How Did Valentine’s Day Become a Thing? Part Two

Yesterday I started writing about what I’d found on line about how Valentine’s Day started and became what it is today. If you haven’t read it yet, I’d actually suggest that you do before you continue.

From what I discovered, it certainly didn’t start out in a very romantic way. Not when people were being imprisoned and beheaded.

So let me continue the story.

I had mentioned Chaucer writing that poem “Parliament of Fowls” for King Richard II, which evidently caused romantic ideas to become more popular. And no, I haven’t read it. Chaucer and other writers of the time celebrated romance between knights and their ladies, many of noble lineage, who could never marry. (Which was usually because the lady was already married, but that’s a whole other subject.) And by the 1400’s these nobles had begun writing poems known as “valentines” to the ladies who were the subject of their attention.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve never had a guy write me a poem, and based on some of the writing I’ve seen from that era, I don’t think I’d want one. But that was a different time. Plus, since the literacy rate wasn’t real high then, could the subjects of their attentions even read them? And did those knights actually write them themselves or pay someone to do it for them? Food for another blog.

But the holiday slowly developed and evolved, with traditions that are still around today.

Exchanging cards didn’t become popular until the 1840’s when the first mass produced cards were made in the U.S.  Now, did you know that these first cards were sold by Esther A. Howland, known as the “Mother of the American Valentine”? She is evidently credited with commercializing Valentine’s Day cards here in the U.S. Although I’ve never heard of her, and probably you haven’t either, my source says she is remembered for her elaborate, crafty cards made with real lace, ribbons, and colorful pictures she called “scrap.” So, Hallmark, you have Ms. Esther to thank for a lot of your success! According to the last figures I saw, 145 million valentine cards are exchanged every year, not counting the homemade ones.

Which brings us to Cupid. I’d always wondered about that little guy and how he came to be associated with Valentine’s Day. After all, who goes around nearly naked with a bow and arrow shooting people, and that’s supposed to be a symbol of love?

Well, Cupid actually evolved from the Greek god of love named Eros, who was said to be a handsome immortal man with the power to make people fall in love, although I’m not sure it involved a bow and arrow. Sometime in the 4th century BC the Romans adopted Eros into their mythology, re-named him Cupid, and made him into the image of what we know today. And because he was originally known as the god of love, it sort of figured he’d become associated with Valentine’s Day, even though that didn’t happen until around the 19th century.

What about red roses? Giving flowers didn’t become a popular custom until the 17th century, It’s said that King Charles II of Sweden learned about flowers being paired with specific meanings on a trip to Persia, and when he returned home to England he introduced the tradition to Europe, and the act of giving flowers on special days, including Valentine’s Day became popular. And of course, red roses with their rich deep color, were sent to symbolize a deep love for the recipient.

Then there’s chocolate. Everyone I know loves it, and it’s especially important for Valentine’s Day. But did you know the first heart-shaped box of chocolates was created by Richard Cadbury who was the son of Cadbury founder John Cadbury. How did he come up with the idea? To increase sales, of course. The first heart shaped box of chocolates was introduced for Valentine’s Day in 1861, and today more than 36 million heart-shaped boxes of chocolate are sold each year.

Guys, are you paying attention here?

Now one more important item to discuss; those cute colorful little valentine conversation hearts. I don’t know anyone who hasn’t either received them or given them for Valentine’s Day. But do you know their history? It’s not really romantic.

It all started when Boston pharmacist Oliver Chase invented a machine that simplified the way throat lozenges were made, which also resulted in America’s first candy-making machine when Chase decided to shift his focus to making candy instead of the lozenges. He founded the New England Confectionary Company, today known as Necco. Sound familiar? And in 1866 the first messages were printed on Necco sweetheart candies. Although those were bigger than the version we have today it sure started a trend, didn’t it?

And one of the first messages? “Married in white you have chosen right.” Well, it was 1866.

So now you have all the information you’ve possibly wondered about Valentine’s Day.

