Photos: Holiday Decorations at Kenmore & Ferry Farm

The George Washington Foundation wishes everyone a joyous holiday season!  Enjoy these photos of holiday decorations created by wonderful volunteers!  The George Washington Foundation Garden Guild decorated at Historic Kenmore and the Lake Anna Garden Club decorated at George Washington’s Ferry Farm.

Next week, there will still be time to see Kenmore and Ferry Farm adorned for the season as well as each site’s annual display of dollhouses, miniatures, and gingerbread creations. For details about these exhibits and our holiday hours, visit kenmore.org/events.

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Yes, Virginia, there is a Christmas Hedgehog!

During the holidays, it’s the curatorial team’s job to festoon Historic Kenmore in period-appropriate holiday swag to celebrate the Christmas season.  Greenery is brought in to cheer up the rooms and a table of special desserts is laid out as if ready for Christmas guests.  These sweet treats are a pretty traditional fare but one particular dessert garners far more attention and questions than the others: the hedgehog sitting at the center of the table.

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The Christmas dessert table complete with faux marzipan hedgehog in the Passage at Historic Kenmore.

“What is it?” and “Why a hedgehog?” are heard from visitors again and again.  I decided to investigate to see if I could find out how and why this spiny confection graced Betty Lewis’s table during the holidays.  Unfortunately, my research raised more questions than answers and ultimately lead me to an interesting but ambiguous conclusion based mainly on my own conjecture.

First, I have often heard the hedgehog referred to as a “cake” but it is not a cake.  It is made out of marzipan; a sweet created using sugar or honey and ground almonds.  Marzipan can be flavored, contain fruit and nuts, or even covered in chocolate …the possibilities are endless!  It is often shaped into miniature fruits, vegetables, or animals and colored with dyes.  The confection is usually eaten on special days or for special events.

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A closer view of the faux marzipan hedgehog.

No one knows for sure where marzipan was first created but it likely originated in the Middle East around the ninth-century.[1] It made its way to Europe through trade and immigration. Each country personalized the candy by adding its own unique ingredients and traditions.

Regardless of which country has the honor of creating this particular delicious dessert, it became quite popular. Recipes for marzipan began to show up in various cookbooks dating from the sixteenth century onward.   The two books most important to my investigation were The Compleat Housewife or, Accomplished Gentlewoman’s Companion by Eliza Smith published in 1727 and Hannah Glasse’s The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy published in 1747.  We know Betty owned both of these books because they are listed in the 1781 probate inventory. [2]

In Mrs. Smith’s The Compleat Housewife, the chapter “All Sorts of Cakes” includes a recipe for ‘march-pane’ which is an old English word for marzipan.[3]  The recipe is a traditional non-baked marzipan that includes ground almond, refined sugar and orange-flower water for flavoring. [4] Twenty years after Mrs. Smith published her book, Mrs. Glasse published The Art of Cookery and, by this time, the hedgehog had made its debut.  The Art of Cookery does not list marzipan specifically but in chapter sixteen titled “Cheesecakes, creams, jellies, whipt syllabubs” there is a recipe “To make a hedge-hog”.[5]  This is a cooked marzipan recipe that instructs the baker to form the almond paste into the shape of a hedge-hog with little slivered almond spines.

How did the hedgehog become associated with this almond dessert? The short answer is I’m not sure.  I researched hedgehogs trying to discover any relation to the holiday season, to winter, or to the New Year. I was unable to find any.

Hedgehogs are native to England, where both cookbooks were published, but not to the Americas.[6]  Colonial Americans would likely never have seen a hedgehog.   There is not a lot of positive symbolism or folklore associated with the little creatures besides being industrious and cute.[7]  They have been used medicinally for a variety of ailments and were a food source in many cultures.[8]  None of this provides a reason why these little creatures were immortalized in almond meal and sugar at Christmas.

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A photo of a real hedgehog because it’s so cute! Credit: Wikimedia/AlmaGz

I think the most likely development of this holiday treat was a combination of coincidence and novelty. Someone made the marzipan for the holidays,shaped it into a dome, and then decorated it with almonds. Eventually maybe someone else thought this resembled a hedgehog and added a little hedgehog face because it was clever and cute.

