Some of my winter holiday decorating ideas were featured last week, in the Boston Globe's g magazine, their Arts & Lifestyle section. I had prepared three separate vignettes for the writer and photographer. As it turned out, two of the three were featured in the article. Since the article has now been published, I can blog about these three vignettes, including some background how-to info.
First off, let me say how terrific it was to work again with writer, Jaci Conry. She is a terrific writer, but also so personable and easy to work with. Jaci and I have worked together on several articles in the past, including this Christmas decorating article for the Boston Globe Sunday Magazine, a few years ago.
In the next couple of days, I'll post on the other projects I did for this year's, as well as that previous article, but for starters, here is how I created the sugared fruit centerpiece:
You must start this project at least 24 hours before you want to display it, as it takes time for the sugar coating to dry properly.
It is important to pick out fruits that are ripe, but not too ripe, as you will want them to last for several days. I always pick out a nice variety of hues, including three colors of grapes (green, red and purple), different pears (red, yellow and green), cumquats, small oranges, apples, lady apples (like oversized crabapples), lemons, limes, persimmons, and pomegranates. Get more than enough to fill your container, as it is nice to have the fruit spilling over onto the table, symbolizing seasonal abundance.
In a small bowl, whisk together one or two egg whites with a little water. The water thins out the albumen and makes it easier to work with. Do not over-whisk the mixture, or it will become frothy, which will detract from your finished product.
With a pastry brush or soft paintbrush, paint the egg white mixture onto the fruits, one by one, then immediately dusting each wet fruit with superfine sugar. This works best by using a sugar shaker, if you have one, a sieve with large holes or just by spooning it gently over the fruits. The idea is to get just a dusting covering the entire piece, but no big globs. Once each piece is covered, place it on a rack to dry overnight. As the egg white evaporates, the sugar crystalizes and dries as a hard shell on the outsides of the fruits.
I use cookie cooling racks placed over sheet pans to catch the excess sugar and drips.
Use lots of grapes as they drape so nicely over the sides of your bowl or urn.
Persimmons are so plentiful at Christmas, and I just love them!
Once the fruits are completely dry, I arrange the centerpiece, adding lemon leaves if I can get them, although other, similar leaves work just as well. The leaves must be thick and not likely to wilt over the course of several days. This year, I also sugared some whole walnuts, which added another dimension to the grouping.
The finished centerpiece looks like it has been lightly dusted with snow!
Here, I used a lovely footed silver bowl, which has repousse birds and grapevines all over it. I paired it with Daum fruit plates from France. The glasses are antique German crystal hocks, also featuring a grapevine pattern. They are filled with a cocktail I invented for the photoshoot - a pomegranate kir, made with pomegranate liqueur and white wine. (To make a pomegranate kir royale, use sparkling wine instead of still.) The silver is Tiffany's Chrysanthemum pattern, and the antique tea napkins are embroidered with "D" - a gift from my mother years ago. The tablecloth is white damask from France.
This project is relatively easy and makes such a beautiful display for a table or sideboard! Once the fruit starts to lose it's freshness, toss out the over-the-hill pieces, and then wash off and reuse the others in cooking. Lemons, apples, persimmons and oranges are most likely to be useable again, while the grapes and pears will probably not outlast the life of centerpiece.
I'd love to see readers's own versions of this holiday project. Email your pictures to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I'll try to highlight some of them in a future post.
Also, check out all of the holiday table settings on Tablescape Thursdays, at Between Naps on the Porch.