Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The holidays are here and so are the countless parties and get-togethers with family, friends, co-workers and acquaintances. All of these events can be very fun, but they can also be stressful, especially if you happen to be the host. The decorations, the preparations, the guest list, the food and the entertainment are plenty to think about. The inclusion of wine can add a whole new set of challenges, but a fine Ohio wine can also make the party.

“All of the holidays and celebrations get people thinking about sparkling wines, ice wines and dessert wines which are great for holiday parties and meals and are also done very well in Ohio,” said Bruce Benedict, with the Ohio Department of Agriculture. “Wines are meant for consumption with food and these great wines are even better when they are matched with great food.”

For those who are less than wine savvy, these pairings can be daunting, so Benedict offers some advice on how to dazzle guests and partygoers with Ohio wines. When turkey is the main course, there are a number of wine options to consider based upon how the featured dish is prepared.

“Turkey especially pairs well with a wide variety of wines. Turkey is fairly neutral and it can go very well with Riesling and other sweet wines. Smoked turkey goes very well with richer wines,” he said. “Buttery turkey goes very well with a buttery Chardonnay. And, several Ohio wineries have cranberry wines that go great with turkey. You can take a bite of turkey and a sip of the wine and they go great together.”

The best wine to go with pork dishes can also differ based on the way it is prepared. The turkey rules apply to many pork dishes.

“Ham can be a challenge,” Benedict said. “My pick is a nice Rosé. It can be a little sweet, which goes with a nice salty ham. The nice thing about a Rosé, especially a sparkling Rosé, is that it is also a wonderful looking wine that looks Christmasy.”

Red wine is the choice for beef, including Cabernet Franc, Chambourcin, or other Hybrid reds, Semi-Sweet Reds, and Rosés.

“Roast beef and red wine are about as wonderful a food/wine pairing as anything in the world,” Benedict said.

For delicious leg of lamb or lamb chops, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Hybrid Reds, or Chambourcin are great options. Seafood pairs well with Chardonnay, Pinot Gris/Grigio, and Seyval Blanc. Lighter fare of vegetables and salads goes well with light reds, Rosés, Vidal Blanc, Riesling, Pinot Gris/Grigio.

The sweeter wines that are typically the most popular wines from Ohio producers go best with decadent holiday desserts.

“Ice wines and dessert wines are great at holiday parties and with meals that have a lot of desserts. A Port is also an excellent choice for dessert,” Benedict said. “People do not drink as much port, ice wine or dessert wine because they are so sweet.”

In general, sparkling wines (whether dry or sweet) are ideal for the holidays because they are associated with celebrations.

“Some people are intimidated by opening a bottle of champagne,” he said. “You need to twist the bottle and not the cork.”

Whatever wine you select for the various holiday occasions ahead, Ohio wines can add a local flair to any gathering. Ohio wines are piling up international awards and growing in world renown as the wine industry in the state has been making dramatic strides in recent years. The number of Ohio wineries has grown from 124 in 2008 to 152 in 2010, and wine production increased nearly 500,000 gallons from 2006 to 2008. Ohio wine production now contributes more than $580 million to the state economy and creates 4,000 jobs with a payroll of $124 million.

Ohio offers wine for every occasion (or gifts for those who may be hard to shop for) during this fun, but potentially stressful time of year for planning gatherings. So call the caterer, hang some mistletoe, get some fantastic Ohio wine and let the party begin.

Have a merry Christmas and a happy New Year’s Eve.

There are more great resources for tips on pairing food with wine, entertaining with wine and buying wine at http://www.tasteohiowines.com/wff.php.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

At my family’s Christmas tree farm each year, I get the great pleasure of accompanying other families in the search for their perfect Christmas tree – a holiday tradition that has been enjoyed for five centuries.

Little is known about the first decorated Christmas tree in Riga, Latvia in 1510, other than the tree was placed in the public marketplace and decorated by members of a merchants guild to honor the birth of Christ. A ceremony was held and the tree was burnt at its conclusion.

A plaque now marks the spot where the world’s first Christmas tree stood. This year, Christmas tree growers from around the world are commemorating the 500 years of the beloved holiday tradition.

“Christmas tree growers from Ohio are proud to be a part of this long and cherished Christmas tradition,” said Dave Reese, president of the Ohio Christmas Tree Association and an Ohio Farm Bureau member. “Many of the Christmas tree farms in the state will being doing special activities and promotions to commemorate this occasion. It is not every year you get to be a part of a 500-year anniversary.”

At the National Christmas Tree Association (NCTA) Convention, held in North Carolina last August, trees were on display to demonstrate the various styles of decoration through each century of the Christmas tree tradition. Here is a summary of the display provided by the National Christmas Tree Association.


The first written record of the decorated Christmas tree comes from Riga, Latvia. In 1510, the men of the Merchants Guild decorated a tree with paper roses for the marketplace. The fir tree commemorated the Holy Child while the roses a symbol for the Virgin Mary. In 1530, there is a record from Alsace, France, that trees were sold in the marketplace and brought home. Laws limited the size of the trees to “eight shoe lengths,” a little over four feet.


