Joni Woolf: Twelfth Night and other musings

Published 10:31 am Monday, January 8, 2018

Today is Jan. 6, in many Christian traditions a day called “Twelfth Night,” or the last day of Christmas. Christmas officially ends and a celebration called the Boar’s Head Feast takes place in many churches, here and abroad. Calvary Episcopal Church is celebrating its annual event, where the men do most of the cooking and serving and a sumptuous feast is enjoyed by all attending. Some folks celebrate Twelfth Night in their own homes, or the homes of friends, while for others, Christmas was over by noon on Dec. 25. So it is with traditions: they vary not only from culture to culture but from home to home. We create them for our families — and ourselves — as we move through life, often not realizing how much we change them as time goes by.
One of my daughter’s and my traditions in recent years has been to sing in the choir at both services on Christmas Eve — one at 5:30 p.m., the other at 11 p.m.  That leaves a short time in between to travel back down Bumphead Road, have dinner, and return in time for a final practice before the late service. This year I had made a big pot of potato and leek soup and she had made a similar amount of chili. I would bake the cornbread as soon as we arrived home, and we would have a substantial meal to carry us through the evening. We decided, since he did not live here, to invite the visiting priest to join us for soup at my house. I had cleaned the house and freshened the Advent wreath; everything was in order. We arrived at my house a little after 7, and I turned on the oven to cook the cornbread, and the front burner to heat up the soup. Nothing happened. So, I got out matches and tried lighting the stove, thinking surely the pilot light had gone out. I finally had to admit that I was out of propane (gas); it had been two years since I had had the tank filled, and now it was dry. It is at moments like this that the character of each of us is tested: do we go screaming into the night? Or do we laugh and move the soup supper up the hill to daughter’s house, where it was ready soon enough, even if the cornbread suffered a bit from being hurried? We laughed. We ate well enough, and Christmas came, as it always does, ready or not.
But that wasn’t the end of my cooking miseries. I had promised candied sweet potatoes for Carey’s Christmas night dinner, a dinner featuring standing rib roast and lobster tails that a friend had bought and asked her to prepare. Her stove was occupied, and I decided to try the recipe in the microwave. First I tried the syrup mixture, then added the potatoes, but after 5 minutes I decided this was not going to work. I pulled it from the microwave and after it cooled, I put it in the refrigerator, hoping to cook it later. The day after Christmas, gas was delivered, and my stove was in business again. But I wasn’t preparing any meals. So, the potatoes sat there, waiting. New Year’s Day, I prepared the Hoppin’ John and the cornbread to take up the hill for the small crowd that was gathering to watch Georgia win the Rose Bowl. I looked at the sweet potatoes, still sitting in the casserole dish, covered in the syrupy mixture that was going to “candy” the dish. “What the heck, “I thought. I turned the oven back on, baked them 30 minutes and took them to the party. One of the visiting British guests said, “Those potatoes are splendid!” Well, I figured any recipe that could endure what these potatoes had been through, deserved to be shared. I cannot imagine how much better they might be if they had been cooked the day they were prepared. I suppose I could faint with delight. But I’ll be happy if the stove lights when I turn the switch.

Candied Sweet Potatoes
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
5 medium sweet potatoes
8 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon nutmeg
¼ teaspoon ginger
¼ cup brown sugar
1 cup white sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla
Wash, peel and slice into ½-inch thick slices and place in a 9 by 13 in. baking dish. In a medium sized pot, melt the butter, add the sugars, cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger. Turn off heat and add the vanilla, stirring to combine. Pour the mixture over the potatoes, making sure that all the slices are coated. Cover with foil and bake 30 minutes. Remove foil and baste. Cover again, and bake 15 to 20 minutes more. Serve warm.

Joni Woolf, a writer and editor, now lives in Schley County, having moved from her home in Macon several years ago. Contact her at