Throughout history, winter solstice festivals have been held across the world to celebrate the changing seasons and to mark the longest night of the year and rebirth of the Earth. Interestingly, it is these solstice rituals that mark the origin of baking cookies and treats for holiday festivities such as Christmas.
Since it was often necessary to feast before the winter famine, the solstice celebrations tended to revolve around food. In addition, the festivities and food often had an emphasis on the Earth itself and tended to incorporate natural foods such as nuts, berries, and spices.
How long have we been baking holiday treats?
In an article, The Medieval History of the Christmas Cookie Stephanie Butler mentions that by the Middle Ages, these solstice feasting traditions were being taken over by Christmas celebrations in much of present day Europe. Around this time, Christmas baking started to include traditional Christmas spices like nutmeg, cinnamon and ginger as well as dried exotic fruits including citron, apricots and dates.
Butler adds that ingredients like sugar, lard and butter would have been prized as expensive delicacies by medieval families which led to a baking bonanza on special occasions such as Christmas. Unlike pies or cakes, cookies and treats could be easily shared and given to friends and neighbors and thus began the ritual of baking Christmas cookies and treats.
Recipe for Gingerbread and Cranberry Chocolate Cups
This recipe is inspired by Pheebsfoods and makes 12 delicious, healthy treats which can be enjoyed as part of holiday celebrations or packaged and shared as special gifts. Unlike cranberries and ginger, goji berries are not traditional Christmas food but they add to the festive red colour of the filling. However, if you don’t have any on hand, they can be replaced with something like dried cherries, blueberries or even more cranberries.
- 8 medjool dates (soak in boiling water for 10 mins)
- 1/2 cup roasted almonds
- 1/2 cup shredded coconut
- 1/2 cup almond meal
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 1 tsp ginger powder
- 1/2 tsp cinnamon
- Pinch of salt
- 1 cup dried cranberries
- 1 cup shredded coconut
- 1/2 cup goji berries
- 2 tbsp almond meal
- 2 tbsp brown rice syrup
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 250g white, milk or dark chocolate (vegan)
1. For the base layer, drain the dates and place them along with the roasted almonds, shredded coconut, almond meal, vanilla, spices and salt into a food processor and blend until a sticky dough forms. Press this mixture evenly into the base of a muffin tin about 1/3 the way up and place into the fridge.
2. Place all middle layer ingredients into the food processor and blend until sticky and press this mixture into the cups leaving a small amount of space at the top of each for chocolate.
3. Melt the chocolate and divide amongst the cups, place into the fridge for an hour or overnight before removing them. (I used silicone muffin cups which made the chocolate cups easy to extract.)
What are Goji Berries?
The goji berry is a bright orange-red berry that comes from a shrub native to China and they have been eaten for generations in the hope of promoting long life. Goji berries have been branded as a “superfood,” and can be eaten raw, cooked, or dried (like raisins) and are most used in baking, herbal teas, juices, wines, and medicines.
Goji berries are rich in nutrients and early studies found possible benefits that include a boost to the immune system, better athletic performance, weight loss, improved sleep and a feeling of well-being and calmness. Apart from being tasty and nutritious, all these benefits of the goji berry would definitely be a welcome bonus at any time but especially over the hectic holiday season!
The tradition of baking treats for holiday festivities has been around for eons. However, in my kitchen, the ingredients used for treats has definitely changed over the years. As referred to in Triple Layer Tahini or Caramel Bars, the ingredients used in whole foods plant-based (WFPB) baking can definitely contribute to making traditional treats healthier and more nutritious.
As with baking for the ancient winter solstice celebrations, these Gingerbread and Cranberry Chocolate Cups still emphasize the Earth by using natural ingredients such as nuts, berries and spices. Sometimes it seems that WFPB foods is a new way of eating, however, I wonder if it is more just coming full circle and is actually more a matter of moving back to old traditional rituals.
Other seasonal treats: