Saturday, January 31, 2009

Thyme and Thyme Again? BDD #16 Bread With Cheese

Parsnip & Parmesan Bread
(adapted from Delia Smith's recipe in HTC book 1 & her Vegetarian Collection)

for Bread Baking Day#16
(check out:

I made this for our Burns supper (see last 2 posts), to go with the leek and potato soup, which was seasoned with rosemary and thyme.

Delia's recipe is with sage, a taste I'm not that keen on, so I used thyme (again) and parsley, and I also added garlic. The latter two mainly because I wanted them to feature in the look of the bread. I saw this on someon
e's blog and I thought it looked terrific.

175g parsnips (peeled weight)
50g Parmesan (5 mm cubes)
1 tbsp thyme
1 tbsp parsley
1 clove of garlic
225g self-raising flour
1 1/2 tsp salt
2 large eggs, beaten
1 tbsp milk

parmesan shavings
1 clove of garlic

You need: a small solid baking sheet
Pre-heat the oven to Gas mark 5, 375°F/190°C

Sift the flour, add the salt. Grate the parsnips coarsely, add to the flour together with the parmesan, thyme, parsley and finely cut garlic. Mix, then add the eggs and the milk. The dough should be rough, loose, sticky. Pat it on to the baking sheet into a 15 cm round, make a cross, scatter the Parmesan, sprinkle with some flour. Dip the parsley first into olive oil then into flour, arrange on top. Stick the whole garlic clove in the middle. Bake on a high shelf for 40 - 45 minutes.

Verdict: All in all, a success. It looked great and went reasonably well with the soup - a touch too sweet maybe. As I never tasted the original, I don’t know whether the sage tones the sweetness of the parsnips down, or whether thyme and garlic add even more. I would definitely bake it again, maybe to go with a more peppery, tomato based soup. The parmesan shavings on the outside were delicious.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Leeky Pot, Parsnips and Parkin - or how to get the 60s, 70s and 80s into one posting

This is what the chicken stuffed with haggis (see last posting) looked like (1), and we all enjoyed it immensely, even though the boys had been sceptical beforehand: one communicating this with facial expressions hovering between disbelief and disgust, the other one declaring it 'bizarre'. And if I say 'all', I have to exclude my MIL, who could not make it, and the Crown Prince's girl-friend No3 (2). Not having learnt from last Sunday when he left a garbled voice message on the house-phone that girl-friend No1 has turned Vegan, he had again omitted to tell me that this girl is Vegetarian. Had I known beforehand, I could have tried out McSween's Vegetarian Haggis and made her a Savoy Cabbage Roll. As it was, she had to make do with the vegetables and mash. She really enjoyed the Whisky sauce though, which was rather delicious, even if I say so myself.

In wise anticipation, I had decided to turn the traditional cock-a-leeky soup into a Vegetarian pot-a-leeky, or 'Leeky Pot' (3), just in case, which was very well received, as was the Parsnip & Parmesan Bread (adapted from Delia Smith, recipe to follow shortly for Bread Baking Daily#16).

For the chicken, I used my Römertopf (4) for the first time in decades; my oldest recited the few lines of Burns he knew (which weren't from the ode to a haggis), and my BH played Alex Harvey (5), which was the best he could come up with in place of bagpipes.

We rounded the festivities off with the tipsy laird trifle. It was very nice, though I wouldn't use Parkin again instead of trifle sponge. I wanted something oaty, but the Parkin is too gingery, something with less of a taste of its own would have been better (Dundee cake maybe, to stick with the Scottish theme?)

