New Years Good Luck Food

As I sit and look out on this beautiful winter day, my son asked about how food can bring good luck. He asked if l’etoile served “Good luck food.” He had noticed on a recent visit to Monticello if Thomas Jefferson had served good luck food. Then, as we spoke, we wondered if Charlottesville and Virginia has a good luck food for New Years. I will try and research that a little more.

As New Year’s Day approaches, people around the world will plan for the coming year, eager to get off to the best possible start! Many people will “eat for luck”-they plan to eat special foods that, by tradition, are supposed to bring them good luck. Throughout history, people have eaten certain foods on New Year’s Day, hoping to gain riches, love, or other kinds of good fortune during the rest of the year. For people of several nationalities, ham or pork is the luckiest thing to eat on New Year’s Day. How did the pig become associated with the idea of good luck? In Europe hundreds of years ago, wild boars were caught in the forests and killed on the first day of the year. Also, a pig uses its snout to dig in the ground in a forward direction. Maybe people liked the idea of moving forward as the new year began, especially since pigs are also associated with plumpness and getting plenty to eat. However the custom arose, Austrians, Swedes, and Germans frequently choose pork or ham for their New Year’s meal. They brought this tradition with them when they settled in different regions of the United States. New Englanders often combine their pork with sauerkraut to guarantee luck and prosperity for the coming year. Germans and Swedes may pick cabbage as a lucky side dish, too. In other places, turkey is the meat of choice. Bolivians and some people in New Orleans follow this custom. But other people claim that eating fowl (such as turkey, goose, or chicken) on New Year’s Day will result in bad luck. The reason? Fowl scratch backward as they search for their food, and who wants to have to “scratch for a living”? Frequently, fish is the lucky food. People in the northwestern part of the United States may eat salmon to get lucky. Some Germans and Poles choose herring, which may be served in a cream sauce or pickled. other Germans eat carp. Sometimes sweets or pastries are eaten for luck. In the colony of New Amsterdam, now New York, the Dutch settlers still enjoy these treats…In some places, a special cake is made with a coin baked inside. Such cakes are traditional in Greece, which celebrates Saint Basil’s Day and New Year’s at the same time. The Saint Basil’s Day cake (vasilopeta) is made of yeast dough and flavored with lemon. The person who gets the slice with the silver or gold coin is considered very lucky! Many of the luck-bringing foods are round or ring-shaped, because this signifies that the old year has been completed. Black-eyed peas are an example of this, and they are part of one of New Year’s most colorful dishes, Hoppin’ John, which is eaten in many southern states. Hoppin’ John is made with black-eyed peas or dried red peas, combined with hog jowls, bacon, or salt pork. Rice, butter, salt, or other vegetables may be added. The children in the family might even hop around the table before the family sits down to eat this lucky dish. In Brazil, lentils are a symbol of prosperity, so lentil soup or lentils with rice is prepared for the first meal of the New Year. Thousands of miles away, the Japanese observe their New Year’s tradition of eating a noodle called toshikoshi soba. (This means “sending out the old year.”) This buckwheat noodle is quite long, and those who can swallow at least one of them without chewing or breaking it are supposed to enjoy good luck and a long life. Finally, Portugal and Spain have an interesting custom. As the clock strikes midnight and the new year begins, people in these countries may follow the custom of eating twelve grapes or raisins to bring them luck for all twelve months of the coming year! Wow, thus said. A merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all.

Christmas Cookies

Looking out onto the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains this morning, and it being close to Christmas – I thought I would write a little about the history of Christmas cookies. We at l’etoile all have our favorites – my kids love the basic sugar cookie with sprinkles. Im sure there must be thousands of favorite cookies right here in Charlottesville. I wonder if the University of Virginia has a traditional cookie themselves- I will have to look deeper into that.

Every festival has its own unique food that goes with the festive occasion The festival of Christmas is also not debarred of food. Cookies particularly can be said to be the principal food of the Festival of Christmas. The term cookies first appeared in print in 1703. The History of the Christmas Cookies goes back to 10,000 years ago when the Neolithic farmers used to bake food comprising of grain, water paste on hot stones and the cookies are believed to be the descendants of this food. Cookies are said to be the result of a devised plan associated with practicality.