Why would Betty choose a marzipan hedgehog to sit on her holiday dessert table in colonial Virginia? As previously noted, marzipan was an established treat used to celebrate special days. The cost of the ingredients, which included two pounds of almonds, orange-flower water, canary wine, cream, butter and sugar, was substantial and illustrated to guests the effort and expense the family lavished on the party.  While the table would probably have smaller bite-sized marzipan pieces in the more traditional fruit shapes, the novel hedgehog with the slivered almond spines created a visually appealing and attention-grabbing dish. The Christmas hedgehog was a great conversation starter then!  The Christmas hedgehog is a great conversation starter now!

Heather Baldus
Collections Manager

[1] Habeeb Salloum, Muna Salloum, and Leila Salloum, Sweet Delights from A Thousand and One Nights: The Story of Traditional Arab Sweets, (London: I.B. Tauris & Co. Ltd, 2013), 168: Sidney W. Mintz, “Color, Taste and Purity: Some Speculations on the Meanings of Marzipan”, Etnofoor, Jaarg. 4, Nr.1 (1991): 103-108.

[2] Fielding Lewis Probate Inventory, 1781

[3] Thomas Dawson, The Good Huswifes Jewell (London: John Wolfe, 1587), 23; Thomas Dawson, The good Huswifes Handmaide for the Kitchin. (London: Richard Jones, 1594), 37b.

[4] Eliza Smith, The Compleat Housewife or, Accomplished Gentlewoman’s Companion, (Williamsburg: William Parks, 1742), 73.

[5] Hannah Glasse, The Art of Cookery, Made Plain and Easy (London: A. Millar and R. Tonson, 1765), 288.

[6] Mazin B. Qumsiyeh, Mammals of the Holy Land (Texas: Texas Tech University Press, 1996), 63.

[7] Jacqueline Simpson and Stephen Roud, A Dictionary of English Folklore (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000); Tatjana Civjan and Dainius Razauskas, “Hedgehog in Cosmogonic and Etiological Legends of the Balto-Balcanic Area,” Tautosakos darbai, no. XXI (2004): 79-91.

[8] Mazin B. Qumsiyeh, Mammals of the Holy Land (Texas: Texas Tech University Press, 1996), 64; Vincent Nijman and Daniel Bergin, “Trade in Hedgehogs in Morocco,” Journal of Threatened Taxa, (2015): 7132-7136.

Photos: 30th Annual Gingerbread Contest & Exhibit at Ferry Farm

It’s the 30th year of a a long-standing holiday tradition: the Gingerbread Contest & Exhibit at George Washington’s Ferry Farm!  This year’s theme is “Home for the Holidays.” Read about Thirty Years of Gingerbread.

Adults and children alike will enjoy the sights and smells of the festive creations displayed at Ferry Farm!  Ferry Farm’s hours are Monday – Saturday 10:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m. and Sunday from 12:00 p.m. – 4:00 p.m. Ferry Farm is closed Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. The gingerbread exhibit ends on December 30.  General admission to Ferry Farm and the exhibit is $8 adults, $4 students, under 6 free while admission to the exhibit only is $4 adults, $2 students, under 6 free.

For more information, call (540) 370-0732 x24 or email hayes@gwffoundation.org.

Mistletoe: More Than Christmas Kisses

In the 17th and 18th centuries, colonial Virginians decorated their homes for Christmas with all manner of evergreens.  This greenery – holly, ivy, mistletoe, and more – were seen as symbols of everlasting life.  Each year at Historic Kenmore, we also decorate the house with greenery in this tradition.

Mistletoe actually adorns Kenmore year round. The elaborate plaster ceiling in the drawing room depicts the four seasons and mistletoe is used to represent winter.  The mistletoe depicted, however, is not American mistletoe; the craftsman based this part of the ceiling on European mistletoe instead. This makes sense given that the artist was probably European. Having never seen American mistletoe, he would not know how to sculpt it.

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Mistletoe depicted in the ornate plaster ceiling of Kenmore’s drawing room.