(1) In case you have noticed the tartan tablecloth: that’s actually just a piece of material, which I bought to make myself a Western style blouse, back in the early 80s. Just one of the many unfinished (in this case, never started) projects of my life. Apparently, apart from ‘Camel Thompson’ (or Mackenzie), there aren’t any brown tartans; I checked them all! The Burns one has a red background, check it out here. It’s something to do with the Clan Campbell and applies to the names of Burns, Burness, Burnes, Barnes, Burner and Burnhouse. The word “burn” is an OE word for stream, still commonly used in Scotland.
(2) The numbering system is purely chronological. It is not very likely that girl-friend No2 is going to turn up again, mainly because girl-friend No1 has always featured, however infrequently. It’s a polyamorous thing, a bit like free love in the 60s (maybe more about this some other time..)
(3) A very basic soup: onions, 2 leeks, 2 potatoes, marigold vegetarian stock, garlic, nutmeg, seasoning; but the tip taken from Alex Jamieson's Great American Detox Diet, Rodale Press, 2005, to add the rosemary and thyme only just before the blending process, was a revelation. (She is a Vegan chef and the fiancee of the maker of the film, Supersize Me.)
(4) It's an earthenware casserole dish, which was very popular in Germany in the 70s. It has to be immersed in water for 15 minutes prior to use, it goes into a cold oven, and the desired temperature is reached in 3 stages. It cooked the chicken beautifully - mind you, they were M & S 'succulent' chicken breasts, so maybe not all the credit goes to the R
(5) Scottish rock and roll performer (1935 - 1982)

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Burns Treatment

It's Burns Night on Sunday, and this year it's particularly special because it's the 250th anniversary of the Scottish Bard.

Burns, who died when only 37, penned more than 400 popular songs, and amongst his best known pieces are
Auld Lang Syne, A Red, Red Rose and To A Mouse.

Auld Lang Syne is, of course, traditionally sung at the stroke of Midnight on New Years' Eve, not just in Scotland or the British Isles, but in other places of the former Commonwealth, too, I believe (1).
A Red, Red Rose is probably why Burns is regarded as a pioneer of the Romantic movement, and likewise why Romanticism and the term 'romantic' is nowadays equated with 'kitsch' and roses, when really, it was much more than that, with men like Burns and Blake inspiring both liberal and socialist thought.
To A Mouse not only starts with a personal favourite, "Wee sleekit, cow'rin, tim'rous beastie", but also contains the much better known line: "The best-laid schemes o mice an men/Gang aft agley" (often incorrectly cited as: 'The best-laid plans of mice and men/ Often go awry'), which provided Nobel Prize winning author John Steinbeck with yet another unforgettable title. Incidentally, we are going to see Of Mice and Men (2), produced as a play at the Crescent Theatre tomorrow. You'll be able to read my review soonish, either here or in a new blog.
For January 25th and the so-called Burns Suppers, it is, of course, To A Haggis, which is instrumental.
According to
Wikipedia, Burns Suppers are celebrated around the world, in fact, are more widely observed than the official national day of Scotland, Saint Andrew's Day, or the proposed North American celebration of Tartan Day.

The ritual of Burns Suppers
(3) was started by close friends of Burns shortly after his death in 1796, and its basic format has remained largely unchanged. After the Chairperson's opening address, the company are asked to stand to "receive the haggis", which is carried to the top table by the chef to the sound of bagpipes and the guests' slow handclap. Burns' famous poem is then recited by either the chairman or an invited guest. Upon reaching the line, 'an cut you up wi' ready slight', the haggis will be cut open with a sharp knife, which is followed by applause. The company will then stand and toast the haggis with a glass of whisky.

The typical
"Bill o' Fare" would be Cock-a-leekie soup, followed by Haggis, Tatties and Bashed Neeps. For afters, there'd be Tyspy Laird (sherry trifle) and A Tassie o' Coffee.