The origin of the cookies lies in the Medieval European recipes. Lebkuchen (gingerbread) was probably the first cake/cookie to be traditionally related with Christmas. Cookies spread all over Europe by 1500.Therefore every house made or baked cookies in great amounts, which were either Lebkuchen or buttery Spritz Cookies. The people of Sweden preferred Papparkakor (spicy ginger and black-pepper delights), while the Norwegians took to the liking of Krumkake (thin lemon and cardamom-scented wafers). So it is seen that the cookies of one place was different in form and shape from another.

The Dutch people brought along with them the earliest Christmas Cookies. Thus began the art of making delicious cookies. The word Cookies which comes from the Dutch word Koeptje [koekje], meaning small cake, was first used by the people of the Persian Empire of the 7th century AD. The recipe books of the Renaissance period had abundant recipes dealing with Cookies.As a result of the industrial revolution cookies began to get manufactured in factories.

Butternut and Bacon Soup

Butternut Bacon and Turnip Bisque

The turnip can be overlooked and underrated. If you’re not already a fan of this humble root vegetable, this classic purée of turnip soup may surprise you.

¼ Cup cubed bacon                                                            4 C cubed butternut squash

1 T sweet butter                                                       ½ t salt

1 cup onion peeled and chopped                           ½ t nutmeg

6 C vegetable stock                                                  ½ t cinnamon

½ C carrots diced                                                    1 Cup turnip cubed

½ cup celery chopped                                             ½ t white pepper

2 C heavy cream                                                       2 cloves garlic chopped

1 cup white wine                                                      1 Apple

  1. In a large saucepan, heat the bacon and butter. Cook until bacon is rendered.  Add the onion, carrots, and celery sauté 5 minutes over medium low heat.
  2. Add garlic, apple. Then add wine and spices. Sauté for 3 minutes.
  3. Add butternut, turnip and stock.  Stir well and bring to low simmer for 30 minutes.
  4. Turn heat down and let sit for 20 minutes before the puree in blender.  I suggest using a hand blender, as hot soups in blenders are very dangerous – they blow the lid and may cause burns.  Return soup to pot.
  5. Add the cream.  Reheat but do not boil the soup before serving.

Serves 6

Thoughts on the orgin of table service


The evolution of modern table service
The evolution of classic European table service was slow and complicated, especially in England. There, you have not only service a la Francaise but service l’Anglaise competing with Service a la Russe. Food historians generally place the beginning of the evolution in dawning decades of the 19th century. The switch is in serious motion by mid-century. By the 1880s-1890s, Service a la Russe reigned supreme.

“By the close of the eighteenth century the traditional service of meals in the French manner, as it had evolved from the baroque age, was already under strain. It had begun reasonably enough. A set of dishes was placed on the table from which people either helped themselves or were assisted by the servants. Everything was arranged in perfect symmetry, and when one course ended the dishes were cleared and replaced by the next, equally symmetrical course. The rule that dishes were multiplied in dozens according to the number of guests meant that a table could end up with as many as hundred dishes on it at a time…By 1800…the range of containers and other tableware had increased hugely…The consequence was that a vast amount of food went uneaten and…it was inevitably cold or, at best, lukewarm…in 1838…[in England we find]…a version of the French system known as service a l’anglaise …This sort of…[service] would have already been regarded as old-fashioned among the upper classes, who were eagerly adopting changes which had their origins in France…In June 1810…the Russian diplomat Prince Borisovitch Kourakine served his guests in an entirely novel manner [service a la Russe]…That new service, with the opportunities it presented for the ostentatious display, began to gain acceptance and can be seen from the fact sourtouts a la russe in 1810. Careme…did not favour service a la russe and the traditional method of a la francaise lingered on until the 1850s…In France it was to take until the last decade of the nineteenth century for service a la russe to become the norm. Even then for state dinners and great occasions service a la francaise was retained for its spectacular effect…Only when service a la russe was finally universal could Escoffier establish the sequence of courses that remains familiar to this day: hors d’oeuvre or soup, fish, meat with vegetables, sweet, savoury and dessert. In England the move to the new method of service was equally slow. Service a la francaise continued into the 1870s and 1880s, with the usual two great courses followed by dessert. The vast majority of Mrs. Beeton’s ‘Bills of fare’ are intended for this system, but she also takes note of the new one…The effect of a la russe, apart from the hot food, was to multiply the course, but the result was a welcome contraction of the time spent at table. Under the old system a meal could last for hours. A dinner a la russe lasted an hour and a half at the most…[Service a la Russe] triumph is…connected with the emergence of an extremely rich new middle class. The opportunity for lavish display and the need for a small army of servants effectively marked service a la russe as the choice only for those who could afford it…”