But you can also research all of this yourself as well, and if you find anything different, it’s most likely because you’re looking at a different website. Let us know if you find something else.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Flamingos and (Pink) Chocolate

Just a few days ago the flamingos came to me with a dilemma. A very serious one, at least to them.

You see, they were trying to figure out what to do for Valentine’s Day and they were really not sure what they could do that would be extra special. And lots of fun. Because as you know, flamingos are all about fun!

But they also wanted it to be something different. Something they’d not done before.

Of course they had to have their special pink flamingo cocktails like they always do at their parties, but they wanted to add a special touch. It couldn’t be just any old Valentine’s Day party.

They needed a theme. Something pink of course, and something to fit in with the sweet theme of the day.  

I promised them I’d come up with something perfect. Fortunately, my best friend Karen is an event and party planner, so who better to talk this over with than her! Plus, she also loves flamingos!

And she quickly came up with a perfect idea. A chocolate treat baking party. Only everything that was prepared had to be in shades of pink as well as having chocolate as the main ingredient. It IS for Valentine’s Day, you know.

So the Flamingo Pink Chocolate Recipe Party was planned and scheduled! The flamingos would select their recipe in advance, buy their ingredients, and then pair off in my kitchen to create their pink chocolate masterpieces! 

While being served pink champagne and pink Valentine martinis, of course. 

You may remember they’d taken over my kitchen once before, turning everything pink and even bringing in little pink ovens and other appliances to use for preparing their food. But they cleaned up really well after themselves, and everything was back to normal the next day! And they pinkie promised they’d do it again.

How can you resist a flamingo giving you a pinkie promise?

Now the party plans were in full swing. Karen designed a beautiful party invitation on creamy pink card stock with fancy cursive fonts and using embellishments of tiny feathers and pink crystal hearts. Definitely suitable for framing. The flamingos loved it and quickly distributed them to their friends, who immediately said they wouldn’t miss this event for anything!

They quickly got to work, searching through recipes and even borrowing a couple of my cookbooks for their very best ideas for the perfect pink chocolate treat! After all, as part of their participation in the event, they had to submit their selected recipe to Karen who was making a flamingo pink chocolate recipe booklet to be given as party favors…after the contest was over, of course!

The big day finally arrived. I walked into my kitchen that morning and it had already been transformed into a pink wonderland of pink kitchen equipment, from mixers to pot holders to small pink ovens, set up at individual baking stations. There were even pink mixing bowls and Valentine utensils set out for the participants to use. How they did it so quickly and quietly I have no idea, but they ARE flamingos, you know….

Of course on the party day, the guests arrived perfectly on time, carrying their (pink) bags of ingredients. They were greeted by my husband, wearing his best pink and white tuxedo, and he presented each of the birds with a specially designed flamingo valentine party apron, and of course a flute of pink champagne!

Let the party fun begin!

You should have seen them! Pink feathers everywhere, squawking and whistling to each other as they worked, sipping pink champagne and pink martinis, flour and sugar flying all over the kitchen!

Maybe this wasn’t the best idea??

However, it was all worth it when the flamingos presented their final creations to us for judging. They’d certainly gone all out, not only in making their desserts, but in their presentation of the finished creations, adorned with shaved chocolate, strawberries, raspberries, and even pink roses!

It was a sight to behold! There were pink cookies, pink flamingo cakes, chocolate and raspberry desserts, pink chocolate fudge, even pink macaroons!

And the winners? Well, it was definitely a difficult decision, and required quite a bit of tasting each entry, just to be sure we selected the right one.

To find out who won, and even get a copy of a few of the recipes, be sure to read “The Flamingos’ Valentine Creations” to be published on February 5,

And believe it or not, the next morning when we came downstairs, my kitchen was back to normal, except for a big plate of Valentine goodies the flamingos had left us as a gift for letting them use our kitchen. Oh, and the last bottle of pink champagne!

I guess we’ll let them do this again. As long as we still get to be the judges!

Christmas Fudge

One of my mother’s favorites to make for Christmas was chocolate fudge. Along with her Christmas cookies, of course. And she made it every year. It was devoured within a few days.