Regardless of whether American or European, how did mistletoe come to symbolize winter and hang in homes during the holiday season? How did these green branches with white berries become associated with the hope of a little fun and (possible) future romances? What is it about mistletoe that brings so much joy to the seasons’ festivities?

Mistletoe (Phoradendron leucarpum) grows in the southern United States and is native to much of North America. It has more berries and shorter, broader leaves than English mistletoe (Viscum album). Like English mistletoe, the American plant is a semi-parasite; it digs its “roots” in the host tree and sucks sap and water from the tree, but it manufactures its own chlorophyll.  Mistletoe often grows in the tallest branches of the tree, making it very hard to harvest.

The word “mistletoe” likely came from one of two sources.  Its origins may be from the Anglo-Saxon “misteltan;” “mistl” meaning different and “tan” meaning twig. Mistletoe is a very “different twig” indeed because of how and where it grows – something that would not have escaped the notice of the Anglo-Saxons.  The word’s other possible origin also translates “tan” as twig, but renders “mistel” as dung; making “mistletoe”  “dung twig.” This may have been because bird droppings contained the seeds that helped spread the plants to other trees.

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Imaginative illustration of ‘An Arch Druid in His Judicial Habit’ from The Costume of the Original Inhabitants of the British Islands by S.R. Meyrick and C.H. Smith (1815) Credit: Wikipedia.

Druids, who served as priests and the learned class for the ancient Celts, valued mistletoe almost as much as they valued oak trees. These men (there is little evidence that there were women druids) climbed to the top of mistletoe-laden trees and harvested the sacred plant with a golden sickle. Those on the ground were careful to catch the plant as it fell because they believed the mistletoe would lose all of its power if it hit the ground.  Druids then used it to cure disease and promote fertility in humans and animals. It may be that the custom of hanging mistletoe stems from a Druidic tradition. Enemies who met under the mistletoe would lay down their arms and greet each other as if friends.

Mistletoe also played a role in Norse mythology and some think that our modern views on mistletoe came from one particular Norse myth. Balder, a god of peace, was the son of Odin, chief of the gods, and the goddess Frigg.  Balder began to dream of his own demise and his father traveled to the underworld to learn of his son’s fate.

baldr-dead-by-eckersberg

Baldr’s Death (1817) by Christoffer Wilhelm Eckersberg. Credit: Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts/Wikipedia.

Odin returned and shared the bad news with Balder and the other gods and goddesses. Frigg went to everything in the cosmos and asked it to swear it would not hurt her son.  Everything swore loyalty but mistletoe.  Loki, the god of mischief, made some mistletoe into an arrow that killed Balder.  In the version of the story with a happy ending, Balder was brought back to life and Frigg makes mistletoe a symbol of love and kisses to those who pass under it.

The English origins of kissing under the mistletoe aren’t well known. Historical records indicate that this merriment became popular in England sometime in the 16th century, but we don’t know if it was commonplace before that.  English mistletoe etiquette had some hard-and-fast rules: women under the mistletoe were not to refuse kisses; men could only kiss women (or girls) on the cheek; after the kissing transaction, the man removed a berry from the mistletoe ball; after the last berry was plucked, the kissing ended.

the-mistletoe-bough-by-francis-wheatley

The Mistletoe Bough (c. 1790) by Francis Wheatley. Credit: Yale Center for British Art/Wikipedia

 

Harvesting mistletoe is a challenge, but 18th century Virginians came up with an ingenious way to quickly and easily gather the plant.  Instead of climbing up into the tree’s canopy, Virginian men shot the mistletoe out of the tree.  They then took the good sprigs home, fashioned them into mistletoe balls, and enjoyed the merriment of the season.  This tradition harvesting mistletoe through gunfire still continues today all over the American south.

Ancient Druids. Mythical Norse gods. 18th century Virginians. Over the centuries, these people, whether real or imagined, contributed to the myths and traditions that have made mistletoe a symbol of winter, friendship, and love.  When you share a kiss with someone special under the mistletoe this season, you might want to take a moment to share mistletoe’s long history with that someone too.

