The parsnip is a classic Christmas lunch vegetable, usually eaten roasted but sometimes boiled or steamed. The edible part is the taproot, and this contains high quantities of dietary fibre (which has given the vegetable an unfortunate reputation for causing flatulent after effects) but also develops a high sugar content after chilling for a period of several days hence the truth of the commonly heard assertion that parsnips are better after the frost has reached them. Parsnips are particularly good if roasted with a little honey for extra sweetness and some English mustard to give a little heat to bring out the flavours. Continue reading
Hippeastrum x johnsonii illustration by Priscilla Susan Bury
“I was surprised to discover from a 2007 Daily Telegraph column, that Amaryllis is the most popular Christmas cut-flower in the UK. Who knew?” Continue reading
The Favourite Sultana by Etienne Jeaurat
Clearly the most key link of preserved dried grapes to Christmas is their use in Christmas cake, Christmas Pudding and sweet mincemeat for mince pies. These are all based heavily on dried grapes but with additional flavourings of spices, citrus fruits and almonds. While we are very familiar with Raisins, Sultanas and Currants have you spared a thought on how they got their names?
The cocoa plant, Theobroma cacao
Surely, no series of Advent Botany would, could or should be complete without the divine chocolate!
Linnaeus named the cocoa tree Theobroma cacao which literally means “Food of the Gods” reflecting the truly reverential status in which the tree is held. The cocoa tree is small, not unlike a dwarfed apple tree in size, and is native to the tropical Amazonian forests. Over 3,500 years ago the Olmecs of Mexico were the first civilisation to use cocoa beans widely. They roasted and ground the beans, mixed in vanilla, chilli and spices to make a cold, bitter, savoury drink. The powers imbued by chocolate were thought to include spiritual wisdom, physical stamina and enhanced sexual prowess, what’s not to love about it? Continue reading
2014 Christmas Tree at UoR
There is much debate and disagreement about the origin of Christmas trees and they have variously been linked to oak branches used in mystery plays and even the Yule log, however the earliest records of the Christmas tree in the modern sense seem to relate to use of conifers in German speaking regions although this could have been in Riga in 1510 (although this could have been a paradise tree) or the Rhineland in the mid 1500s where a conifer was used. Records are patchy. Use of the tree in the UK and North America followed publicity on its use by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert.
For the first time on Whiteknights campus the University of Reading has an illuminated Christmas tree outside. The tree is a young Cedrus libani now about 10m tall and showing the distinctive triangular shape of most young conifers. Continue reading
#AdventBotany Day 14 – Yesterday we wrapped our Advent Botany Christmas parcels in botanical paper, today we tie them up with string! Modern Christmas string is most likely made from nylon, rayon, polyester or other synthetics. But how nice to deliver your Christmas parcels tied up with botanical string? String can be fashioned from the plant fibres of a wide range of species including: Continue reading