There’s just something about that smooth, chocolatey sweetness that just screams Christmas! Especially if you add a few shopped candy canes on top of it for decoration. My mother didn’t do that, but if I’m going to cook, I have to put my own touch on whatever I make.

I remember my mom standing in the kitchen, patiently stirring and testing the consistency to make sure it didn’t get grainy or scalded. There is a trick to good fudge making, you know. And with the recipes I have, you really need to use a candy thermometer.

And you also have to remember NOT to try to taste the chocolate mixture as you’re putting it in the pan, because it’s hot and will DEFINITELY burn your mouth! No, I didn’t try it, but just don’t ask who did…..

So I’m happy to share my mother’s fudge recipe with you, as well as a couple others that you may want to try. Yes, you can buy fudge already made, cut apart, and boxed, but this time of year, there’s just something about making real homemade candy and cookies.

Even for someone like me who doesn’t really cook that much!

So here is my mother’s fudge recipe. Feel free to try it, and see how you like it!

 

fudgeRachel’s Chocolate Fudge:
3 c sugar
1 envelope unflavored gelatin
1 c milk
1 c. light syrup (she used Karo syrup)
3 squares unsweetened chocolate
1 1/4 c butter (real butter, not margarine)

Combine ingredients and cook on low-medium heat until it reaches soft ball stage. Use a candy thermometer unless you want to drip a little bit of candy in a cup of cold water to see if it forms a soft ball. Personally, to be safe, use the candy thermometer!

Remove mixture from heat and stir in 2 tsp of vanilla. Cool for 25 minutes, then beat with a large spoon (not electric mixer) until it thickens.

Spread into lightly buttered 8x8x2 glass baking pan. Let cool, and then cut into squares.
Mom always made two batches; one with nuts, and one without, since I’m not a fan of nuts in cookies or fudge. Try it whatever way you like!

I’ve also included two other recipes here that I’m going to make this year. Please note they are not original creations, and the creators are noted. Please also feel free to visit their websites for more yummy creations!

 

red-velvet-fudge-taste-of-homeRed Velvet Candy Cane Fudge – Taste of Home (recipe created by Crystal Schlueter)
(I love red velvet cake, and I have a red velvet cookie recipe, so I am SO going to try this one!)

2 pkg white baking chips, divided
2/3 c semisweet chocolate chips
3 tsp shortening, divided
14 oz can sweetened condensed milk
1 ½ tsp red paste food coloring
4 c confectioners sugar, divided
6 oz cream cheese, softened
1 tsp vanilla
1/4 tsp peppermint extract
3 tbl crushed peppermint candies

Line a 13×9″ pan with foil; grease foil with butter.

In large microwave safe bowl combine 3 ¼ c white baking chips, chocolate chips, and tsp shortening. Microwave on high, uncovered, 1 minute. Stir. Microwave at additional 15 sec intervals until smooth. Stir in milk and food coloring. Gradually add 1 c confectioners sugar. Spread into prepared pan. [Sounds easy so far! – Deb]

In another large microwave safe bowl, me; remaining white baking chips and shortening. Stir until smooth. Beat in cream cheese and extracts. Gradually beat in remaining confectioners sugar until smooth. Spread over red layer; sprinkle with crushed candies. Refrigerate 2 hours or until firm.

Using foil, lift fudge out of pan. Remove foil; cut fudge into 1” squares. Store between layers of waxed paper in an airtight container.

Visit Taste of Home for more recipes!

 

mint-chocolate-chip-fudge-recipe-chocolatechocolateandmore-60aMint Chocolate Chip Fudge – Chocolate, Chocolate and More©
(Since I really like chocolate mint chip ice cream, this one really looks good!)

3 ¼ c white baking chips
2 tbl butter
14 oz can sweetened condensed milk
2-3 tsp mint extract (not peppermint)
Green food coloring as needed
3/4 c mini chocolate chips, divided

Line an 8x8x2″ pan with foil and lightly spray with cooking spray. Set aside.

