St. Nicholas String
A tradition from Biloxi, Mississippi
Here is one way Croatian families in Biloxi have celebrated St. Nicholas. Cathy Willis writes, “In our house, St. Nicholas always left our trinkets knotted on a long string.
“Our average Nicholas string included several pieces of imported candy (my favorites were the foil-wrapped cordial-filled chocolates shaped like wine bottles), a sack of chocolate gold-foil wrapped coins (in honor of the gold coins St. Nick left for the dowerless maidens), a folk-y Christmas ornament, a flavored popcorn ball and always, ALWAYS a shiny red apple at the bottom of the string.
“Apples have a symbolic association with St. Nicholas. Apple strudel is a common St. Nicholas Day treat. In old Croatia, this was a traditional day for engagements with the young man presenting a basket of apples to his intended as he popped the question. It all goes back to those three dowerless virgins. The gold St. Nick left for them is often symbolized by three gold balls, which in some paintings and statues, are depicted as apples.”
Cathy’s recipes are from her Croatian grandmother, Mary, who was called Nona.
To make a St. Nicholas String
I used green and white cotton Christmas twine with red and green mini wooden clothespins. They are cute, but knotting like Cathy’s grandmother did would probably be more secure. At the top there is a bag of gold coins for Nicholas’ gold, followed by various wrapped candies, an olive wood nativity ornament, a Dutch cookie, small St. Nicholas figure, a green popcorn ball, more candies, ending with a nice red apple for St. Nicholas.
Cathy’s Jello Popcorn Balls ~ A Nicholas String Staple
1 cup light corn syrup
3/4 cup sugar
1 - 3 oz. package of Jello (cherry or lime)
2 1/2 quarts of popcorn, popped (or a bit more)
Boil corn syrup and sugar together. Add the Jello; stir until dissolved. Remove from heat and cool slightly. Pour over popcorn in large bowl (with room to work syrup into popcorn). Grease hands. Shape mixture into balls, working quickly, buttering hands as needed to keep syrup from sticking to hands. Let dry on waxed paper. Makes about a dozen depending on how large you make them.
Cathy’s Apple Strudel
“Nona was famous for her apple strudel. She always made it this time of year.”
2 eggs, well beaten
½ stick melted butter
1 teaspoon vanilla
½ cup granulated sugar
3-4 cups of flour (1/2 cup self-rising to 2/3 cup of all-purpose)
For the dough: Mix first 4 ingredients together in a large bowl with electric mixer. Add flour gradually. Dough will get very stiff (add more if needed). After mixing, knead dough on a surface lightly dusted with all purpose flour. When the dough feels smooth, poke your finger in it. If the indentation fills back up quickly, it is time to roll the dough out.
Transfer dough to a lightly floured clean dishcloth. Roll dough out in a circular shape for one big roll. May also separate and roll into two circles (on separate cloths) to make two smaller rolls. Keep the dough thin but not too thin. You don’t want the apples to pierce through the crust and let all your good juices escape.
7-8 large red apples, thinly sliced
½ stick of butter, cut into pats
½ cup granulated sugar
½ cup cinnamon
Apple Filling: Spread the apple slices on the dough (which is still on the cloth). Dot with butter. Sprinkle with sugar and cinnamon. You can use more or less sugar/cinnamon depending on your taste and the sweetness of the apples.
Lift cloth and roll like a jelly roll. Place seam side down on an ungreased cookie sheet with an edge. Tuck under both ends of the strudel to keep juices in.
Dot top with more butter. Sprinkle on more sugar and cinnamon. Bake in a 350 degree oven 35-45 minutes or until slightly browned. Baste 2-3 times during baking. Cool. Slice thin to serve. Makes 1 large roll or 2 small ones.