In pagan Anglo-Saxon England, Yule marked the Winter Solstice. A bright light in the dark of winter - this festival represented the turning of the sun back towards the south, and the return of life, light and warmth. Once Yule passes, the days grow longer and the nights shorter.
Yule begins on 'Mother Night' and ends twelve days later - hence the origin of the 'Twelve Days of Christmas'. The Winter Solstice is a solar festival, and it was on this night that a Yule Log, or a bonfire would be burned, to entice heat back into the world.
Traditionally, the Anglo-Saxons baked any food that was round, golden, or hot like the sun, for the Yule celebrations.
Ingredients in Anglo-Saxon times were limited to those things in season, or food-stuffs that could be stored or dried. As such, nuts, seeds, honey, dried plums, apples and eggs were used in Yule baking. The spices, oranges and lemons, that we now associate with Christmas, came later.
With the simplicity of Anglo-Saxon Yule sweets in mind, here are two simple, but delicious recipes, inspired by this age:
This shortbread is delicious, simple and very easy to make!
250g spelt flour
175g soft butter
125g creamed honey
1. Mix the dry ingredients in a bowl. Add the honey and butter and mix with a wooden spoon until a ball of dough forms.
2. Transfer mixture to greased baking tray or swiss roll tin and press it down well. Prick with a fork.
Bake at 325F/160C for 30-35 minutes or until golden brown.
Cool for a few minutes then cut into fingers while still warm and serve when cold.
Anglo-Saxon Yule Pudding
This pudding uses only ingredients that would have been available during the Anglo-Saxon period - but don't think that detracts from the flavour!
200g of prunes, cut into pieces
70g of walnut pieces
100g spelt flour
125 grams of bread crumbs
4 large eggs
4 heaped Tbsp of honey
4 cooking apples, peeled and grated
1 and a half cups of apple wine or strong cider
1. Soak the prunes and walnuts in the apple wine or cider for up to a week.
2. In a large bowl add flour, suet, breadcrumbs and grated apple.
3. Add honey and beaten eggs to the dry ingredients before mixing in the fruit and nuts that have been soaking in the apple wine - more in the wine too (unless there is A LOT of liquid - in this case, hold some back).
4. Grease a pudding basin really well and pack the pudding mixture in.
5. Wrap the basin in at least 3 layers of foil and steam in a pot for 5 hours.
6. Once 5 hours have passed, remove from the pot, leave to cool and store (for up to 6 weeks) for Yule!
Do you have any Anglo-Saxon-inspired sweets to share?