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 course, and there is no reason why you couldn’t perform this shiny magic on pecans, hazelnuts or Brazil nuts.
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.
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 raisins, placing them in a mound in the center of the platter.
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. Cook orange and grapefruit peels separately to retain flavor of each.
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.
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.
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 ten-centimeter ruler and make a mark on it, dividing it into two parts such as the fraction A/B is equal to the decimal fraction. When you get to the desert island, look at the lengths of A and B, compute the fraction, and the code for the entire encyclopaedia will be in front of you.
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.
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.
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 stone.
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.
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.
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 Umbrella of Chaos. When he opens it, the heavens and earth are wrapped in total darkness; when he turns it upside down, violent storms and earthquakes follow.
Mo-Li Hai (Sea) is represented with a four-stringed guitar; when he plays it, the entire universe stops to listen and the camps of the enemy burst into flame.
Mo-Li Shou (Age) carries two whips and a bag made of the skin of a panther in which he keeps a white rat, or a snake, Hua-hu Tiao by name, that has the power to assume the shape of a white man-eating elephant with wings.
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.
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 such legends as that of the golem and the dibbuk.
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.
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. To besiege a place means to sit down in front of it as if occupying a seat.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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 untrue.
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.”
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.