By Louise Oliver
The glitz and glamour of Christmas is here and whilst thoughts may be turning to presents, party outfits and of course the feast, it is also time to decorate the tree. This usually consists of dusting off the box of tinsel and baubles and the necessary checking of lights. Traditionally Christmas trees were decorated with edibles such as apples, nuts or dates. For many a tree this has been replaced with decidedly disappointing alternatives. However, thoughts of local food and cutting carbon need not only be for the dinner table. Edible treats – and I am not talking the over-packaged, ill-tasting bites the supermarkets are awash with here – can adorn your beautiful tree this year, putting the local and a distinctively unique edge back into your Christmas.
As we’re usually short of time in this busy month, these recipes are quick and tasty. You can have a batch of cookies cooling in the same time that it takes to fight your way through the crowds at the shops. And savvy cooks already know: double up your recipe quantities and freeze in batches for that stress free, unique gift that really does show you care. The simplicity of these treats means that they are a great way to get kids into the festive spirit too – on the off chance that the Santa Claus chatter hasn’t already done so!
Unlike the Quality Street tin with the usual suspects left over – in my case the strawberry creams – no treats are wasted here. There is no tat-tastic tinsel or disappointingly tasteless décor. The beauty of making your very own creations is that you decide: unlimited sparkle and glitz or keep it simple if that’s your style.
For a stylish, crafty and aromatic alternative to tinsel, you only need a needle and thread and some dried fruit. As part of your 20% non-local ingredients, your veg box may contain some winter citrus delights such as organic and fairly traded lemons and tangerines. They take no time to slice – ¼ of an inch thick- although I am never that exact, it is always helpful to have something to aim for. Pop in the oven for an hour or so. The aromas that fill your house are simply delicious. Add a few bay leaves and perhaps a few sticks of cinnamon – whichever favourite winter spices and herbs you have to hand – and you have your very own stained glass décor, simply stunning with a twinkly light or two behind them.
The same goes for all those Fife apples that may not store for 2014. Dry them off in the oven with a dusting of sugar and nutmeg and get ready to adorn your tree. Any not eaten over the festive period can be covered in peanut butter or seeds and popped out for a Christmas feast for the birds. Again feel free to use glue and glitter if the mood takes your fancy. Though remember this does render your treats inedible.
A German tradition, Baiseringe (meringue rings), only require local free range eggs and a bit of sugar. Some good advice is to make a double batch as for some reason these delights disappear fast, even before Santa and his reindeer have arrived. In German tradition a piece of red ribbon was tied through the ring or they were simple hung – ribbon free – on a tree branch.
I am unashamedly a fan of a piece of ‘shortie’ and whilst simple, unadulterated shortbread is delightful, the recipe is ripe for innovation. This rosemary and toasted caraway seed shortbread is a delicious savoury example. It is a particularly tasty alternative at this sugary time of year, delicious served with a wedge of cheese for a Scottish Hogmanay classic. Lavender, oats, pieces of chocolate – the combinations are endless – the only must is always use butter and a light touch for the dough, for that melt in the mouth feel. Whilst baked shortbread does only keep a short while, this mixture freezes fantastically so you can pop a plethora of delights on the tree. Word has it on the Lapland wire that Mr Claus and his reindeer are particularly partial to a piece or two of shortie on Christmas Eve.
Another German tradition, without which neither my tree nor Christmas would be the same, is a batch or three of gingerbread, be it to make a house or tree decorations. Again this mixture stores in the fridge for a week or for longer in the freezer. Get out the cookie cutters and pop in the oven for 8 minutes and you have yourself a batch of unique biscuits, to adorn your tree, as name tags for presents or your dinner table. These are equally special to give as gifts and you really can add the personal touch with your icing bag or the plethora of glittery sprinkles available.
So turn up your favourite Christmas tunes, and get making treats for your tree that look AND taste good enough to eat, making this year’s tree one to remember – for all the right reasons.