I can't help it. It's that time of year.
Cooking is a lot like knitting, in terms of history; people have done it for years, and it runs the gamut from really expensive and fancy to survival-level work. Except with cooking, we've been doing it about, what, half a million years longer than knitting? So for the history geeks such as yours truly, it's REALLY interesting.
One if the big appeals to the Christmas cooking, for me, is the historic link. Not just with family - "These are the cookies grandma made for me when I was a kid." - but with overall history. I love making traditional things, like gingerbread and fruitcake, even though I don't eat it. Just to feel the link to all those ancestors who've made it for the last kajillion years. That right there is the root of my desire to make boiled pudding; it's a very old, traditional recipe.
Back in the day, peasants didn't have ovens. Heck, sometimes people STILL don't have ovens. Most food was cooked in the fireplace, which means boiling and roasting almost exclusively (this is where all those 'boiled dinner' recipes come from - a pound of everything in the produce department and a cheap cut of meat, possibly a bottle of beer, boiled until edible). Of course someone eventually found a way to make what is, essentially, a cake, by boiling it. Mostly I just want to see how the whole process works.
Then, of course, there are the other types of recipes. The ones where I speculate how they were developed in the first place. Potato salad? It's name should be 'what's left in the cellar at the end of winter'. That's exactly what it is; cook a little bit of everything left in the cellar and mix it together and viola. Potato salad.
Shortbread? I betcha that was developed by someone poor, who had a cow. (Okay, technically, if they had a cow, they were doing pretty good, but you get the idea.) All that's in it is butter, enough flour to hold it together, and a pinch of salt and sugar to sweeten it a bit. (For my toffee chip shortbread cookie recipe, click here. The toffee chips are my own inspiration, but I find it hard to believe I'm the first person in history to think of it.)
Then there's the fancy stuff. Gingerbread and fruitcake both use what would have been expensive and/or hard to get ingredients, mostly spices and in the case of the fruitcake, dried fruit. The gingerbread was developed as a form of conspicuous consumption - "Look, spice cake! I can afford spices! Be impressed!" Fruitcake is a takeoff on old travel food where fruits and meats were pounded together into a brick and noshed on as needed (in North America, some tribes called this pemmican). Pour some booze over it, and it will keep almost forever. (The oldest known fruitcake is about a hundred years old - scroll down to the bottom of the page.)
So anyway, there you have it. Maunderings on the history of food. Like you've never seen that around here before. Pass the cookies.