But my recipe for Burns Night is:

Breast Of Chicken With Haggis In A Whisky Sauce
(G&T Recipe #1)

My BH, forever 'stationed' in such exotic places such as Blackpool, encountered some such creation just outside the infamous seaside resort, namely in LYTHAM ST ANNES , and came to love it, so much so that he invited us up there, with the main intention to take us to that restaurant - BISTRO GERRY - so that we could sample it. (4)

I loved it, too. So, last year, I researched it, and this is my recipe -- an amalgamation of a variety of googled online suggestions. (5)

1 breast of chicken per person
ca 1 slice of haggis per person
onions, thyme
2 tablespoons of oil
Sufficient bacon/pancetta/Schinken
(7) to wrap each chicken breast

sauce: for 4
Shot of whisky per person (ca 25ml)
12 fl oz double cream
20 fl oz brown stock

Heat 1 tsp of oil in a frying pan set over a low heat. Soften the chopped onion and thyme, stir in the crumbled haggis. Set aside.

Slice the chicken breasts so that they open like a sandwich, stuff each breast with haggis, onion and thyme mixture, close and wrap each chicken breast in bacon/Schinken slices.

Cook, covered, in an ovenproof dish in a moderate oven for an hour (turning periodically), then remove the cover and crisp the bacon for about 30 minutes.

Put cream and whisky in a saucepan, bring to the boil and reduce to half the original quantity. Add stock, bring back to the boil and season. If the sauce is too thin, add a little corn flour. Pour sauce on a plate, slice the chicken and arrange on top of the sauce.

Serve with turnips (neeps) and potato mash (tatties) and green vegetables.


If I do go ahead with a 'Typsy Laird' Trifle, I'll probably be using Scottish raspberries and Drambuie.


I am not quite certain what Scotland's first ever 'homecoming year' actually means but apparently, Rabbie Burns is more controversial than you'd think. Most of the following is from

On January 5th, Susan Smith reported that a leading historian argued, Robert Burns was a
"racist, misogynist drunk" who is unfit to promote Scotland's 2009 Homecoming celebrations. The historian who pointed to Burns' moral shortcomings was Michael Fry. Clearly, other people do not share this opinion, the National Trust for Scotland for one. They will be publishing his letters from the years 1787-1789 online (each one on the day it was originally written). They kicked off in December with Burns confessing in a letter to Captain Brown that he is

"ready to hang [himself] for a young Edinburgh widow, who has wit and beauty more murderously fatal than the assassinating stiletto of the Sicilian Banditti, or the poisoned arrow of the savage African."

Hmm, I think we get the picture.

PS: I have just found out that there are first-class stamps featuring Burns on sale as of today. Apparently an honour that no other non-royal person has ever achieved!
(1) Interestingly, it was one of the songs that we, a class of German school-girls, sang at a school in Rye/Sussex in 1972 - presumably to show off our superb grasp of a foreign language - not at all realizing that this is a song for New Years' Eve! I wonder what the hosts thought of it. My friend, Big E, and I made quite a fuss of enacting the "And there’s a hand my trusty friend ! And gie's a hand o’thine!", and we still consider it, to this day, OUR song!
(2) A 1937 novel, about two displaced migrant workers during the Great Depression in California; very tragic and very topical
(3) All the following information is taken from here:
(4) 345 CLIFTON DRIVE SOUTH, LYTHAM ST ANNES, LANCASHIRE, FY8 1LP Tel: 01253 723511; chef: Gerry Soutar. Other than the terrific food, Blackpool itself was an utter disappointment. As it was, we had a room with a view in the Blackpool Hilton, only there was no view at all! Thick fog completely and utterly disguised the fact we were at the seaside. Even the tower was shrouded entirely!
(5)It's what I like doing. I like to find what you might call the essence of a recipe - the absolutely agreed components, if you like - and then tweak it according to my liking and/or requirements. The latter, for instance, may be to cut out unnecessary fat/calories or food my BH isn't supposed to eat because of his heart condition. I shall call them my G&T recipes (googled and tested) from now on.
(6) The Robbie Burns Society reckons that Macsween of Edinburgh means haggis in Scotland almost exclusively, and that's what I bought; available at Waitrose.
(7) I use Schwarzwälder Schinken from Lidl because it is the thinnest cut and does the job really well without adding unnecessary calories.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Tartiflette Au Pif

My youngest had Rugby County trials yesterday and had asked me to make him something really nice for his return. So I thought of the tartiflette that our friend Anatole had baked for a party, a dish greatly admired by my 14-year-old. Rich and comforting, just the thing my aspiring Tiger/Lion/Dragon (1) would hope to indulge in after a long hard day in school (he gets up at 6:30) and on a freezing (but hopefully not frozen) rugby pitch (trials starting at 5:30 in the afternoon, no time in between to come home!) .

