Now, when it comes to religious holidays and Western observances the Trainer and I are conscientious abstainers. We will be joining my parents and extended family on Thursday, but we will light the candles, bring in the evergreen bough and serve our lucky food today, on the shortest day of the year. The Winter Solstice.
Every native culture recognizes the winter solstice. Many Northern cultures display evergreens and burn lights to welcome back the sun and symbolize the eternal life of the sun. In the Trainer's country the Quechua, like their Inca forbears, are celebrating the inti rayme, a harvest festival celebrating the longest day of the year.
In ancient Rome both the Saturnalia and the festival of Sol Invictus fell on or near the shortest day of the year. They celebrated with a day or more of feasting and social role reversals. Decorating homes and cities with lights and evergreens. Customary gifts of good luck were dates, figs and nuts and the feast often centered around a stuffed suckling pig. The Romans were very fond of stuffing things, so this year we've prepared stuffed figs and dates.
1/2tsp almond extract
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
Soak the almonds and walnuts for several hours and then rinse well. In a blender, grind the almonds, almond extract and cinnamon, adding water a tablespoon at a time until a paste forms. Slice dates on one side only, remove pit at fill with almond paste. Make a paste with the walnuts in the same way. Steam the figs over boiling water for 5-6 minutes to plump them. Cut the stems from the figs and cut a cross in the top half to open them. Fill figs with walnut paste. If you want the fruit a little dryer heat the oven to 350° then turn it off and place the fruit inside for several hours.
*This is a whole other story, but the Romans believed that they were descended from Aeneas, a prince of Troy and a group of Torjan who escaped to Italy after the war. Romans called stuffed suckling pig porcum troianum as a reference to the Trojan Horse.