Kelly Brennan Arehart
Manager of Interpretation and Visitor Services

Thirty Years of Gingerbread

It’s a long-standing holiday tradition. In fact, it’s so long-standing that this year, 2016, marks the tradition’s 30th year.  What tradition is that?  The annual Gingerbread House Contest and Exhibit at George Washington’s Ferry Farm!

Since we are marking three auspicious decades for this event, we dug into the archives to present a look back here on Lives & Legacies.

The contest began in 1987 and, for many years, took place at Historic Kenmore instead of Ferry Farm.  Our records are scant for the contest’s first year but we do know that the 2nd annual contest in 1988 saw middle schoolers Lisa Allen and Erika Paulson win best-in-show, according to a Free Lance-Star clipping in our files. Rev. Ed Boutchyard of Bowling Green’s Zion Full Gospel Church made a church with an ice cream cone steeple!

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A Polaroid from the first-ever Gingerbread Contest & Exhibit in 1987.

Lisa Allen repeated her best-in-show victory in 1989 with the help of her sister Melanie and friends Theresa Stockdill and Courtney Lucado.

In these early days of the contest, the German Club at James Monroe High School, one of the contest’s longest-running participants, began submitting regular entries and, in 1993, they won their first-ever best-in-show.

In 1995, the Free Lance-Star (scroll up) profiled Claybourne, Emily, and Meredith Beattie, who, having entered the contest for nearly ten years, had only ever won a single 2nd place ribbon.  For this family, the “tradition of assembling and decorating the houses is far more important than winning prizes.” The kids, along with mom and dad, would visit their grandmother out-of-town over Thanksgiving break. They created their gingerbread houses there and then traveled the 300-miles back to Fredericksburg with the houses packed in the back of the car.  Clay explained that he entered year after year “because I like doing it with my sisters and my family.”

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A gingerbread version of the Fielding Lewis Store from 1997.

In 2000, the contest and exhibit moved from Kenmore across the Rappahannock River to Ferry Farm, where it has been held every year since.

There’s still time to enter a gingerbread house in this year’s contest and be a part of the tradition! Gather the family, start baking that gingerbread, and creatively decorate your house together. This year’s theme is “Home for the Holidays.”  Entries are being accepted now through Saturday, December 3 at Ferry Farm. Click here for rules and an entry form.

The exhibit will open to the public on Sunday, December 4.  Ferry Farm is open Monday – Saturday from 10:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m. and Sunday from 12:00 p.m. – 4:00 p.m.  General admission to Ferry Farm and the exhibit is $8 adults, $4 students, under 6 free. To view the gingerbread exhibit only, the cost is $4 adults, $2 students, under 6 free. For more details about this and other holiday events at Ferry Farm and Kenmore, visit kenmore.org/events.

Zac Cunningham
Manager of Educational Programs

Photos: Holiday Decorations at Ferry Farm & Kenmore

The George Washington Foundation wishes everyone a joyous holiday season!  Enjoy these photos of holiday decorations created by wonderful volunteers!  The George Washington Foundation Garden Guild decorated at Kenmore and the Lake Anna Garden Club decorated at Ferry Farm.

There is still time to see Historic Kenmore and George Washington’s Ferry Farm adorned for the season as well as each site’s annual display of dollhouses, miniatures, and gingerbread creations. For details about these exhibits, visit kenmore.org/events. Finally, if you missed it, check out our most recent post A Christmas of Uncertainty, December 1775.

Photos: 29th Annual Gingerbread House Contest at Ferry Farm

It’s a long-standing holiday tradition! Adults and children alike will enjoy the sights and smells of the festive creations displayed at George Washington’s Ferry Farm!

This year’s theme is “George Washington Slept Here” and a list of contest winners can be seen here (PDF). Visitors may vote for their favorite and this ‘people’s choice’ winner will be announce after the holidays. The gingerbread houses remain on display until December 30.

Ferry Farm is open Monday – Saturday from 10:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m and on Sunday from 12:00 p.m. – 4:00 p.m. The site will be closed Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

Admission cost for viewing the gingerbread exhibit only is $4 adults, $2 students, under 6 free. There is an additional fee for a self-guided iPad tour of Ferry Farm. Visit www.ferryfarm.org for more details.