How and why did we start celebrating Valentine's Day?
St. Valentine's Day is celebrated every year on February 14th, but there are conflicting ideas about how it originated. Some say it goes back as far as the 3rd century when there were swarms of hungry wolves outside of Rome. The Romans believed the god Lupercus protected them from these wolves and looked after their animals and crops. They honored him by celebrating the holiday, Lupercalia, when they feasted, danced, and sang songs.
One night before Lupercalia, girls would write their names on pieces of paper and place them in an urn. The boys would take turns drawing names. The girl who's name they chose would be their partner for all the games and dances. After spending so much time with each other, they often fell in love and got engaged after the festivities were over.
The Romans celebrated Lupercalia for many hundreds of years, but when Christianity became prevalent, Church officials insisted their converts give up celebrating Lupercalia. But the people did not want to give it up! In order to placate their flock, the Church decided to use the holiday to honor a priest. They renamed it St. Valentine's Day! Even though Lupercalia came later in the Roman calendar, the Church chose February 14th to celebrate Valentine's Day.
Legend has it that the priest, Valentine, lived in Rome almost 2,000 years ago during the rein of Emperor Claudius “The Cruel”. When Claudius tried to recruit soldiers for his armies, men did not want to leave their wives, families, and sweethearts to go to war. The Emperor felt that single men made fiercer soldiers, so he forbade couples to marry and declared that all engagements be canceled! But Priest Valentine felt this edict very unfair, so he defied the Emperor and secretly joined several couples in marriage. When Claudius found out, he was furious! He had Valentine thrown into prison and sentenced him to death.
While in prison, Valentine became friends with the prison guard and his blind daughter. Finally, after being imprisoned for many years, the priest was called before Emperor Claudius and was told he would be set free if he gave up his religion and begin worshiping the Roman gods. Valentine, of course, refused and Claudius had him beheaded on February 14th somewhere around 270 AD. But before he was taken away, Valentine asked the prison guard to give a note to his daughter. As soon as the girl opened the note, her sight was miraculously restored and she was able to read the note: It said, “Love from your Valentine”! (Now all this has to be taken with a grain of salt! Remember, it is legend!)
In 496, Pope Gelasius set aside February 14th to honor Valentine. The Catholic Church honored him with sainthood for his courage, his love for his flock, and his friendship to those in need. So the priest Valentine became St. Valentine! And Valentine's Day became not only a day to honor a brave priest, but also a day to celebrate love, romance and friendship. Gradually, as time passed, this new Christian holiday became a time for exchanging love messages, and St. Valentine emerged as the patron saint of lovers.
Celebrations of Valentine's Day began spreading to other countries. During the Middle Ages, people in England believed that birds returned from the south to choose their mates around February 14th. Hence, Valentine's Day seemed like a perfect time to choose a sweetheart!
As more and more people learned to read and write, they began to write love letters to their sweethearts on Valentine's Day. Soon letters began to be called “Valentines”. They were often decorated with hearts, flowers, birds (especially doves), and Cupids aiming their bows and arrows. It was believed that if Cupid hit you with his arrow you would fall helplessly in love!
By the mid-1800's, Valentines began to be made commercially in factories. Some were very elaborate and delicate, made of fine papers and fancily decorated with satin, ribbons and lace. The messages of love inside were very artistic and flowery – usually written as a poem. Some of these were sold at very high prices. During the rein of England's Queen Victoria, Valentine's Day became extremely popular and February 14th became the post office's busiest day!
Nowadays, we usually purchase a more simple Valentine card to give to our loved one along with a more elaborate gift such as flowers, perfume or candy – especially chocolates. Yum! And speaking of chocolate, try my Peanut Butter Ball recipe below!
Throughout history, people believed that chocolate held aphrodisiac powers. It is said that Casanova, the insatiable Italian lover, ate large amounts of it to aid him in his sexual encounters. The Aztecs valued chocolate so much that they even used beans from the cacao tree as a form of currency.
Well, enough of Valentine history! Let's make Valentine goodies to give to our sweethearts or to serve at our Valentine party. Here are some of my favorites!
Valentine's Day Recipes
Cherry Chocolate Chunk Cookies
This cookie is so tender and delicate it practically falls apart in your mouth. The chocolate chunks and the dried cherries make SUCH a rich, delicious flavor combination. These cookies would be a great addition to your Valentine's party!
1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
¼ cup cocoa (unsweetened)
½ teaspoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) sweet cream salted butter, softened
¾ cup granulated sugar
¾ teaspoon vanilla extract
½ teaspoon cherry extract (If you can't find cherry, raspberry extract is a great replacement!)
1 cup semisweet chocolate chunks or chocolate chips
½ cup dried cherries or cherry flavored dried cranberries
½ cup chopped pecans
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
In a medium-sized bowl, mix together the flour, cocoa, baking powder and salt.
In a large bowl, beat butter and sugar until fluffy. Beat in egg, vanilla, and cherry flavorings until well combined; then beat in flour mixture.
Stir in dried cherries, chocolate chunks or chips and pecans.
Let chill in the frig for about 15 minutes before baking. (Not any longer or the batter gets too hard to handle!)
Drop large mounds onto non-greased cookie sheet. Press down cookie slightly with palm to make a thick disk.
Bake at 350 degrees for around 14-15 minutes or until set. (We want to keep them nice and fudgie on the inside.)
Let cookies cool on the cookie sheet for a few minutes; then gently remove with a spatula to the counter to cool completely. These cookies are absolutely scrumptious served warm!
Chocolate Cheesecake With Sour Cream Topping
One of the great things about this cheesecake is that it makes two! Bake one, and put the other half of the filling into a covered bowl in the fridge. Then when the last delicious creamy morsel of the first cheesecake is gone, (and it will be very quickly), you won't have to feel sad; you can just quickly bake the other one.