“Throughout the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, service a la francaise, or French-style service, remained de rigueur in elite American homes, and visitors’ accounts suggest that dining at Jefferson’s table was no exception. This mode of entertainment gained favor in France among medieval nobility and soon spread throughout much of Europe. Although dining etiquette developled over the centuries, the tenets of service a la francaise remained largely unaltered and were heralded in early America. Fashionable hosts strictly followed the style’s edicts, which reflected hierarchy, balande, and symmetry so admired in the period. French-style service commonly dictated two to four courses, each consisting a of an even number of dishes placed symmetrically around a centerpiece, such as a large roast or a decorative serving vessel. Dishes were divided into classes and hierarchally arranged, with those belonging to lesser classes surrounding those of greature stature. The number of diners determined the quantity of dishes served. A three-course dinner for eight, for example, could require as many as twenty-four separate dishes. As the number of guests increased, so did the variety of foods presented. Service a la francaise was more than simply a style of eating; it was a mode of entertainment–one that began the moment guests entered the diningroom. There to greet them stood a table fully set with silver, glass, and great platters and tureens filled and at the ready, encouraging the appetite and impressing the senses. Above all, service a la francaise emphasized an orderly and grand presentation of dishes that showcased a host’s resources and culinary savoir-faire. Evidence suggests that Jefferson regarded French-style service as at once the epitome of fashionable entertaining and a mere template. It guided his decisions and influenced his taste, but, in the end, he used the principles of this revered serve to create a dining style that was uniquely his own. Jefferson combined French-style elegance and cuisine with his own democratic sense of style, inspiring one guest to note, ‘In his entertainmnets, republican simplicity was united to Epicurean delicacy.'”
Dining at Monticello, Damon Lee Fowler editor, Thomas Jefferson Foundation, Inc. [University of North Carolina Press:Chapel Hill NC] 2005 (p. 14)

More Breakfast History

Waking up hungry and driving to l’etoile this morning – out of nowhere came the idea to talk about breakfast.  Glancing at the beauty around Charlottesville and central Virginia I thought I would share this history with you.

Breakfast, like most meals, is a moveable feast that depends upon cuisine, culture, and class. Food historians agree on these three points when it comes to breakfast:

  1. Most people, in most times (including today) were lucky to partake of this meal.
  2. For most people, in most times (including today) this meal was very simple.
  3. Breakfasts composed of multiple dishes are the privilege of the leisured wealthy.

Most people through time “broke their fast” with a warm drink (soup, tea) and a simple grain product (rice, oatmeal, bread). This combination stimulated the stomache, preparing it for the day’s meals. While many “traditional” [British, American] breakfasts items consumed today trace back to ancient times (eggs, sausage, pancakes, doughnuts/fritters), few people through time were fortunate enough to enjoy them as is customarily promoted today. “Traditional” British breakfasts marketed to today’s holiday celebrants and vacationers are typically reminiscent of wealthy-class Victorian fare. Brunch is closely related. Today few people partake of this traditional meal. Why? Time constraints and health concerns.


The history of the American breakfast is a reflection of the history of our country. What people ate for breakfast, how much, and when evolved as our country progressed from native culture to agrarian society, through the industrial revolution and onto modern days. Most traditional American breakfast items were brought here by the people who settled our country. Historians confirm eggs (esp. omelets), sausage, and pancake-type foods have been enjoyed since Ancient Rome and Greece.

