I wonder how many people have spotted that the day of the Pantry Christmas Market, 6 December, is also St Nicholas’ Day, or the Feast of St Nicholas. The historical 4th-century bishop of Myra (now part of Turkey), St Nicholas, had a reputation for secret gift-giving, such as putting coins in the shoes of those who left them out for him, and thus became the model for Santa Claus, whose modern name comes from the Dutch Sinterklaas, itself a corruption of ‘Saint Nikolaos’. His Feast Day on 6 December is still the main day for gift giving and merrymaking in much of Europe, and there are many traditions associated with it. For example, in the Netherlands children leave carrots and hay in their shoes for the saint’s horse, hoping St. Nicholas will exchange them for small gifts, and in France a little donkey carries baskets filled with children’s gifts, biscuits and sweets.
St Nicholas is also the patron saint of bakers. I was particularly delighted to discover this because our lovely church in Piddington is dedicated to St Nicholas and, as you’ll know if you are a Pantry regular, one of our most popular stalls is The Piddington Bakers, the cake stall run to raise funds for the church fabric fund. The standard of baking is very high in Piddington, and has been for many years, so it is particularly appropriate for our village that bakers should rate a special mention on this date.
Many traditional food items are associated with St Nicholas across Europe, including Dutch and German spiced cookies and cakes. You can find recipes for some of them here. But here’s an ancient English recipe for a light fruity fresh plum pudding, which probably originated as part of the ‘Boy Bishop Celebrations’ that were held on St Nicholas Day during the Middle Ages: St Nicholas Pudding.
I’ll post very soon to let you know which stallholders are coming to the market – there are a lot of them this time, and we’re having to be very creative with how we use our available space!