Evidence suggests that ancient Egyptians were early adopters of holiday decor by adorning their homes with sprays of palm fronds to celebrate the winter solstice and sun god Ra’s recovery from the weather’s harshness, which was thought to symbolise the conquering of death. However, German Christians of the 1600s are often credited with starting the tradition of displaying and decorating trees indoors as we know it today. During the 17th century, it was common practice to lay fruit and nuts on evergreens. In 1848, it was an image of Queen Victoria and German Prince Albert’s bedecked Christmas tree in a London news journal that sparked the manufactured ornament industry that eventually became a $25 million venture by the turn of the century.
From the Victorian era’s use of baubles and botanicals, to dazzling modern-day electric displays, Christmas decorations have evolved quite a bit. There has been a return to a more organic holiday style in recent years, which naturally includes incorporating edible decorations into seasonal celebrations. Handcrafting edible adornments not only adds a unique DIY flair to the holidays but also serves the dual purpose of being able to be enjoyed beyond aesthetics.
Typically used to celebrate baptisms, first communions, and weddings, a traditional croquembouche is a French dessert made with croquettes of choux pastry interspersed with gossamer threads of spun sugar. In this video, we have a classic Croquembouche recipe from Home Cooking Adventure:
Crafting the classic patisserie is clearly a complicated endeavour (ask any culinary school student); assembling a croquembouche composed entirely of berries is a much simpler task and requires no cooking. Its Christmas tree shape is a perfect complement to seasonal decorating themes and offers a healthy alternative to sugary holiday confections.
Berry Croquembouche Recipe
- 1 green Styrofoam cone (measuring 4-5 inches in diameter at the base and 12 inches high)
- 1 box of toothpicks
- 4 one-pound containers of fresh strawberries (or berry of your choice; smaller berries like blueberries may require higher quantities)
- 1 bunch fresh mint
- 1 slice carambola fruit (star fruit)
- Wash the strawberries and blot them dry. Remove stems. Reserve a perfect strawberry for the top of the croquembouche.
- Push a toothpick halfway into the side of the cone, about a ½ inch from the bottom edge. Secure a strawberry to the toothpick, piercing it through the stem end. Secure another strawberry right next to the first one. Continue securing strawberries to the cone in circular rows up to its top, covering the cone completely. Secure the reserved strawberry to the top of the tree.
- Remove some mint leaves from the bunch and tuck them between the berries, placing them at about 3-inch intervals.
- Secure the star-shaped carambola to the top of the cone using a toothpick.
Caprese Salad Table Wreath
You’re likely to see wreaths adorn interior and exterior doors or even the backs of dining chairs, but an edible table wreath pulls double-duty as both ornamentation and appetiser. The verdant basil adds a fresh, almost piny aroma, and the bright colours of the Caprese salad mimic classic Christmas tones. In this video by Hola Niki there's an easy-to-make caprese salad table wreath that will brighten up any Christmas dinner table:
Now that you know how easy it is to create a striking edible table decoration, try this festive caprese salad table wreath recipe for yourself.
Caprese Salad Table Wreath Recipe
For the balsamic glaze (or use ¾ cup of the store-bought version)
- 1 ½ cups (375 ml) balsamic vinegar
- 3 tablespoons brown sugar
For the salad
- 12 ounces (600 grams) grape or cherry tomatoes
- 10 ounces (300 grams) fresh bocconcini (mozzarella balls), drained
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 3-4 teaspoons dried Italian herbs
- Handful fresh basil leaves, shredded plus 12 whole leaves (to garnish)
- Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
For the balsamic glaze
- Combine the vinegar and sugar in a small saucepan. Cook while continually stirring over low heat for 4-5 minutes or until sugar has dissolved. Increase heat to medium setting and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and allow to simmer for 8-10 minutes or until reduced by one-third and thickened like syrup.
For the salad
- Around a large serving plate, arrange whole basil leaves in groups of three. Wash and dry the tomatoes. Place them in a circle on a large serving plate or round platter. Drain the mozzarella balls and arrange between the tomatoes.
- Drizzle bocconcini and tomatoes with olive oil and season with the Italian herbs, salt, and pepper.
- Garnish with the fresh shredded basil. Tuck decorative food picks around the plate for easy pick-up.
Medieval herbalists used sachets of fragrant dried herbs and flowers known as pomanders to ward off illness and disease and conjure good luck. Even plague doctors, with their odd beak-shaped masks and goggles, filled the masks’ tips with a similar mixture to mitigate the smell of disease. Fruit pomanders, derived from the French word pomme d’arbre (apple of amber), are so-called because of their spherical shape and the traditional addition of ambergris, a heavily fragranced substance made from the bile duct of a sperm whale. Though it is edible, ambergris happens to be one of the most expensive fragrances in the world, so you’re unlikely to add it to your holiday ornaments. Whole cloves emit a similar warm, spicy smell and are a suitable pairing to citrus like oranges, limes, and lemons; their spiky shape is ideal for piercing rinds.
To make pomanders, carve decorative patterns in the rinds of citrus fruit with a paring knife and stick whole cloves all over the fruit. You can arrange a single bowl of the studded fruit as a table centrepiece or place multiple ones around your house to add a warm, comforting aroma.
Popcorn and Cranberry Garland
When the idea of decorating with Christmas trees rose to prominence in the United States, the evergreens were often adorned with fruit, eventually giving way to the widespread practice of fashioning popcorn and cranberry into a garland. To craft this edible laurel, use a tapestry needle and baker’s twine and alternately string plump, firm cranberries and stove-popped popcorn. It can be strung on your tree or draped across the mantle; for an extra posh look, sugar the cranberries before stringing.
Soup/Dip Mix Ornaments
There may be no more satisfying harbinger of the holiday season than the smell of a hearty soup simmering away on the stove. Giving dry soup mix in a smartly decorated glass jar along with a recipe instruction card is a thoughtful and practical gift, but trimming the tree with soup mix-filled bulbs and baubles is an unexpected twist on holiday decor.
To assemble, unscrew the top of a clear fillable ornament and pour in a bit of salt (Kosher salt is preferred) and pour in a soup or dip mix of your choice. Tie a ribbon or piece of jute twine around the neck of the ornament to finish. When you’re ready to use your soup or dip mix, add it to the additional wet ingredients.
Chicken and Rice Soup Mix (fills several ornaments)
For the mix
1 cup rice
3 chicken bouillon cubes, crushed
2 ¼ tablespoons dehydrated veggies
5 ½ cups water
- Bring the water to a roiling boil. Add mix and let boil for 2-3 minutes; cover and reduce heat to medium-low. Allow soup to simmer until rice is tender, about 25 minutes.
Italian Dip Mix (fills one small ornament)
- ¾ teaspoon garlic powder
- ¾ teaspoon onion powder
- ⅓ teaspoon paprika
- ½ teaspoon celery seed
- ¼ teaspoon seasoned salt
Additional ingredients for mix
- 1 tablespoon grated parmesan cheese
- ½ cup (113 g) sour cream
- Combine the above ingredients with a hand mixer until well-blended.
- Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours before serving. Serve with veggies, crackers, or chips.