Christmas stockings, a potato and lemon nut loaf

My first Christmas stockings were Dad’s socks repurposed for the night. Don’t get me wrong I was not disadvantaged nor was I unusual, it was the 1960’s, and my parents believed Santa was not really what Christmas was about. Despite that, in the weeks leading to Christmas eve, I heard reminders about Santa’s naughty list and the threat of getting a potato and stick instead of an orange in the toe my Christmas stocking.

Merry Christmas from our home to yours!

I am not sure how the potato and stick family tradition began, (our family’s version of a lump of coal), but I know it started with my Mum’s family since Dad had no tradition of Christmas stockings. The Walls family of Blackville, NB were a tight knit group who loved to laugh and enjoyed playful interaction even as adults, with potatoes playing their part.

The William and Edith Walls family c. 1955 William (Billy) seated far right; Edith (Edie) seated front center, next to Edie, Ben, and Ted. Second row, left Dorothy, Elsie, Evelyn (peeking over Elsie shoulder) Louise, Royce, George, Steward and Ike.

Of course the potato was a logical choice as a booby prize at Christmas time. The humble and ordinary tuber compares poorly with the treat most often found in my Christmas stocking. Citrus fruits, lemons and oranges are not really ordinary or humble despite their being readily available to us.

The Tiny Tattler – 13 December 1933 vol 1 issue 19 Photo courtesy of the NS Archives.

The origin story of citrus fruits is a difficult one, there are various theories on where the fruit trees grew naturally and when their spread began. Regardless of where and when we know the sour sweet fruits have been valued and pursued for thousands of years. Citrus trees were introduced to North America early, probably by the Spanish, by the mid 1800’s oranges and lemons were growing in Florida and other southern US states. It would take major developments in refrigeration and transportation for citrus to become the available fruits they are today.

And yet citrus fruits have had a long association with Christmas despite the challenges of transportation and storage. Citron or candied citrus peel appeared in recipes for Christmas cake as early as 16th century. Drying with sugar preserved the fruit but required careful attention to avoid quality issues from variances in temperature and moisture during storage. Available, known and pricy added to their exotic and special nature, helping solidify citrus as prized holiday fare for north eastern North Americans.

Christmas morning, Irish Cove,, Richmond County, NS c,2015 Elizabeth Lyons Morrison

Potatoes have a world wide prevalence, citrus will never have. Despite being introduced to the wider world much later than citrus, their ability to retain freshness through months of storage made them a logical choice for seafarers. The ease at which potatoes grow in acidic soil made them a logical choice for settlers too. It took time for potatoes to grown in popularity in Europe but in North America need saw potatoes playing a key role in preventing starvation and hunger.

Nicholas Doucette, farmer-fisherman, harvesting his potatoes. Near Mavillette; November, 1950 Photo courtesy of the NS Archives Alexander H. Leighton Nova Scotia Archives 1988-413 negative number 819-d

Growing conditions in Maritime Canada are extremely varied, from province to province, county to county, farm to farm, field to field the variability in soil and weather seriously limits variety and productivity. Microclimates do aid in growing some temperature sensitive crops in specific locations but not lemons and oranges. Potatoes on the other hand grow readily provided the soil is well drained and a bit of sunshine is available.

Of course potatoes do make an appearance at Christmas, even when you have been a good child. They play their role in the traditional turkey dinner, and they are important ingredients in traditional feast foods like Poutine Râpée, Latkes, etc. It is likely that potatoes work well as the consolation Christmas prize in part because of their ordinariness, but the potato’s much darker association with hunger and famine, the Irish potato famine in particular plays a role too.

Four of the six bothers and tricksters – sharing a laugh. Left to right – Royce, Isaac, Ted and Steward Walls

The appearance of oranges, fresh oranges in Christmas stockings had to wait for transportation and temperature controlled storage improvements. By the late 1890’s fresh lemons and oranges began to appear most every where ships and trains served, including central New Brunswick. When Grandmother Edie was preparing for her family Christmas fresh oranges and lemons were well established as Christmas fare. Special and exotic oranges got tucked in to the toes of Christmas Stockings, and fresh lemons got made in to Christmas baking like Lemon Nut Loaf.

Food, Drink and the Pleasures of Eating in Old-Time Nova Scotia
Catholic Church Picnic Photo courtesy of the NS Archives Alexander H. Leighton Nova Scotia Archives 1988-413

My Mother’s Cookbook’s

Grandmother Edie’s Lemon Nut Loaf

5 tbsp melted butter
1 c. white granulated sugar
zest of one lemon
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
2 eggs at room temperature
1/2 c. milk
1 1/2 c. all purpose flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 c. finely chopped walnuts or pecans
1/4 c lemon juice
1/2 c. sugar
1. preheat oven to 350 degrees F or 177 degrees C.
2. in a medium sized bowl blend butter and sugar
3. add eggs and beat well;
4. in a second bowl sift flour, baking powder, salt;
5. alternate adding flour and milk, (ending with flour) to egg butter mixture, fold gently after each addition; toss nuts in with the last flour addition and mix until blended. Over mixing will cause the loaf to be tough;
6. place in a parchment lined 5 x 9 in loaf pan and bake, until nicely browned and the top springs back from a light touch, about 40 minutes;
7. remove from the oven and let cool only while you mix lemon juice and sugar together in a bowl;
8. using a tooth pick poke holes in the top of the cake and then poor the lemon sugar slowly over the loaf,
9. Let the loaf cool completely before removing the loaf from the pan.

Grandmother Edie’s Lemon Nut Loaf.

Merry Christmas


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