Winter means different things to different people. Climate and culture are often leading reasons for these differences in the real world, and so we should try to remember that in our fantasy worlds as well. One commonality of winter is generally cold weather and lack of abundant food options (at least in a pre-global-industrial fantasy world). Marathis’ Cradle has five distinct regional climates within a relatively short distance that allows enough room to have unique practices while also sharing some mixed ideas. Let’s see what we can come up with.
The Hunting Grounds are home to a fair number of large game animals. Winter feasts here are generally comprised of venison (moose, elk, deer) for larger communities while boar and hare are popular in smaller settlements or families. It is considered a sign of prosperity and good fortune for the coming year if the feast includes an animal with larger than average antlers. While smaller communities or single families may not have the ability or skill to hunt such prey, larger communities are limited in the number of kills they are allowed each winter in accordance with long standing relationships with the druids of the forest. This has led the northern region to adopt the jackalope as their winter feast mascot, and so they include in their meal preparations the largest hare they can get dressed up to include the largest horns or antlers that they have (often a family heirloom). What is a jackalope, you wonder? Traditionally, a jackalope is seen as a common hare with the horns of an antelope, but many in this region are seen to have the body of a snow hare and the antlers of a deer or elk. Every community or family has their own fables, history, and lore of their jackalope, and they usually have one mounted and displayed prominently in a common room or feast hall.
Large, extravagant meals are a rarity in The Dry East to begin with, and so winter feasts are no simple feat. What the desert lacks in abundance it makes up for with uniqueness. There is a special cactus found in only one ravine that appears to lie dormant through most of the year, strangely budding only during snowfalls. The buds swell into a fruit during this time but only ripening during the winter solstice. The cleverly named Dragonapple is somehow a cross between dragon fruit and pineapple and once ripe its juices are always icy, as if on the verge of freezing. If plucked before or after ripening, they appear as though sculpted from shaved ice, breaking or melting as expected. How best to serve a fruit that is always cold, you ask? Over seared and cooled giant fly and scorpion steaks, of course. While nobody knows why there are giant flies and scorpions in the region, it is known that they are easier to handle in the winter months and that their meat somehow manages to enhance flavors cooked into them once cooled. The most commonly served dish of celebration during the desert’s winter feasts are seared then cooled giant fly with roasted cactus and dragonapple.
The Farms in the south have been bucking the trend of rare wintery foods for going on a decade now. With the rotation of the crops and plots of land combined with easy storage and distribution, they have been able to ensure enough food throughout the year that there aren’t any foods that are considered special or unique during the cold times. They still have fewer crops in bloom, and thus fewer (if any) harvests during this time and so spend less time working the land. This allows families to interact and mingle more than when they are frequently in the fields, and so winter feasts are usually a time of large and boisterous gatherings that involve extended families, neighbors, or entire communities. Cornucopias containing wide variety of foods are the staple at such events, usually setup in a central location and left throughout the day so that folk can eat when they feel hungry and play and dance and make merry the how they see fit. I thought Cornucopias were a fall festival icon, you think to yourself. The farmlands have the largest concentration of halflings around, and they love their food and their tradition, so why not just keep using the same decorations that were already out and already hold a lot of food! It is here that you are likely to see your more traditional festivals, including numerous games of skill for adults and children that involve snow or ice, such as skating or sledding.
Not to be outdone by the unique steaks and fruits of the desert, The Misty Forest has its own delicacy that you will not find anywhere else. Masters of fungus and berries, the residents of the rain forest begin preparing for their winter feasts months in advance. Long ago, they discovered that some dinosaurs, when killed at a certain age and prepared in a certain way, leave a carcass that is perfect for growing special fungus berry bushes. What is a fungus berry bush? Some of the forest’s berries, under the right conditions, can accelerate and enhance the growth of a unique local fungus, causing them to take on a bit of the color and flavor of the berries upon which they grow. While it takes some work and planning, the meat is usually moved and frozen in neighboring regions during this growth period, and then returned and cooked with the berry fungi to provide a rather sweet and slimy dinosaur kabobs that you are not likely to soon forget.
As for Lakeside Proper, seasons don’t have quite the same impact on their fishing as is seen in the food variation in the other regions. What do you see are various neighborhoods taking on decorations that indicate the ancestral region of the families found therein. As they don’t have immediate and direct access to the foods from the other regions, they will often make close approximations and then combine them with those from the other regions to create a very mixed and confusing array of tradition, celebration, and gastronomical confusion. The one thing that they do have unique to the region is a special roe from one of the fish that live in the lake but are native to the fey realm. Something about the full moon of the winter solstice causes them to rise from the bottom of the lake and create a layer roughly 100 feet deep. Nobody knows how they first learned about it, but dragging for it is very difficult and so a few very special cold water free divers train year round for this one time of year. If you have been to Lakeside Proper, you know of them, they are favored celebrities and likely haven’t had to buy a drink in years.
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