A 15.5 ounce ? package of Oreos will make two crusts and still have several cookies left over just to eat plain. To make this cheesecake more festive, you can sprinkle mini chocolate chips over the surface of the topping after it has chilled. Yum! Yum! Yum!
Ingredients for crust:
Note: This recipe makes only one crust.
1 ½ cups crushed chocolate sandwich cookies (about 15 cookies)
¼ cup butter, softened
Ingredients for filling:
3 (8 ounce) packages cream cheese, at room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup (6 ounces) semisweet chocolate chips, melted and cooled
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
3 large eggs, at room temperature
2 tablespoons heavy cream
2 teaspoons vanilla
Ingredients for topping:
1 cup sour cream
5 tablespoons granulated sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon vanilla
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Crush cookies into crumbs. (I crush the cookies by rolling over them with a rolling pin.) Mix the butter and crushed cookies together with a fork, or use your fingers, like I do, until well blended. Press the mixture onto the bottom and sides of a 9 or 10 inch pie baking dish. Set aside while making filling.
In a large bowl, beat cream cheese with an electric mixer until smooth. Add sugar, melted chocolate and flour; beat until well blended and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each one. Beat in cream and vanilla.
Spoon half the filling into the prepared cookie crust. With a rubber spatula, scrape the remainder of the filling into a bowl, cover, and store in the refrigerator until ready to make your second cake. It will keep nicely in the frig for about 4 days.
Bake cheesecake at 350 degrees for about 30 to 35 minutes until set, and a sharp knife inserted in center comes out almost completely clean. Let cool for 20 minutes.
While cheesecake is cooling, prepare topping: In a small bowl, mix sour cream, granulated sugar, salt and vanilla together until thoroughly combined. Spread topping on top of cheesecake.
Bake in 350 degree oven for 10 minutes.
Chill completely in refrigerator before serving. If desired, just before serving, sprinkle mini chocolate chips over the surface.
Chocolate Streusel Bars
I know! Most of these goodies are chocolate, but that's what Valentine's Day is all about! (Besides LOVE, that is!)
I get asked to bring my Chocolate Streusel Bars to potlucks more than any other dessert (except for chocolate cake)! These bars are one of my favorites too! The flavor combination of the chocolate, cream cheese, and walnuts is unbelievably delicious! These bars are especially good served cold.
1 ¾ cup all-purpose flour
1 ½ cup powdered sugar
½ cup unsweetened cocoa
1 cup cold butter
1 (8 ounce) package cream cheese, softened
1 (14 ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
½ cup chopped walnuts
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease bottom of a 9” by 13” baking dish.
In a large bowl, combine flour, powdered sugar and cocoa. Cut in butter, and work in with your fingers until crumbly.
Reserving 2 cups crumb mixture, press remainder on bottom of baking dish. Bake for 15 minutes.
In another mixing bowl, beat cream cheese until fluffy. Gradually beat in condensed milk until smooth.
Add egg and vanilla; mix well. Pour this mixture over the baked crust.
Add chopped walnuts to the reserved crumb mixture and sprinkle evenly over the cream cheese mixture.
Bake for 25 minutes.
Cool; then store covered in the refrigerator.
Not only is Cherry Pie a great Valentine's Day dessert, but it's also perfect for President's Day (which usually falls on a day very close to Valentine's Day.)
Our very first president, President Washington, is said to have chopped down a cherry tree when he was a small boy. When he was asked if he had done it he said “I cannot tell a lie; I chopped it down with my little hatchet”! So that's why we make cherry pies on President's Day! (Actually, when I was young, it was called “Washington's” Birthday.)
Many of us consider cherry to be our favorite pie. Add a scoop of vanilla ice cream by its side, and it's absolutely luscious! (I cannot tell a lie! Ha Ha!)
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup butter flavored Crisco
1 teaspoon salt
¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons cold water
Ingredients for pie filling:
2 (14.5 ounce) cans red tart pitted cherries (can will say “soaked in water”)
1 cup granulated sugar
¼ cup corn starch
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon butter
¼ teaspoon almond flavoring
Instructions for crust:
In a medium-sized bowl, combine flour and salt. Cut in ½ cup shortening with knife or pastry blender until it resembles course meal. Add the other ½ cup of the shortening and cut it in until the size of peas. Add cold water and mix together with a fork until it all sticks together. Shape into a ball with your hands. Cut the ball in half and shape into 2 balls.
Lay a large piece of waxed paper on the counter. Flour it well, and also flour your rolling pin. Place 1 ball of dough onto the waxed paper; flatten a little with your palm and sprinkle with flour. With rolling pin, roll lightly from center out to edges, creating a circle that will be large enough to cover bottom and sides of pie dish. Invert waxed paper into dish, lifting off the waxed paper. Form pastry gently into the dish with your fingers. Cut excess off edges of pie dish with a knife.
Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
Instructions for cherry filling:
Drain juice from cans of cherries into a medium-sized saucepan. Stir in granulated sugar, corn starch, and salt. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly until juice thickens. Stir in butter and almond extract. Mix in cherries. Spoon pie filling into prepared pie crust.
Roll out the 2nd ball of crust as you did with the first one and invert on the top of the filling of the not yet baked pie. Trim edges. I used to use a fork to press the pastry to the plate rim, but now I flute it all the way around. Cut several slits into the top of the pie crust to allow steam to escape.
Bake at 425 degrees for about 40 to 50 minutes until crust is nicely browned. Note: If filling begins to run out of pie, take out of oven immediately. Nothing worse than juice on the bottom of your oven that will burn next time you use the oven!
Let all fruit pies cool before cutting so filling will set.