Breakfast also tells the story of social interaction and scientific advancement:

  • colonists learned to incorporate “new world” foods into their diets (corn muffins, grits)
  • immigrants brought traditional foods (kuchen, potato pancakes, doughnuts)
  • pioneers learned to adapt their foods for wagon cooking (cowboy coffee, biscuits)
  • 19th century food reformers advocated a healthy diet (corn flakes, granola)
  • modern convenience (pop tarts, Egg McMuffins, frozen bagels)
  • nutrition legislation (school breakfast programs)
  • scientific advancement (instant oatmeal, cholesterol-free egg beaters, low-fat bacon)
  • restaurant business (doughnut shops, 24 hour diners, elaborate Sunday brunches)

What time was breakfast? What was typically consumed at this meal throughout American history? This is a fascinating study. The answers depend upon who you were, where you lived, how much money you had, and what you did for a living. As a rule, the more money you had, the more you ate, the later you ate it, and the more time you spent around the table. Throughout our country’s history, it is not unusual for many hard workers to put in a couple of hours of work BEFORE breakfast.

“Even more elusive is the evidence for breakfast. Judging from cookbooks and dietary literature there was no such meal, or at least it was only recommended for children, invalids and the elderly who have weak digestive systems and must eat smaller meals more frequently. Nevertheless, there was such a meal, and some people took it regularly. The word itself comes from the late Latin disjejunare, meaning “to un-fast’ or break the fast of the evening. Remarkably, the word was contracted in the Romance languages to disnare or disnerin Olde French, or dinner in English. Thus the word dinner actually means breakfast. But the word is not recorded in English until 1463 in a royal account book that records expenses for breakfast, but it is not entirely clear whether this was an early dinner or another meal, the one we know know as breakfast, eaten first thing in the morning.”
Food in Early Modern Europe, Ken Albala [Greenwood Press:Westport CT] 2003 (p. 232)

“Breakfast…Native American breakfast consisted of cornmeal mush and perhaps cornbread, both items the first European settlers adapted for their own breakfasts. The settlers also breakfasted on a quickly prepared porridge called “hasty pudding,” made with cornmeal and molasses. Later bread or toast and coffee or tea were the usual breakfast, while in the nineteenth century affluence brought more variety to the diet and larger portions of meats, fish, cheese, bread, jams, and often a tot of rum or cider. Also popular were pancakes, especially buckwheat pancakes, which were consumed in stacks with butter and molasses or maple syrup… In different parts of the United States different food items are served for breakfast, although a meals of eggs, bacon, toast, and coffee seem ubiquitious, with the addition in the South of grits, ham, or biscuits, in the West with chile peppers, and in the Northeast with sausages and hash-brown potatoes, and in urban restaurants with preparations of eggs benedict, finnan haddie, melon, french toast, caviar, waffles, Danish pastry, fruit, English muffins, and many other items In Jewish communities breakfast may consist of bagels and cream cheese. The popularity of breakfast cereals began in the middle of the nineteenth century and has continued since then, especially a children’s breakfast item.”
Encyclopedia of American Food and Drink, John F. Mariani [Lebhar-Friedman:New York] 1999 (p. 41-2)
[NOTE: This book is an excellent resource for historic profiles of selected foods. Ask your librarian to help you find a copy]

Why do many Americans think of eggs & bacon as breakfast?

Excellent question! With no definitive answer. The American habit of breakfasting with eggs and pork products (bacon, sausage, Taylor Pork Roll) descends from British roots. General notes traditional English breakfasts here. Why eggs in the morning? Some hypothesize the practice descends from the days when many people had their own chickens, hense ready eggs supply. Eggs were harvested in the morning. The fresher the egg, the tastier it was. Immediate consumption might also been a a convenience to the cook: eggs eaten are eggs that do not need to be stored. And then, there’s the practical side. Eggs cook quickly.

