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Friday, 20 November 2009
HAPPY CHILDREN'S DAY!
“Every child comes with the message that God is not yet discouraged of man.” - Rabindranath Tagore
Today is Universal Children’s Day, as deemed by UNICEF and the General Assembly of the UN. By resolution 836(IX) of the 14th of December 1954, the General Assembly recommended that all countries institute a Universal Children’s Day, to be observed as a day of worldwide fraternity and understanding between children. It recommended that the Day was to be observed also as a day of various activities devoted to promoting the ideals and objectives of the Charter and to promote the welfare of children of the world. The Assembly suggested to governments that the Day be observed on the date and in the way which each considers appropriate. The date of 20th November, marks the day on which the Assembly adopted the Declaration of the Rights of the Child, in 1959, and the Convention of the Rights of the Child, in 1989.
While it may seem impossible to us nowadays not to recognise those years of youth when one was free to play with friends, be mischievous without any real adult culpability, and eat sweets and drink soft drinks until we became sick, the concept of childhood is relatively new. Before the 17th century, there was no real concept of childhood as such. Children were regarded as “little versions of adults” and were at the very bottom of the social pecking order (and therefore were unworthy of consideration). As the concept of childhood emerged, children developed distinctive dress, music, games and entertainment, slang, and behaviours. Today some believe that the boundaries of childhood culture have once again become blurred. Neil Postman, for example, argues in “The Disappearance of Childhood” that the media has broken down most of the distinctions between children and adults. This may to a certain extent be true, but we have not regressed to the point of sending children back down mine shafts because they are small and nimble, nor do we consider children as the lowest of the low in the social scale.
Seeing that it is Universal Children’s Day today but also Food Friday, what better choice of topic than confectionery? Confectionery is a processed food based on a sweetener (typically sugar or honey), to which are added other ingredients such as flavourings and spices, nuts, fruits, fats and oils, gelatine, emulsifiers, colourings, eggs, milk products, and chocolate or cocoa. Confectionery, usually called candy in the U.S., or sweets in Great Britain, can be divided into two kinds according to their preparation and based on the fact that sugar, when boiled, goes through different stages from soft to hard in the crystallisation process. Typical of soft (that is, crystalline candy) is a smooth, creamy, and easily chewed texture, examples of which are fondants (the basis of chocolate creams) and fudge. Typical of the hard, non-crystalline candies are toffees and caramels. Other favourite confections include nougats, marshmallows, the various forms of chocolate (bars or moulded pieces, sometimes filled), pastes and marzipan, fairy floss (spun sugar, cotton candy), sugar-coated popcorn, liquorice, and chewing gum.
Sugar cane and sugar probably originated in India and the first sugar-based sweets developed in that country. Sugar as a sweetener spread to the West via the Middle East and Arabia. The Arabic word for confectionery was qandi, from qand, a lump of cane sugar. It came down to us, virtually intact, through successive European languages: Old Italian (zucchero candi), Old French (sucre candi), Middle English (sugre candi). In the 1800s, Americans called it “sugar candy”. Now, it’s just candy, completing the journey back to its linguistic origins…
History tells us that confectionery was always considered a delectable food item, worthy enough to be used as an offering to the gods of ancient Egypt. Ancient Greeks had a sweet tooth and good honey being readily available, was widely used in making all sorts of confections. Honey remained as the only readily available sweetener in Europe until the introduction of sugar in medieval times. Among the oldest types of candies are liquorice and ginger from the Far East and marzipan from Europe. Candy-making did not begin on a large scale until the early 19th century, when with the development of special confectionery machinery it became a British specialty. In the U.S. the candy industry began to grow rapidly during the mid-19th century with the invention of improved machinery and a cheaper process for powdering sugar. In 1911 the first candy bars were sold in baseball parks; by 1960 candy bars made up almost half of U.S. confectionery production. By the 1980s annual world production of confectionery totalled many millions of kilograms.
Confectionery in general is deemed children’s food par excellence, just as toys in general are labelled for child’s play. However, adults lead the way in candy consumption, according to the National Confectioners Association, adults over age 18 consume 65 percent of all candy produced and marketed (it should be noted that considerable proportion of adults play children’s games too!). Candy, nevertheless, spans a wide variety of sugary, gooey, fruity, chewy, crystalline, and chocolaty confections, and different categories and types of candy are more suited for, and prone to either adult or childhood consumption. Obviously, there is common ground also and some confections are equally enjoyed by children and adults.
I am reading an excellent book by Tim Richardson called “Sweets – A History of Temptation”, which is great reading if you are interested in confectionery and how it developed from a ancient times to the present day. And to round the blog off, here is a recipe for some candy:
NO-COOKING FONDANT CHOCOLATES Ingredients
1/2 cup of unsalted butter
8 cups of pure icing sugar
1 can of sweetened condensed milk
1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
A few drops of different flavourings (e.g. cherry, orange, apricot, coconut, etc)
1/4 teaspoon salt
Various nuts, coconut, glacé cherries, candied peel, dried apricots, etc
Enough dark cooking chocolate to cover the fondants (about 800 g)
Line a couple of baking trays with waxed paper.
Combine the butter with 4 cups of sugar and the milk in a large bowl. Mix well, adding the vanilla extract and the salt.
Add the remaining sugar gradually, mixing with a wooden spoon and eventually kneading until the mixture is well blended.
Divide the mixture into as many parts as flavour you wish to have and mix into each batch a little of the appropriate colour, flavour and additive (e.g. red food colouring, cherry flavour and glacé cherries in the cherry fondants).
With clean, buttered hands form the mixture into small balls and place on the prepared baking tray. Allow to set for several hours (you may place in the refrigerator to hasten the process).
Melt the chocolate in a bain Marie. Using a dipping spoon, dip the prepared balls in the chocolate and allow to set at room temperature on the baking trays. Enjoy!
I have been blogging daily on this platform for several years now. It is surprising that I have persisted as the world is changing and "microblogging" is now the norm. I blog to amuse myself, make comment on current affairs, externalise some of my creativity, keep notes on things that interest me, learn something new and to surprise myself with things that I discover about this wonderful, and sometimes crazy, world we live in.
I sometimes get the impression that I am on a soapbox delivering a monologue, so your comments are welcome.