In a microwave safe bowl, microwave white chips and butter on high for 60 seconds. Let rest one minute and check to see if melted. If needed, microwave further at 15 second intervals. Stir until all lumps are gone.

Stir in milk, and extract. Add food coloring to desired color. Let cool for a few minutes and fold in ½ c mini chocolate chips.

Press fudge into prepared pan. Sprinkle remaining mini chocolate chips on top and gently press into fudge. Refrigerate a minimum of 2 hours to set before cutting into squares. Store between layers of waxed paper in an airtight container.

Visit Chocolate, Chocolate and More© to view this recipe and more!

So are you ready for holiday candy making? Let the fun begin!

Chocolate Easter Eggs

I admit I absolutely love those chocolate covered eggs sold this time of year. When I was little I couldn’t wait to get in my Easter basket, grab the big chocolate coconut egg, and take a huge bite out of it! And were they ever delicious!

They still are. And I still have to have one every year!

However, it’s become quite popular now for people (not me yet) to make their own chocolate covered Easter eggs. A lot of organizations sell them as fundraisers. The hair salon where my mother used to go sold them every year, and I’m sure they still do.

One thing I’ve never tried to do, though, is make my own. But I thought just for the fun of it, I’d try to see how complicated they are to make. So I paged through all of my mom’s old church cookbooks as well as recipes she’d cut out of the local newspapers, and came up with a couple of recipes!

easter egg2I doubt I’ll have time to try them this year, but next year, since we’ll have an almost year old granddaughter at Easter, well, I’m sure there will be lots of new things made that I’ve never tried before!

I’ve not made candy before. And I confess I haven’t tried this recipe, but it sure sounds easy enough. Maybe next year I’ll attempt it. But if you try it, or have other similar recipes you’ve tried, let me know. I’m always interested in new ideas!

Chocolate Easter Eggs

½ c butter, softened
1 tsp salt
1 can sweetened condensed milk
1 tsp vanilla or 1 tsp almond extract (I’d probably try coconut extract as well)
2 ¼ lb fine confectioner’s sugar
1 ½ lb semisweet baking chocolate, melted

Decorative icing, sprinkles, or cake decorator candy flowers

Cream butter and sugar until fluffy. Gradually beat in milk and extract. Slowly beat in confectioner’s sugar until well blended. (Note: I’d probably try to add some finely shredded coconut in this mixture, because my favorites are the coconut cream eggs.)

Knead with hands until mixture is soft and easy to shape. Form into egg shapes. (This is where I would say a bit of skill and ingenuity comes in. Probably mine wouldn’t look as close to an egg shape as I’d like, but we shall see…)

Place eggs onto tray or cookie sheet lined with waxed paper. Cover and chill for 4 hours or until firm.

Place each egg on a fork and dip into melted chocolate, letting excess drip off. Place back on tray, cover, and let stand until firm. Refrigerate for best results.

easter eggsWhile still most, you can decorate with colored sprinkles, or add the candy flowers. I would wait an hour or so to add the decorative icing, but remember, I haven’t tried these yet, so it’s a matter of trying it out to see which works the best.

I would probably display or serve these in decorative cupcake cups, especially the ones that are shaped as flowers. You might even want to put them in an Easter basket if they turn our really nice!

Happy candy making!

Dreaming of Chocolate

Valentine’s Day is tomorrow. Yes, I know I already wrote some thoughts on the day, but still, Valentine’s Day traditionally means, among other things, CHOCOLATE!

Flowers are beautiful and smell wonderful. Diamonds are always the right color and sparkle. And wine and champagne, well, they’re celebratory as well.

But chocolate. Chocolate talks to you. It loves you. It really, really loves you. And let’s face it, there are really very, very few of you who don’t like chocolate. I’m sure there are a few scattered here and there, but basically, chocolate cures just about anything. Or so it seems.

You say you had a bad day? Eat some chocolate. You’re feeling a bit down? Eat a piece of chocolate. A bad hair day? Chocolate helps. Chocolate understands.

