Make no mistake about it, Valentine's Day is about feasting — or at least that's how it was originally intended.
During the last year of his four-year papacy, Pope Gelasius, a fifth-century leader known for his prolific writings and micromanaging style, took on the challenge of eliminating a longtime matchmaking celebration called Lupercalia that he considered carnal, immoral and a "mockery," according to his original writings recorded in "The Letters of Gelasius I (492-496)."
A few months before he died, Pope Gelasius announced a Feb. 14 St. Valentine's Day Feast, a day smack-dab in the middle of Lupercalia's customary three-day celebration where young women and men would "run nude" in hopes of fertility, according to "Festivals and Ceremonies of the Roman Republic" and Pope Gelasius' own epistle to Andromachus.
For the next 800 years, until about the 14th century when it shifted to a closer association to love and romance, it was just as much — or more — about food as it was about celebrating the noble saint.
No matter the century, however, celebrating love — all kinds — with food seemed to be a natural theme.
So, whether you're swooning over a lover or just feeling lucky to be around those you love this Valentine's Day — to save cash, or to return to traditions in centuries past — it's worth celebrating with some serious thought about what special treats and cuisine you're serving.
Like David Beckham said: "If you love someone, you want to treat them, surprise them, remind them how you feel."
Instead of lumping yourself in with the Americans who spend $448 million on processed candy the week before Valentine's Day, according to history.com, try making warm, fresh confectionary delights for your loved ones that are far from boxed, wrapped, shipped, stacked and stamped on some cold assembly line.
Here are four simple — even classic — Valentine's Day recipes worth falling in love with this holiday, and which all prove that homemade tastes better and will always mean more.
Fresh Strawberry Sugar Cookies
½ cup butter
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
½ cup sour cream
3¼ cup flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
Mix all ingredients together. Roll out to a quarter-inch thick. Use your favorite cookie cutter. Place on baking sheet. Bake at 350 degrees for nine minutes.
Fresh strawberry frosting:
1 cup softened butter
1 cup chopped fresh strawberries
2 pounds powdered sugar
¼ teaspoon almond extract (optional)
Combine butter, powdered sugar and almond extract. Mix well. Add strawberries. Mix until strawberries are well incorporated.
Author's note: This exact recipe regularly fetches between $60 and $100 a plate during an annual church youth fundraising auction in Saratoga Springs, Utah. They're known as the "$100 Cookies" in several neighborhoods there.
Cherry Cheesecake Tarts
⅓ cup butter or margarine
¼ cup sugar
1¼ cups graham cracker crumbs
2 8-ounce packages cream cheese, softened
¾ cup sugar
1 teaspoon almond extract
2 tablespoons Bisquick pancake mix
cherry pie filling
For crust: Melt butter. Add sugar and graham cracker. Mix well. Place cupcake papers in muffin tin. Press 1 tablespoon graham cracker crust in bottom of cupcake cups. If using mini muffin tin, press 1 teaspoon graham cracker crust in bottom of the cups.
For cream cheese mixture: Beat cream cheese and sugar until fluffy. Add eggs one at a time while mixing. Add almond flavoring and Bisquick. Blend until smooth.
Fill cupcake cups with crust two-thirds full with mixture. Bake for 10 minutes at 350 degrees. Turn oven down to 300 degrees and bake an additional 10 minutes. Cool completely. Top with cherry pie filling.
12 ounces milk chocolate chips
¾ cup peanut butter
12 ounces salted peanuts, chopped
1 can cherry frosting
18 large marshmallows
Melt chocolate chips and peanut butter over medium heat. When melted and smooth, add chopped peanuts.
Pour half of chocolate mixture in bottom of prepared 9-by-13 pan. Place in freezer for about 15 minutes.
Melt marshmallows in double boiler. Add frosting and blend well. Spread on cooled chocolate. Chill for 10 minutes in freezer. Top with remaining chocolate mixture. Place back in freezer. Cut and serve while frozen.
1 cup butter
2 cups sugar
2 cups corn syrup
2 cups heavy cream, divided
¼ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 pound milk chocolate
Line a 9-by-13 pan with parchment paper. In a large pot, combine butter, sugar, corn syrup, salt and 1 cup heavy cream over medium-low heat. Gently stir until sugar dissolves (do not rush this process). When sugar has dissolved, place candy thermometer in pot and turn heat up to medium-medium high.
Cook until thermometer reaches 224 degrees, stirring occasionally. Add the last 1 cup heavy cream and continue cooking until thermometer reaches 236 degrees, stirring occasionally. Stir in vanilla. Pour caramel into prepared pan. Cool caramel for seven hours.
Melt 1 pound milk chocolate. Cut caramel into small squares.
Dip caramels in melted chocolate. Let excess chocolate drip off and place on wax paper. Set aside until chocolate is set.
Andrea Hancock lives in Grantsville, she is a regular contributor to the cooking blog wasdenblissfulbites.blogspot.com.