Peppermint Candy Canes – Mentha piperita

Peppermint Candy Canes
Peppermint Candy Canes

At the time that Christmas Trees were first being brought indoors and decorated, it was first decorated using food and candies. The original candy cane was straight, white, and not flavored with peppermint. About 1670 the choir master at the Cologne Cathedral in Germany bent the canes into the shape of a shepherd’s hook to represent Christ. They were given out to children for good behavior during the long Christmas nativity services.

The earliest use of the red stripe and peppermint flavor appears around 1900. Prior to that the canes were still all white, after that they were noted to have changed, but no one has a clue who made the original change to the traditional candy cane.

There are many legends surrounding the candy cane. Some hold that the red stripes are reminiscent of the strips on Christ’s back from his scourging, the red and white representing Christ’s blood and purity. The fact that the stripes normally number 3 is to represent the Holy Trinity. The hardness of the candy was to remind us of the solidity of the Church built upon solid rock. The peppermint flavor was to represent the use of hyssop, an herb referred to in the Old Testament.

Hyssop is in the mint family and was used as a purifier and a blessing by Christ.

Another legend has it that the candy cane was bent in the shape of a ‘J’ to represent Jesus, and was a secret symbol of Christianity during a period of persecution of the church.

Mint, specifically peppermint is used for digestive upset, and I have found over the years that suck a peppermint candy can settle the stomach when upset. Children don’t mind a small piece of candy when riding in the car, and never know they took ‘medicine’!

The following recipe was a tradition in my home when my kids were small….enjoy!

Candy Cane Cookies

Ingredients:

3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1 1/4 cups (10 ounces) butter, softened

1 cup confectioners’ sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 egg

1/2 teaspoon red food coloring or enough for desired color

1/4 teaspoon peppermint extract

Preparation:

Into a mixing bowl, measure flour, butter, confectioners’ sugar, vanilla, salt, and egg. Beat with hand-held electric mixer at low speed until mixture is well blended, scraping bowl a few times.

Set aside half of the cookie dough. Into remaining dough in bowl, knead in red food coloring and peppermint extract until well blended.

Preheat oven to 375°. On a lightly floured surface, using hands, take 1 teaspoonful of plain dough and roll into a 4-inch rope. Repeat, using tinted dough. Place the ropes side-by-side and gently twist together. Pinch ends lightly to seal. Curve one end to form candy cane. Move cookie to ungreased baking sheets with a spatula. Repeat with remaining dough.

Bake cookies at 375° for 10 minutes, or until lightly browned around edges. Remove to racks with a spatula; let cool. Store in tightly covered container for up to 1 week. Makes about 4 dozen candy cane cookies.

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