Ingredients: flour, salt, sugar, cinnamon, butter, eggs, hard-boiled egg yolks, milk, grated lemon rind, different colored thick jams (prune, strawberry, raspberry, gooseberry, orange marmalade, quince, pineapple preserves, damson, greengage plum, etc). Visions of Sugarplums by Mimi Sheraton, 1968.
Gingerbread Layer Cake
Filled with clouds of whipped cream, this cake was Abraham Lincoln’s favorite Christmas dessert. Ingredients: honey, ginger, cinnamon, cloves, flour, baking powder, salt, butter, baking soda, brown sugar, grated lemon rind, egg, buttermilk, whipped cream, grated orange rind, grated semi-sweet chocolate. Visions of Sugarplums by Mimi Sheraton, 1968.
Dictionaries, Desert Islands and Fractions
Problem: You’d like to move to a desert island and take your set of encyclopaedia along with you. There is no power on the island. How can you carry the entire set in your pocket? Solution: Assign each letter, symbols and space in the encyclopedia a code number from 001 to 999. Write down the immense number and place a decimal point at the front to become a decimal fraction. Take a...
Manito, or Manitou, was the Algonquian name for the spirit or force that pervades all nature, being either good or evil. Manito in one form or another, and under other names, was a concept believed in by virtually every Indian tribe. Manito was not thought of as a formal personality, and its nature is indicated by such equivalent names for it as Great Spirit, Great Mystery, and Master of Life. ...
The White Lady of Ireland.
Another household spirit of Irish and Highland Scotch families was the banshee. This spirit was noteworthy for becoming so attached to a particular family that it would wail grievously at the death of one of its members. The banshee sometimes is called the White Lady of Ireland. Irish Legends, Myths and Legends of All Nations by Herbert Spencer Robinson and Knox Wilson, 1960.
Baba (Baba Yaga, Baba Jaga) was a horrible old witch in Slavonic mythology and folklore. Represeted as an ogress, she was noted for her cannibalistic habits. Hideous, bony, long-nosed, with hair disheveled, she rode through the air on an iron mortar propelled by a pestle. According to some versions, Sun, Day, and Night were her servants. She had a magic cudgel which turned living beings into...
Freya and Brisingamen
Freya (or Freyja), sister of Frey, was the Norse goddess of love and the art of healing. She owned and was very proud of a brilliant necklace, Brisingamen, that broke into pieces when she was angry. Brisingamen was forged by four dwarfs, to each of whom the goddess had given herself in order to secure the dazzling trinket. Norse Legends, Myths and Legends of All Nations by Herbert Spencer...
The Gorgons, horrible monsters, were three in number, according to Hesiod (Homer only mentions one): Stheno and Euyale, who were immortal, and Medusa, who was mortal. Horrible even in Hell, to see them was to be turned to stone. Their dwelling-place was on the farthest shore of Ocean. Greek Legends, Myths and Legends of All Nations by Herbert Spencer Robinson and Knox Wilson, 1960.
The Four Diamond Kings
Mo-Li Ch’ing (Pure) is twenty-four feet high, has a magic sword called Blue Cloud, a spear and a lovely jade ring. When he waves the sword, it brings a black wind that produces thousands of spears to pierce men’s bodies. After the wind comes a fire and the air is thick with thousands of gold snakes. Mo-Li Hung (Vast) carries a pearl umbrella endowed with spiritual powers - the...
Ganesha & Wisdom
Ganesha is the god of wisdom and prudence and of good luck. He is represented as a stout god, in human form, with the head of an elephant, noted for its wisdom. Ganesha is also the god who brings success, who removes difficulties; hence he is invoked at the outset of any activity or undertaking. Indian Legends, Myths and Legends of All Nations by Herbert Spencer Robinson and Knox Wilson, 1960.
Ishim & Snow Angels
The angels of wrath and anger are wholly of fire; but another group called Ishim is composed half of fire and half of snow. Hebrew Legends, Myths and Legends of All Nations by Herbert Spencer Robinson and Knox Wilson, 1960.
Cabala & Golems
In the later Middle Ages, a body of esoteric knowledge which had been accumulated in the course of 2000 years by mystically minded Jews, came to exercise considerable influence on Jewish legends. This lore, gathered together in the Cabala, pictured a shadowy world haunted by unspeakable demons, specters, ghosts and dibbukim (transmigrating souls), and out of these cabalistic superstitions came...
Thoth was the registrar and recorder of the underworld in which he dwelt. He kept the accounts of the weight of each soul and handed them to the great judge of the dead, Osiris. He was a god of learning and wisdom, the inventor of many branches of art and science, and a master of magic. Egyptian Legends, Myths and Legends of All Nations by Herbert Spencer Robinson and Knox Wilson, 1960.
The seat at King Arthur’s Round Table always kept empty for the one knight fit to occupy it. No one else could occupy it on pain of death. Neither the King nor his knights knew who the chosen knight would be… The knight who later occupied the seat was Sir Galahad. The word ‘siege’ used in this story and the ‘siege’ of a town or fortress are really the same. ...
Heraldic term for a pike, i.e., the fish. A Dictionary of Chivalry by Grant Uden, 1969.