When I researched the recipe on-line, I found quite a few variations - the Waitrose recipe, anachronistically, featured mushrooms (and my boys hate fungi), quite a few contained some form of cream, and some even white wine or dry vermouth - but when I asked A. for his recipe, his answer was this:

Pour la recette de la tartiflette, c'est un peu au pif, mais c'est tout simple: d'abord faire cuire les pommes de terre découpées, les oignons et les lardons à la poële; ensuite mettre les pommes de terre au fond, les oignons et les lardons dessus, et à nouveau des pommes de terre sur le dessus; découper un Reblochon en deux dans la hauteur, et les poser sur le dessus; et mettre à cuire au four, jusqu'à ce que le fromage soit fondu.

That's more like it: Sliced potatoes, onions, bacon bits, first fried, then laid out in an ovenproof dish, potatoes first, then onions and bacon bits, then another layer of potatoes. Finish with Reblochon, cut in half. Bake until cheese has completely melted.

But how many potatoes, onions, lardons? And what the heck is 'au pif'? Ah, that's just it... When I looked it up, there was a whole web discussion in the on-line dictionary. Apparently, the expression is used for those dishes one cooks not according to any set recipe but by instinct and experience (i.e. everything my BH cooks and most family dishes...):

'at a rough guess'/'nach eigenem Ermessen', 'according to preference'/'nach Belieben'.

Without the experience, I had to go back to the other recipes for that 'rough guess'. Unsurprisingly, they didn't just differ greatly in terms of ingredients and amounts, but they also used different methods! Whether you slice, dice or mince your onions, or which type of bacon you use, may be a matter of taste, but whether you boil your potatoes (peeled or in their skins) beforehand has consequences!!!
There wasn't even one agreed method as far as the deployment of the Reblochon is concerned but I think putting the whole cheese on top, sliced lengthways, sounds the most authentic

What follows is a summary of various recipes:

The 4 basic ingredients are:

  • Potatoes, waxy, such as Cara, Desirée, Charlotte
  • Onions
  • Bacon
  • Reblochon (if you cannot get hold of Reblochon, the following alternatives have been recommended: Crémier de Chaumes, Epoisses, Pont-l'Évêque (3) or even a mature Irish Ardrahan)

To serve 4 - 6:
  1. 25 - 50 g butter, depending on whether you need it just for greasing or for frying the onions and bacon
  2. 175g - 250g bacon (ca 2 thick rashers of smoked streaky bacon) or pancetta, cut into 1cm lardons
  3. 500g - 1.5kg potatoes
  4. 1 large or 2 medium white onion(s), diced or finely sliced or even minced
  5. 1 ripe Reblochon cheese (ca 250g)
  6. Salt and freshly ground pepper

Oil for frying, if not using butter
1 garlic clove, peeled and cut in half, for rubbing the baking dish
568ml carton single/double cream/2 tablespoons crème fraiche or chicken stock
1 glass - 1 bottle of dry white wine

You will need a shallow baking dish (about 25 x 30cm).


Preheat the oven to 150°C/gas 2 - 200°C/400°F/gas mark 5.
Rub your dish well with the halves of garlic, if using.
Grease with the butter.

Bacon and onions:

Heat a frying pan over a medium-high heat. Add the bacon and onion. Sauté over a medium heat; they should sweat but not brown. Season.

