I can be honest with all of you, my dear readers, right? I mean food blogging is all about sharing recipes, cultures and traditions, right? Well I would like to share with you some of my food traditions for this time of year, which are a bit personal.

I celebrate Yule. Yule is the ancient celebration of the Winter Solstice, which generally falls between December 21-23. I am Pagan. Which means I have my own rich traditions for this deeply special and sacred time of year.

Winter Solstice has been celebrated for thousands of years, spanning many cultures. If most of us traced our family trees back far enough (and for some we might not have to go that far) we would likely find many ancestors who celebrated this feast of light – the return of the sun after the darkest times of the winter, when the days begin to lengthen. The ancient Romans knew the celebration as Saturnalia, the Hindus call it Diwali, the Jewish festival of light is called Hanukkah. For those of us who follow the pathways of our ancient Northern European ancestors, we call it Yule, Jul, or Jule.

Many traditions from lighted Christmas trees, to Yule logs and mistletoe are a part of this rich history and have influenced more modern winter holiday celebrations. These were all ways to celebrate the return of the sun and light after the bleak Northern winter. A time to celebrate brighter days ahead – hope for the future. There are still many of us today who continue these time-honored traditions.

In our home we celebrate by decorating 2 live trees – one outside with edible ornaments for the wildlife to enjoy and one indoors, potted that we can use year after year. We also burn a yule log, which is carefully chosen to represent maximum heat potential and longevity and then at midnight on the solstice we turn out all the lights for several minutes, and then turn them all back on to welcome the sun and the light.

In commemoration of this holiday, I also enjoy preparing a delicious feast. Isn’t that what all food obsessed people do? Did you know that the tradition of the Christmas Ham comes from ancient Scandinavians and Germanic peoples? The traditional meal for these proud people was a whole roasted hog, a tribute to the God, Frey, who is associated with boars.

This year I found out that I have some German and Scandinavian (Danish) roots of my own, and to celebrate this new-found heritage, and honor my ancestors, I decided to focus this Yule feast on those cuisines. Typical Jul fare in Denmark includes roast pork, potatoes and red cabbage. So I created a delicious Yule feast consisting of Roasted Pork Chops and Cherry Sauce with Wine Kraut, Red Cabbage and Mashed Purple Viking Potatoes with fresh local cream and butter.

For dessert we enjoyed a Deconstructed Brown Rice Pudding with Cherries. All washed down with some delicious local sparkling mead. (recipes below).

If you would like to celebrate the Winter Solstice and need some food for thought, here are some ideas from years past:

Norwegian Kjøttkaker med Brunsaus (spiced meatballs in gravy)

Norwegian Mulled Wine and Sweet Porridge

Winter Solstice Cocktail Party

Yule Log cake or Bûche de Noël

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THIS YEAR’S RECIPES:

Roasted Pork Chops and Cherry Sauce with Wine Kraut and Red Cabbage

2 large bone-in pastured pork chops

1 TBS wild game blend (juniper, savory, mustard, brown sugar)

3 ½ cups shredded red cabbage

4 slices of dried apple snipped into strips

salt & pepper

1 ½ tsp Beau Monde- allspice, bay, cinnamon, cloves, mace, nutmeg, black and white pepper

1 pint homemade winekraut

for Cherry Sauce

1 cup 100% pure dark cherry juice

¼ cup fruity red wine

palmful of dried morello cherries (unsulphured, no sugar added)

½ tsp vanilla extract

black pepper to taste

METHOD:

Preheat oven to 350 F. Season pork chops with wild game blend. In a large cast iron skillet sear pork chops on all sides in butter or bacon fat. In the bottom of a tagine or dutch oven, season the red cabbage with salt, pepper and beau monde. Place the chops on the cabbage and pour the winekraut over everything. Add the apple slices. Roast in oven for 2 hours.

After 1 ½ hours make the cherry sauce. In a small saucepan, mix all ingredients. Bring to a boil, over medium heat then reduce heat to low. Reduce the sauce until it is ½ of the original amount. Place in a small serving bowl for ladling on top of the pork. Serve with mashed potatoes. Serves 2.

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Deconstructed Brown Rice Pudding (no sugar added, egg and gluten free)

INGREDIENTS:

½ cup of almonds (I soak my almonds in water and salt overnight and then store in the freezer)

¼ cup dried morello cherries (unsulphured, no sugar added)

¼ cup dried wild blueberries (unsulphured, no sugar added)

½ cup water

1 cup cooked brown rice

½ cup whole milk (preferably raw)

1/3 cup 100% pure dark cherry juice

1 TBS pure vanilla extract

¼ cup Drambuie or brandy

METHOD:

Soak almonds one day ahead (optional). Soak cherries and blueberries in warm water for at least ½ hour. Also soak the rice in the milk. This will allow the berries to plump up and the rice to absorb some of the milk.

Right before serving, dump the berries and their soaking liquid in a small saucepan with the extra cherry juice, vanilla extract and booze. Heat up over medium heat, bring to a boil and then simmer until berries have soaked up most of the liquid.

To serve, pour the berry compote over the rice and milk mixture. Serves 2.