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Wednesday, December 23, 2015


                                                   BY SHAYNA MATTHEWS

There's nothing like the anticipation of Christmas morning to torment a child. I should know, my parents certainly got their jollies from dragging out Christmas morning. Up before dawn in my flannel nightgown, I was bouncing, eager to rip into that tree. Of course, I had to wait. Dad had to make his coffee, then drink a few cups, slowly, while Mom made iced cinnamon rolls. Now, any other day of the year cinnamon rolls are fine and dandy with me. Christmas morning, however, was a different story. Fifteen minutes for them to bake, then cool enough to eat? Come on, Mom! I amused myself by looking outside, anywhere but at the stack of presents under that twinkling tree! - Santa's reindeer made their presence known in our driveway every year. Having left a bag of corn for the reindeer, I found empty cobs with deer tracks, a few missed kernels, and reindeer poop (yes...reindeer poop!) in the gravel driveway. I suppose when reindeer eat that much corn, it's only natural to let nature take over before they fly to the next house!

My Dad explained to me that Santa gets mighty tired of milk and cookies all the time, he appreciates an especially festive offering on Christmas Eve. I always left smoked bologna and cheese, and a hefty jug of grog. Funny, Santa left me letters, but by the end of the letter, his spelling was practically unlegible! I don't know why he always told me that I was a good girl, but to eat my vegetables. Does Santa really care that much about vegetables? (The Easter Bunny always told me the same thing, but he eats carrots, not cheese, grog and bologna).

When my father had enjoyed two or three cups of steaming procrastination, and the cinnamon rolls were eaten (gobbled may be a more appropriate term) - it was finally time. First on the list was always the stocking. I don't know what it is about a sock stuffed with goodies, but it's among my favorite Christmas memories. (Aside from Santa's grog-induced letters).
There are many legends that arise from the tradition of the Christmas stocking. My favorite tells the tale of a once-wealthy merchant down on his luck, with three daughters of age to wed. Too poor to offer a dowry, but too proud to accept charity, the merchant despaired over his daughters' happiness. One Christmas Eve, the daughters, having come in cold and wet from their chores, hung their socks by the fire to dry. Little did they know, St. Nicholas heard about the merchant's predictament. That night he rode into town on a magnificent white steed, and tossed three golden balls down the chimney. Inexplicably, the golden orbs fell into each girl's sock. Christmas morning was met with much rejoicing. Each daughter married happily, and as the story spread, children began hanging their socks by the fireplace in hopes St. Nicholas and his white horse would ride by and bless them with gifts, too. The gold balls in the story were quickly replaced with traditional oranges. No one could replicate a golden ball for a gift, but the round fruit of the same color was always a welcome treat.
Our tree was always decorated with handmade ornaments, baked from a mixture of either clay or a type of cookie-like dough, rolled into shapes, painted and laquered. I still have the few surviving ornaments on my tree to this day. One year, I specifically recall our choice in garland. Barring the tinsel, we chose to string popcorn and cranberries, following another old tradition in decorating with what you had. Now, bear in mind, the tree was always standing in the corner of the main room, opposite my bedroom door. Awake that night, counting each dragging minute and listening for the sound of tinkling reindeer bells, I heard something unexpected. I could not figure what it could be, for I had not heard the sound before. It was, for lack of a better term, rather like a soft "chewing" coming from the corner of the next room. By morning, since I could not leave my room to investigate (everyone knows Santa won't leave the good stuff behind if you try to peek) my nerves were gnawed raw. Come to find out, my nerves weren't the only thing gnawed raw that Christmas Morning. There, perched in a branch of the tree, sat a fat mouse, feasting on popcorn and berries. That was the last time we tried that particular Christmas tradition.

Written by Shayna Matthews, author of "The Legend of Venture Canyon" and "A Spot in the Woods" from the anthology "Memories from Maple Street, U.S.A, Leaving Childhood Behind".

What of you? What are your favorite traditions? Or, perhaps you make your own family traditions to follow?