You get the picture, right?

And I’m not talking white chocolate. That’s good, in its place. But for now, I’m talking the true milk chocolate, or my personal favorite, dark chocolate.

So for chocolate lovers everywhere, for Valentine’s Day, or for National Chocolate Day, whenever that may be, here are two of my family’s special chocolate recipes to try.

Mom’s Chocolate Fudge Deluxe

3 c sugar
1 envelope unflavored gelatin
1 c milk
1/2 c light karo syrup
3 squares unsweetened chocolate
1 1/4 c butter
2 tsp vanilla
1 c walnuts (optional, especially for me!)

Mix first 6 ingredients. Cook until it reaches a soft ball stage. Remove from heat and pour into large mixing bowl. Stir in vanilla. Cool for 25 minutes. Beat until thickened; stir in nuts, if desired. Spread in 8×8’ buttered pan; cool. Cut into squares and enjoy!
chocolate fudge
Aunt Mary’s Hot Fudge Sauce (just right for a special hot fudge sundae)

1 large can evaporated milk
4 squares unsweetened chocolate
2 c sugar
1 tsp vanilla
Pinch of salt

Mix ingredients and cook in double boiler until thickened, stirring constantly. Cool somewhat and pour over ice cream. Serve immediately!ice+cream+sundae

Remember, there’s always room for chocolate. And on holidays or other special occasions, there’s no calories in it!

Chocolate in My Chili

January usually means cold weather. Blustery winds and snow. Of course right now that’s not the case here in Virginia Beach, but I’m sure it’s coming. And as much as I say I really don’t want the snow, just a little bit would probably be nice.

And with that cold weather comes a lot of hearty soups and casseroles and of course everyone’s favorite (almost everyone-our daughter doesn’t like it at all) chili. Add a thick slice of piping hot buttered cornbread and you’ve got a great meal! Especially during those playoff football games!

Somehow I missed out on enjoying this great delicacy when I was growing up on the Eastern shore of Maryland. I guess we were too busy enjoying the steamed crabs, fresh fish, and fried chicken the area is known for.

I don’t remember when I first started making and enjoying chili, but I’m sure glad I did! I’ve made a lot of it, and played around with a lot of ingredients, but I’ve finally found the combination I like the best, and decided to share it for the new year!!

Before I give the recipe though, just remember, this should be used as a guideline for experimenting and coming up with your own variation. Recipe can also be doubled if you have a hungry crowd! I usually make it slightly different each time, but the main ingredients stay the same.


Especially the chocolate!

1 pkg French’s or McCormick chili seasoning mix (yes, the little grocery store packet!)
1 – 1 1/2 lb lean ground beef
14 oz can diced or choped tomatoes, UNDRAINED
1 can kidney beans, UNDRAINED
1 can navy beans, drained
1 can baked beans, undrained

Brown meat in skillet; drain off fat. You can also chop some onion with it and brown together. (I’ve also used ground venison mixed with the hamburger. That was really good!)

Combine meat, seasoning mix, tomatoes and beans in dutch oven or similar pot. You can also add a can of chopped mushrooms or a tablespoon or so of powdered mushrooms.

Simmer, on low, covered, at least an hour, stirring every 10-15 minutes. Taste occasionally. Season more if desired.

Add a splash of red wine vinegar and simmer another 10 minutes.

Add 1/2 oz of UNSWEETENED baking chocolate. Stir well. Continue to simmer. This cuts the acidity and gives it a nice smooth touch.

I usually cook mine a total of two hours. And I usually make a double quantity, and end up adding an extra can of kidney beans. It’s basically a “taste and go” kinda recipe.

Serve into bowls and put out grated cheese, sour cream, crackers, and possibly chopped onion and chili peppers (for those who prefer it HOT) for toppings. Our son-in-law adds hot sauce to his. (He adds hot sauce to everything….)
McCormick Chili

I like to serve cornbread or corn muffins with it as well.

So what’s in your chili recipe? I really enjoy hearing new ideas. In fact, I may just have to make a pot tomorrow!