Potatoes: (4 methods)

A: Toss the potato slices (ca 3mm) with salt and pepper.
B: Sauté the potato slices.
C: Peel the potatoes, then boil. When finished, drain and leave to cool (do not refresh!!!).
D: Bring a large pan of water to the boil and cook the potatoes whole, in their skins, for 15 minutes. Drain the potatoes and as soon as they are cool enough to handle, peel them. Slice.

Arranging the ingredients:
  • Arrange half the sliced potatoes in a layer to cover the bottom of your dish, season, then scatter over the onion and bacon mixture.
  • Add the remaining potatoes and more seasoning.
  • Pour enough cream or chicken stock, if using, over the top to just cover the potatoes.
  • Add a glass of dry white wine, if using. Top with the Reblochon.
  • Dot with the remaining butter (optional).


The idea is that the Reblochon should melt and drip down while the potatoes go crisp. But because of the different methods, as outlined above, the length of the process and the required temperatures vary, from 30 - 35 minutes when using pre-boiled potatoes (bake at 200°C/400°F/gas mark 5 for 10 minutes, then reduce the heat to 180°C/350°F/gas mark 4 for a further 20—25 minutes), to 1 ¼ hours in a really warm oven (220-250°C or 428-482°F).

Remove from the oven, cover with foil and leave for 10-15 minutes before serving.

What I did:

I bought the lardons (smoked) and the organic Reblochon from Waitrose, I already had salad potatoes in. My oven proof dish was only 20cm x 25cm, but did the trick. I used garlic and unsalted butter. I cut 2 onions into slices and halved them, I first ventured to peel the potatoes but gave up after the first one. I fried the lardons and onions without oil or butter, just adding a bit of water when it became too sticky. Even though I had read and written out the recipe before, I made the mistake of adding the potato slices to the same pan, so when it came to arranging the potatoes first, it was messy (thank God for my asbestos fingers!), but I did it, and just before 7, I put it in the middle of the oven (no liquid or fat other than the Reblochon added), at about 190C, and set out to find the rugby club, where the trials were held. We came home at 7:45 to a gorgeous smell, the Tartiflette was slightly overdone, I'd say (this bottom heat oven takes some getting used to!) but even though it was only the 2 of us, what you see above, was all that was left! Yuuuuummmmie!!! (Is it 'miam miam' that the French say?) So, thank you Anatole, and thank you, Reblochon Trade Union!

(1) Recently, he had to write an autobiography, set in the future. He entitled it: "My life as a tiger, a lion and a dragon". The references in this great title are, of course: Leicester Tigers, the British and Irish Lions, and the Welsh Dragons...
(2) According to this, Tartiflette is a French dish from the Savoy region. "Historically, the tartiflette originates in the valley of Aravis, home of the Reblochon cheese. However, it is not a traditional dish and was in fact invented and launched only in the 1980s by the Trade union of the Reblochon in order to increase sales of the cheese. Different valleys in the region have different methods of producing Tartiflette and there may even be one recipe per village."
(3) This cheese occupies a rather special place in our lives..., according to my off-spring, it isn't called 'pong' for nothing!
pong: –noun, an unpleasant smell; stink; –verb (used without object), to have a disagreeable smell; stink. 1915–20; of obscure orig.
The one my BH brought back from the French market had to be banned from the fridge and currently resides, inside 2 tupperware boxes, on the cellar stairs!