Monday, December 21, 2015

Groom's Cakes

Today I will delve a little deeper into the tradition of a groom’s cake. In last Friday’s Fire Star Press (an imprint of Prairie Rose Publications) post I touched on my personal adventures—or more accurately, misadventures—with my own family’s tradition of providing a fruitcake groom’s cake at family wedding receptions. If you missed the post, "Nutty About Fruitcake," you can find it by clicking HERE.

sugarloaf courtesy
Petr Adam Dohnálek   
The first thing to keep in mind is that it hasn’t been that long that cakes as we know them today have even been a possibility. It wasn’t until finely milled flour and baking soda were introduced in the eighteenth century that cake as we know it, light and fluffy, came into existence.

It was not until the late eighteenth century that sugar prices were such that processed sugar became available to the general populous of Europe. Even then, sugar was not granulated as we know it today, but in the form of a sugarloaf and consumers required sugar nips, a pliers-like tool, to break off pieces. Prior to that, except for the well-to-do, use of sweeteners like honey and fruit in food were a rare treat. The earliest known use of frosting on a cake dates to about 1750.

The earliest known tradition of a groom’s “cake” goes back to Roman times. A loaf of barley bread was baked for the groom to eat part of before he broke the rest of the loaf over the bride’s head to bring good fortune to the couple.


Croquembouche- still used in France
In medieval England, the cake described in historic accounts was not a cake in the conventional sense. They were described as flour-based sweet foods as opposed to the description of breads that were just flour-based foods without sweetening. In Medieval England, cakes or sweet rolls were stacked as high as possible between the bride and groom who were to then kiss each other without knocking the stack over. A successful kiss meant they were guaranteed a prosperous life together.

In the early 19th century, a popular dish being served was something known as bride’s pie. First appearing in the mid-17th century, the pie was filled with sweet breads, mince meat or, or by some accounts, just a simple mutton pie. The main ingredient was a glass ring. An old adage claims that the lady who finds the ring will be the next to wed. Though bride’s pies were not a fixture at weddings, there were accounts of these pies being the main centerpiece at less affluent ceremonies.

In the late 19th century, the wedding cake became popular, ousting the bride’s pie from popular culture. The cakes were originally given the title “bride cakes” to emphasize that the focal point of the wedding was the bride. The early cakes were simple single-tiered cakes, usually a plum cake, although other types of cake were acceptable.

As white flour and white sugar became more widely available, Europeans came up with the tradition of a white bride’s cake for the wedding, the white being a symbol of purity.

The more modern tradition of the groom's cake began in Britain. The groom's cake was
Courtesy Eastlake Victorian
usually dark and solid and much smaller than the wedding cake, often richer than the bride's cake. It was traditionally made with fruit and liquor to preserve it, since stronger flavors such as chocolate, fruitcake, and alcohol were considered more appropriate to "the stronger sex."

Groom's cakes during the Victorian era were heavy, dense fruitcakes. That definitely would describe my grandmother’s fruitcake recipe. A part of the groom’s cake was to be saved to be eaten at the christening of their first child, which, in the days before freezers, explains why my otherwise teetotaler grandmother soaked the cheese cloths with which she swathed her fruitcakes with rum.

A groom’s cake could also be sliced and wrapped ahead of time for guests to take home or to be sent to others who could not attend so they could also celebrate the couple’s good fortune. Single bridesmaids often put a piece of groom’s cake under their pillows in order to dream of their future marriage partners.

The tradition of a groom’s cake has died out in England where it originated and in most of the United States except in the South. However, the nature of the groom’s cake has changed. It is often not a fruitcake, but may be either a white or chocolate cake and decorated to reflect the interests of the groom.

My family is not from the South. In 1857, my grandmother’s mother traveled from England along the Mormon Trail, which was roughly the same as the Oregon and California trail, in a covered wagon when my great-grandmother was a young girl, not much older than this picture of my grandmother when she was about twelve. My great-grandfather was a young boy born in England when his family traveled that same trail in 1855.

Whether my great-great grandmother brought the tradition of groom’s cake made of fruitcake with her, or whether either my great-grandmother or grandmother picked up on its popularity once the tradition came into vogue in Great Britain, the land of my great-grandparents’ nativity, I don’t know. All I know is that I now possess my grandmother’s secret family recipe for fruitcake, I have had a groom’s cake made from her recipe at both of my weddings, and, although largely ignored by them, I managed to wrangle a groom’s cake from her recipe in most of my children’s wedding receptions. Whether or not in my family the tradition of a groom’s cake made from grandmother’s recipe will die with me remains to be seen. But, for those who enjoy the wedding traditions of an earlier time, I hope you have enjoyed learning more about the history of groom’s cakes.