In the churches of this time, apples were used to decorate evergreen trees as props for the “miracle plays.” The Christmas tree with apples symbolized the “Tree of Paradise” in the Garden of Eden; it was used as a means of teaching the Bible story, of good versus evil in paradise. The first record referencing the “Christmas Tree” to describe a decorated tree was in Strassburg, Alsace, 1604. This is recognized as a pivotal event in the history of the Christmas tree.


In homes of this period, it was common to decorate evergreens with apples, gilded nuts, cookies and red paper strips. Edible ornaments became so popular that the trees were often referred to as “Sugar Trees.” In this century the first accounts of lighted candles being used as decorations on Christmas trees came from France. A letter to a friend dated 1798 described the enchanting beauty of many candlelit trees seen in the houses of the times.


The Christmas tree was introduced in the United States by German settlers first as a tabletop size and soon became a floor-to-ceiling tree. In 1851 Christmas trees began to be sold commercially when Mark Carr hauled two ox sleds of evergreens into New York City. During the 1870s, blown glass ball ornaments from Lauscha, Germany, appeared as decorations. These evolved as chains of balls, toys and figures became a favored

American tradition.


The first electric lights on a Christmas tree occurred at the home of Thomas Edison’s assistant, Edward Johnson, in 1882. President Grover Cleveland first used tree lights in the White House in 1895. In 1903, electric lights referred to as “switchboard lights” were sold in New England; they did not become widely popular until the 1930s. Under President Calvin Coolidge, the first annual lighting of the White House Christmas tree began in 1923.

To commemorate this momentous anniversary, the NCTA released commemorative cards and ornaments featuring the original artwork of Jesse Barnes and J. Wecker Frisch for the occasion. In addition, a special ceremony will be held at the site of the world’s first decorated Christmas tree.

Whatever your plans for the Christmas season, take the opportunity to visit an Ohio tree farm to get a real Christmas tree and participate in 500 years of holiday tradition.

For more information, visit http://ohiochristmastree.com/ or http://www.christmastree.org/home.cfm.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Where did all of the canned pumpkin go?
We had a recent run-in with a bit of food supply reality when my wife went out in search of some canned pumpkin this fall. In anticipation of making holiday pumpkins pies, she went to a couple of grocery stores to stock up on this vital ingredient for one of my favorite desserts. She was somewhat surprised when she could not find any at the first store. Fortunately for myself and the other pumpkin pie lovers in the family, she went to a second store and got the last can they had. Was this an isolated incident, or was there a pumpkin shortage?
A shortage would be of particular concern in Ohio, which is one of the top producers of pumpkins in the country. Last year, the state’s farmers harvested 1.24 billion pounds of the fruit from 7,500 acres, with a farm value of $22.5 million. Pumpkins (mostly of the jack-o’-lantern type) are the third largest fresh market vegetable crop grown in the state and account for 10 percent to 40 percent of farm markets’ annual gross income in Ohio.
To find out more about a potential pumpkin shortage, I called Linda Ballou, who is in charge of handling the submissions to the Baked Goods Committee for the famous Circleville Pumpkin Show. She had heard the rumor, but saw no evidence of a shortage in the local grocery. I also talked with Dave Renick, who grows a large crop of pumpkins each year, and he said that he has not had a short crop in the last two years.
I also conducted an unofficial online poll and heard from others that there was a shortage but that, at least in central Ohio and in other parts of the country, the shortage was over. Meanwhile, my wife was at a local bakery and the pumpkin conversation came up again. The baker said that their popular pumpkin products were going to be very limited this fall due to a short pumpkin crop. The baker said that if people want pumpkin for pies and other autumn goodies, they are actually going to have buy pumpkins and can it themselves! What?
The idea of people in our society actually coming into contact with the distasteful dirt of the fields and handle something as unseemly as pumpkin innards for something as basic as a pie is hard to fathom. And the seeds, oh the seeds! It is practically like pioneer life.
The next thing you know, housewives in the suburbs will be milking cows and butchering hogs in their backyard.
We are so spoiled by our abundant and diverse food supply that even something as insignificant as a short-lived a pumpkin shortage is hard to fathom. After all, those pumpkin pies just seem to show up on the Thanksgiving table every year along with the mountain of other food we typically enjoy.
This pumpkin debacle will surely not result in a global food disaster (though it may be the ruin of an otherwise ideal Thanksgiving dinner for some), but a limited supply of canned pumpkin in some grocery stores is a subtle reminder that we do live in a world that is sometimes out of our control. Even in our land of plenty, a simple stretch of uncooperative weather can leave us short of the abundant supplies to which we are accustomed.
Since our scare about a lack of pumpkins, I have found little evidence to support a shortage. In fact, I enjoyed part of a delicious pumpkin doughnut while writing this. And, shortage or no shortage, I know that my pumpkin pie supply for Thanksgiving has been secured, a fact that I can add to my long list of things to be thankful for. Unfortunately, I do not know that something as simple and standard as a pumpkin pie has ever made my thankfulness list before. Maybe it should have.