Friday, January 09, 2009

Jan, 9th

No, I'm not confused or mad (though my family might contest that), I know that even for the Orthodox and the Armenians the Nativity was a few days ago (1). But not only did we have snow on Tuesday (which reminded me of a late January or early February when my youngest experienced snow for the first time - he threw his arm in the air and exuberantly exclaimed "Christmas!"), no, yesterday our parcels were finally delivered! Two big presents - an x-box and a dyson - which my BH had ordered at the end of November!! -- Don't ask! It's one of those tangled webs in which every protagonist, as frantically and insufficiently as Adam and Eve in Paradise, tries to cover up their shame. With threads of narratives instead of fig leaves, as it were.
But hey, I'm all in favour of moving the feast! Further away from our birthdays for starters (mine and my first-born's on the 23rd). Then there is the much higher chance of snow in January - it is, after all, on average, the coolest month of the year within most of the Northern Hemisphere (2). And think of all the Christmas bargains! You don't even have to leave the house and join the mammon worshipping hordes (except for the groceries) - just type 'unwanted gifts' into ebay, and pay less than half price for all kinds of presents that some poor soul has gone through agonising buying decisions for, not to mention the further pain of parting with money far too good for the items, just to find their relatives and friends flogging them at the a starter price of 99p. You'd be amazed at what some people don't seem to want, or claim they already have lots of (brand new ipods, iphones, laptops)... And even more amazed by the amount of 'Secret Santa' presents, just how many people bid on them, and by how much!

But I'm digressing as usual. The above mentioned lateness and incompetence makes me feel a bit better about being behind the times again with my first
January Recipe:

a traditional Kings' Cake. (3)

I wrote about the cake and the three magi in January 2006, and there is a lovely article here:

Epiphany, le jour des rois, Heilige Drei Könige, el Dia de los Tres Reyes, or even (mistakenly) Twelfth Night - call it what you will - was of course on the 6th. But various activities (see above) prevented me from baking it until the 7th, and writing about it until today. Not that I need to feel totally out of synch because of it - the whole period between Epiphany and Mardi Gras is sometimes known as "King Cake Season" in places like Louisiana. Mind you, The Louisiana King Cake is more of a bread, and because of its link to Mardi Gras, it features the Carnival colours: green, yellow and purple.

The Kings Cake I baked was in the French (and Tudor?) tradition:

(Kings' Cake)
Eric Lanlard from Good Food Live

125g caster sugar
125g ground almonds
125g unsalted Butter, softened
3 Eggs
1 tbsp dark rum
500g Puff pastry, (ideally made with butter)
sugar syrup, for brushing

For the egg wash
1 egg yolk
1 tbsp Milk

1. In a mixing bowl mix together the sugar and ground almonds.
2. Add the butter and cream it together until thoroughly mixed.
3. Beat in the eggs one by one, mixing thoroughly between each addition. Mix in the rum.
4. Divide the puff pastry into two even portions. Roll out each portion and cut out two puff pastry circles, each 25cm across and 3-4mm thick.
5. Place one puff pastry disc on a baking sheet lined with baking parchment.
6. Make the egg wash by beating together the yolk and milk.
7. Spoon the almond cream into the centre of the pastry disc, leaving a 5cm edge.
8. Brush the edges of the pastry disc with the egg wash.
9. Place the other pastry disc over the almond filing and seal the edges together firmly.
10. Chill the Galette des Rois for 1 hour in the refrigerator.
11. Preheat the oven to 180°C/gas 4.

12. Brush the Galette des Rois with the egg wash. Using a small, sharp knife cut the edges into a scallop pattern. Using the tip of the knife cut a sun ray pattern on the top.
13. Bake the Galette des Rois for 40 minutes, until golden.
14. Remove from the oven and brush at once with sugar syrup.
15. If eating the cake to celebrate Epiphany add a small ceramic figure to the almond mixture. Traditionally whoever finds the figure in their slice of Galette will be the king or queen.

Things I changed:
1) After watching videos on how to prepare a Galette des Rois on You Tube, I used Amaretto instead of rum, but I think, next time I'll use rum for more depth. As usual, any alcohol may be substituted - one girl on You Tube used Kirsch!
2) I used a pastry implement to make a pattern (not a sun ray, just criss cross), and yes, it's very important not to pierce the top - the frangipane will ooze out (as happened with mine as you can probably see)
3) I didn't have a ceramic figure or dried broad bean, so I used a dried kidney bean instead; worked, too.

Other things I would change:
It really doesn't need quite such a large amount of frangipane mixture for my liking. So I would use only half the amount for the same size cake. My mixture was also much softer than those shown on You Tube, so I might only use 1 egg next time.