 Zina Abbott is the pen name used by Robyn Echols for her historical novels. Her novel, Family Secrets, was published by Fire Star Press. Her novelette, A Christmas Promise, along with the first two novellas in the Eastern Sierra Brides 1884 series, Big Meadows Valentine and A Resurrected Heart, was published by Prairie Rose Publications.

Please visit and follow the Zina Abbott’s Amazon Author Page by clicking HERE.

Saturday, December 19, 2015


Still looking for that perfect Christmas gift for that hard-to-buy-for person on your list? Or maybe you just want to splurge for yourself on a few Christmas reads? Well, take a look at what Prairie Rose Publications and Imprints has to offer! We have some wonderful stories for every reader, from kids to adults. And at these prices, you’re sure to check off most everyone on your list with some of the best bargains and most appreciated gifts out there!

Livia has a wonderful new story out, a short Christmas novella that is sure to warm your heart. Look at this darling cover she came up with--and the story is just as cute!
Dan Callahan's daughter was supposed to take care of her fourth grade class's pet mice over the Christmas vacation—or so she claimed. Melissa Logan, the little girl's teacher, wondered why she had gotten close with the handsome single dad, only to have him back off unexpectedly. But when the mice went missing, the truth about everything came out, and the search for the elusive creatures led not only to unexpected secrets from the past but also to the answers that two lonely people had been seeking without even knowing it.

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If you are looking for a Christmas anthology with a wide variety of old western romances, take a look at A MAIL-ORDER CHRISTMAS BRIDE. You can’t go wrong with this one!
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What is Christmas all about? Wonderful memories! This collection of stories celebrates the very best and most poignant memories of the past, and is sure to have you laughing and crying right along with the authors who shared their stories in MEMORIES FROM MAPLE STREET, U.S.A.—THE BEST CHRISTMAS EVER!

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For readers of contemporary romance, Di Tobin’s latest release, SANTA NICK, is the perfect story to bring a sigh of happiness at the wonderful happy-ever-after ending she manages to bring about in this heartwarming tale.

With Christmas on the way, six-year-old Faith Reynolds is determined to get the very best present ever for her widowed mother—a new husband—but one that would be a nice daddy, too. Though Faith’s mother, Jenny, is not a big believer in Santa, a chance meeting with handsome high school teacher Nick St. Clair might just change everything.

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Do you love stories of knights and ladies? What could be better than a tale of chivalry at Christmas-tide?

Come join us around the Yuletide fire in a comfortable chair with a flagon of ale as we celebrate the upcoming holiday season with ONE CHRISTMAS KNIGHT! This wonderful collection of Christmas stories from the medieval time period will take hold of your imagination and won’t let go until long after you’ve turned the very last page.
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If you just can’t get enough of “knightly tales”, try this novella by author Clay More! The first in a series of novellas of intrigue and heroic deeds carried out by the secret society, the Order of the Black Rose, this story, THE APOTHECARY’S QUEST, will whet your appetite for more.
Apothecary Thomas Smythe has been betrayed by a fellow knight in the Order of the Hospitallers in a foreign war. Home in England once more, Thomas lives out his life as a simple apothecary. When he is summoned to attend Sir Percival Fitzroy, who has been taken ill, Thomas realizes that Lord Fitzroy has been poisoned.

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From magic to murder, from felines to faeries, the authors of NINE DEADLY LIVES spin thirteen tales featuring those sometimes aloof and occasionally dangerous but always adorable creatures we know and love as cats! Whether it's mystery, fantasy, historical, or romance, these cat tales provide plenty of entertainment and thrills!
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Got a younger reader in the house? Sara Barnard’s historic 4-book set, THE SAGA OF INDIAN EM’LY, based on a true story, is available for only .99! Available in digital presently, the set will be available in print soon, as well. While not a Christmas story, it’s a wonderful tale of perseverance and has a very happy ending! Suitable for ages 9-12, or MIDDLE GRADE READER.
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We’ve had many more new releases at Prairie Rose Publications during the last few months—too many to list here. Come on over to our website for more reading and gift ideas. Find us at