Roasted Pumpkin Soup


Pumpkin Bisque

  • Velvety and golden.  If the bisque seems too thick, thin it with a light touch of extra stock or cream.
  • 1 T olive oil                                                               3 C roasted pumpkin
  • 1 T sweet butter                                                       ½ t salt
  • 1 cup onion peeled and chopped                           ½ t nutmeg
  • 8 C vegetable stock                                                ½ t cinnamon
  • ½ C carrots diced                                                   1 t fresh ground ginger
  • ½ cup celery chopped                                          ½ t white pepper
  • 2 C heavy cream                                                     1 sweet potato chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic chopped                                        1 granny smith apple
  • 1 cup white wine
  1. In a large saucepan, heat the oil and butter.  Add the onion, carrots, and celery sauté 5 minutes over medium low heat.
  2. Add garlic, apple, ginger, and sweet potato. Then add wine and spices. Sauté for 3 minutes.
  3. Add roasted pumpkin and stock.  Stir well and bring to low simmer for 30 minutes.
  4. Turn heat down and let sit for 20 minutes before the puree in blender.  I suggest using a hand blender, as hot soups in blenders are very dangerous – they blow the lid and may cause burns.  Return soup to pot.
  5. Add the cream.  Reheat but do not boil the soup before serving.

Serves 6

Breakfast in Virginia

I was thinking on my drive into l’etoile this morning about breakfast and what it means to our culture here in Charlottesville and Albemarle county.  Lately I have been researching food history and in particular Virginia foods and how they have evolved over the years.  I thought I would share some of what I learned about our colonial history and some of the eating habits of the day.  It seems not much has changed from the home table to the restaurant tables of the modern breakfast/brunch.  I do think as citizens of this area of Virginia we need to revisit cider and its importance in our daily diet…. I will save that for another time.

Breakfast. The Colonial American breakfast was far from the juice, eggs and bacon of today. The stoic early settlers rose early and went straight to the chores that demanded their attention. In frontier outposts and on farms, families drank cider or beer and gulped down a bowl of porridge that had been cooking slowly all night over the embers…In the towns, the usual mug of alcoholic beverage consumed upon rising was followed by cornmeal mush and molasses with more cider or beer. By the nineteenth century, breakfast was served as late a 9 or 10 o’clock. Here might be found coffee, tea or chocolate, wafers, muffins, toasts, and a butter dish and knife…The southern poor ate cold turkey washed down with ever-present cider. The size of breakfasts grew in direct proportion to growth of wealth. Breads, cold meats and, especially in the Northeast, fruit pies and pasties joined the breakfast menus. Families in the Middle Colonies added special items such as scrapple (cornmeal and headcheese) and dutch sweetcakes which were fried in deep fat. It was among the Southern planters that breakfast became a leisurely and delightful meal, though it was not served until early chores were attended to and orders for the day given…Breads were eaten at all times of the day but particularly at breakfast.

Apples & Family

Good apple pies are a considerable part of our domestic happiness.” In areas of the American South, the production of apple butter is a family event, due to the large amount of labor necessary to produce apple butter in large quantities. Traditionally apple butter was and is prepared in large copper kettles outside. Large paddles are used to stir the apples and family members would take turns stirring.

A Sample Menu Course from Louis XIV 1656 – Fifth Course:

Brace yourselves…
24 different kinds of pastries.
24 jars of raw fruit.
24 dishes of sweetmeats.
Preserves dried and in syrup and jams.
This full meal had 168 garnished dishes or plates, not counting the various foodstuffs served as dessert.

Apple Sweet Potato Soup

Velvety and golden. If the bisque seems too thick, thin it with a light touch of extra stock or cream. Roast Sweet potatoes for 2hrs before making soup

1 T olive oil
4 C cubed Sweet potatoes
1 T sweet butter
½ t salt
1 cup onion peeled and chopped
½ t nutmeg
6 C vegetable stock
½ t cinnamon
½ C carrots diced
1 t fresh ground ginger
½ cup celery chopped
½ t white pepper
2 C heavy cream
2 cloves garlic chopped
4 granny smith apples chopped
1 cup white wine

1. In a large saucepan, heat the oil and butter. Add the onion, carrots, and celery sauté 15 minutes over medium low heat.
2. Add garlic, apple, ginger. Then add wine and spices. Sauté for 10 minutes.
3. Add sweet potato and stock. Stir well and bring to low simmer for 30 minutes.
4. Turn heat down and let sit for 20 minutes before the puree in blender. I suggest using a hand blender, as hot soups in blenders are very dangerous – they blow the lid and may cause burns. Return soup to pot.
5. Add the cream. Reheat but do not boil the soup before serving.

Serves 6