A particularly interesting type of gauntlet was the so-called “forbidden gauntlet”, invented in the 16th century to prevent the weapon being knocked or forced out of the user’s grip. A plate projecting over the fingers could be locked, by means of a hole, to a metal knob on the wrist. A Dictionary of Chivalry by Grant Uden, 1969.
Type of burning pot hurled against buildings or into the opposing ranks, filled with mixtures of sulphur, nitre and naphtha. It is supposed to have been invented by the Greeks. A Dictionary of Chivalry by Grant Uden, 1969.
Protective armour for a horse’s neck, often of over-lapping plates to allow free movement. A Dictionary of Chivalry by Grant Uden, 1969.
A fabulous beast, half bird, half serpent, sometimes found in heraldry. It has barbed wings, a cock’s head, spurs on its legs and a spiked tail. A Dictionary of Chivalry by Grant Uden, 1969.
Leg and foot armour, like long stockings of mail. A Dictionary of Chivalry by Grant Uden, 1969.
Thought to have originated when a king of Siam presented a white elephant, regarded as sacred by certain cultists, to a courtier upon whom the king wished to confer financial ruin. Only trouble is, there’s no evidence that any king of Siam ever did any such thing. The Dictionary of Misinformation by Tom Burnam, 1975.
New York Subway doors
Even many New Yorkers, who should know better, believe that their subway trains won’t start unless all doors are completely closed; an alleged safety feature. Of course this is not so; people can be, and sometimes are, caught in a door and dragged away, with consequences not pleasant to dwell upon. The Dictionary of Misinformation by Tom Burnam, 1975.
Spelling and F. Scott Fitzgerald
Spelling is no indicator of intelligence, or even of literacy and skill. F. Scott Fitzgerald, among many other notable writers, was a very bad speller… Writing derives from speech, and spelling is simply an attempt to capture the sound of a word through conventional symbols. But no two people sound a word exactly the same way. The Dictionary of Misinformation by Tom Burnam, 1975.
This material is not made from rice, but the pith of a tree called the rice-paper tree, a small Asiatic tree of the ginseng family. The Dictionary of Misinformation by Tom Burnam, 1975.
Petrified Wood and Medusa
The wood itself does not turn to stone. Rather, the minerals in the water infiltrate the wood and replace the wood cells, which act as a sort of mold. But no organic material “turns to stone,” in spite of what the Greeks said Medusa could do. The Dictionary of Misinformation by Tom Burnam, 1975.
Penny vs. Cent
Officially, there is no such coin; to the United States goverment and its mints, it’s legally a “cent.” The Dictionary of Misinformation by Tom Burnam, 1975.
Contrary to popular belief, owls can see in the daytime; some, in fact, do their hunting primarily during the day. Most of them do hunting at night, but the reason is that they depend upon stealth instead of speed; also, their main prey, mice and rats, are more active at night. The Dictionary of Misinformation by Tom Burnam, 1975.
Nightmares and Specters
The “mare” derives from Old English mara, or a specter which, it was said, perched itself on the breast of a sleeper and deprived him or her of motion and sleep. The Dictionary of Misinformation by Tom Burnam, 1975.
Nice / Nescius
Deriving from the Latin nescius, “ignorant” (from nescire, “not to know”), its meaning in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries commonly was “foolish” or “wanton.” To refer to someone as a “nice person” was no compliment in Chaucer’s day. The Dictionary of Misinformation by Tom Burnam, 1975.
Money and Evil
“Money is the root of all evil” should read, “For the love of money is the root of all evil.” That’s what Paul wrote to Timothy in 1 Tim. 6:10. There is a difference. The Dictionary of Misinformation by Tom Burnam,1975.
Chess and Mathematicians
Chess is a game of strategy and tactics, neither of which really plays much, if any, part in mathematics. The Dictionary of Misinformation by Tom Burnam, 1975.
The term mandarin is not Chinese nor does it spring from Chinese. It is, rather, ultimately from Sanskrit, one of a family of ancient languages not related to Chinese. The Dictionary of Misinformation by Tom Burnam, 1975.
Kremlin / Citadel
Moscow has a Kremlin, but so do many other Russian cities. In Russian the word signifies a citadel or fortress originally designed to protect the inner city from marauders. The Dictionary of Misinformation by Tom Burnam, 1975.
Juggernaut / Jagannath
Jagannath (Lord of the World) is one of the Krishna reincarnations of Vishnu. His temple is situated at Puri in Orissa, India… Legend has it that many fanatical devotees threw themselves under the wheels of his forty-five foot high cart to be voluntarily crushed, thinking they would be thus freed from the cycle of birth and rebirth. However, this was not part of the ritual and it is...
Jordan almonds have nothing to do with either the river or the country called Jordan. They come from Spain; the name is a corruption of the Middle English jardin almande, jardin being the French word for “garden.” The Dictionary of Misinformation by Tom Burnam, 1975.
Jerusalem Artichoke / Girasole Articiocco
This plant has nothing to do with Jersusalem nor artichokes. The name is a corruption of the Italian girasole articiocco, or “Sunflower artichoke.” The so-called Jerusalem artichoke does, in fact, belong to the sunflower family. The Dictionary of Misinformation by Tom Burnam, 1975.
It’s not from India; never was. It’s from China, and really ought to be called China ink. As a matter of fact, that’s what it is called - in France. The Dictionary of Misinformation by Tom Burnam, 1975.