I also need to make a note to self: 1 tbsp of sugar with 1 tbsp of water is enough for the sugar syrup.

Tastewise, I was very pleased with the result, and my BH was particularly fond of it.

So, hopefully, this will become a tradition in our household. Just remains to research the link. On TudorTwelfth Night (defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as "the evening of the fifth of January, preceding Twelfth Day, the eve of the Epiphany, formerly the last day of the Christmas festivities and observed as a time of merrymaking"), a cake which contained a bean was eaten and whoever found it would preside over the feast as King of the Bean. It marked the end of the winter festival (the start of which was All Hallows Eve - Halloween), and had strong elements of the Lord of Misrule tradition (as present in the Celtic Samhain or the Roman festival Saturnalia). The world turning upside down for a day, i.e. reversing the pecking order, with those at the top becoming the peasants and vice versa, can be traced back to pre-Christian European festivals, and is still present to this day during other feast days (May 1st, in places, or Altweiberfastnacht during the German Carnival) (4).
Shakespeare's Twelfth Night or What You Will also features elements of reversal, such as Viola dressing as a man, and Malvolio, the servant, imagining that he can become a nobleman.
Interestingly, it is recorded as having had its first performance on
Candlemas Day 1602, the festival which some cultures deem to be the real end of the celebrations. This is why the greenery put up at Christmas is taken down at Epiphany in some European cultures, whereas in others it remains up until Candlemas. As if there were not enough confusion without this (5), it is further complicated by the circumstance that the exact date of Candlemas depends on whether you ask Western Christians, Orthodox Christians, or Armenian Christians. Maybe a bit more about that in February...

But before that, there's Burns Night...

(1) More about that and Candlemas further down...
(2) Charlemagne called it Wintarmonath (winter month), the Finnish call it the month of the heart of winter (tammikuu), and the Czech go even further by calling it leden, meaning ice month. (cf Wikipedia)
(3) The Gâteau des Rois in Provence or the Galette des Rois in the northern half of France and Belgium.
(4) You'll just have to wait...
(5) Telegraph, Jan 5th, 2009, Christmas ends in confusion over when Twelfth Night falls (By Martin Beckford, Religious Affairs Correspondent): "...many people believe Twelfth Night falls on Jan 6, at the end of the 12th day after Christmas, and so keep their decorations hanging in their homes for an extra day. The difference in opinion is said to be down to the fact that in centuries past, Christmas was deemed to start at sunset on Dec 24 and so the 12th night following it was Jan 5. Nowadays, people count from Dec 25 and so assume Twelfth Night falls on the 6th.
Adding to the confusion, however, most of England's churches remain decorated beyond Twelfth Night so that they can use crib scenes in Epiphany services." ... "A spokesman for the Church of England said: "Twelfth Night is the night before Epiphany and is the night, tradition says, when Christmas decorations should be taken down."
And this is just the confusion about Twelfth Night/Epiphany! I have found online opinions which suggest taking the decorations down as early as Boxing Day!! That's preposterous, of course, and would only make any sense in those cultures where they go up as early - apparently - as Thanksgiving Day (4th Thursday in November)! In Germany, where the tree isn't brought in from outside until the morning of Christmas Eve, discarding it on Boxing Day would be an awful lot of expense and effort for an awfully short time!
Well, my decorations are down but not packed away yet, as would befit our forever chaotic household, in which it is forever Christmas (more about that some other time...), but which, according to another superstition I found online, is a very bad omen: "My grandmother said to take them down by New Year's Day or you'll be lazy all year"! (It would explain the story of my life...)
In Germany, by the way, there was a special refuse collection for Christmas trees on January, 6th. So unless you wanted to dispose of it yourself, you made sure it was bare by Twelfth Night. Not that I've ever heard anyone call it that there! But I did come across a mentioning of The 12 Dark Nights recently..., so maybe a spot of further research is needed!