Friday, 1 January 2016


“I learned from my grandmother, who grew up in devastating war times, how important it is to keep with tradition and celebrate the holidays during tough times.” - Marcus Samuelsson

It’s time to think of the Twelfth Day of Christmas and the Twelfth Night, which is the night before that. This is because you will need to be suitably prepared! January the 5th is the 11th Day of Christmas and that evening is the Twelfth Night of Christmas: Tradition has it that Christmas celebrations are to end today and decorations should be taken down on this day.  However, a sprig of holly should be retained in the house to protect the occupants against lightning.

Twelfth Night celebrations were once very popular and traditionally, this night was one of the merriest in the Christmas season.  Twelfth Night parties were held everywhere, ostensibly to celebrate the arrival of the Magi in Bethlehem, however, many of the traditions surrounding the Night’s celebrations were pagan in origin. What better excuse therefore to have a party after the New Year’s Eve party? Have a Twelfth Night party! To do that, you need to prepare the cake, first!

A Twelfth Night cake was baked and a single bean was hidden in it.  The person who found it in his piece became the Bean King for the Night.  This tradition hails back to the Roman Saturnalia where a King was chosen by lot.  The bean was a sacred seed in ancient times.  A pea was sometimes baked in a cake in order to choose a Twelfth Night Queen, also.  These cakes have now merged with the tradition of the Christmas Cake and the Christmas Pudding (the latter which may contain the silver sixpence to determine the lucky one amongst its consumers: Compare this with the Vasilopitta the Greek New Year’s cake that contains the lucky coin).

At the Twelfth Night party, it was customary to draw cards, on which were represented certain stock pantomime-like characters, exemplifying humorous national traits, for example, Farmer Mangelwurzel, François Parlez-Vous and Patrick O’Tater.  People had to act out the part of their chosen character and also submit to the humorous “commands” of the Bean King. Much laughter, good humour, fine food and drink were expended on these occasions.

Ingredients (may be halved)
2          pounds butter (≈ 900 g)
2          pounds loaf sugar (≈ 900 g)
1          large nutmeg, grated
1/4     ounce (≈ 7 g) each of ground cinnamon, allspice, ginger, mace & coriander seed
18        eggs
1          gill (142 mL) brandy
2          pounds sifted flour (≈ 900 g)
4          pounds currants (1.8 kg)
1/2       pound chopped blanched almonds (≈ 225 g)
1/2       pound candied orange/lemon peel (≈ 225 g)
1/2       pound candied citron peel (≈ 225 g)
1/4       pound candied cherries, chopped (≈ 120 g)
1          bean (whole) and 1 pea (whole)
            Nuts, candied cherries to decorate


Put the butter in a warm pan and work it to a cream with your hand. Add the sugar and beat well to dissolve it, then add the spices finely ground. Break in the eggs one by one, beating well for at least twenty minutes. Stir in the brandy, the flour and work it in a little. Next add the fruit and nuts, mixing well. Put the mixture in a baking tin and put in the bean and pea in separate places. Bake in a slow oven for four hours and then ice it or decorate it according to your fancy.  The man who chances upon the slice with the bean would be the King of the Bean for the Twelfth Night, while the woman who chanced on the pea would be the Queen of the Pea. If a man found the pea, he could chose the queen, and vice versa for the woman who chanced upon the bean.

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