Chestnuts can now be found in many more places than the proverbial open fire. There's the new chestnut pasta at New York City's Balducci's; the fresh, dried and steamed chestnuts sold by Sacramento's Corti Brothers; and Bouley Bakery's chestnut bread, one of the Manhattan bakery's most popular offerings.

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Facts about gingerbread from Great Gingerbread by Sara Perry and from Gingerbread by Linda Merinoff:

  • It was the "cotton candy" of medieval European fairs.
  • Since the Middle Ages, it's been made in people shapes.
  • At one time, dark gingerbread got its color from red wine.
  • Gingerbread men were once called husbands in England.
  • New Englanders were famous for a glazed gingerbread known as muster.
  • Emily Dickinson was praised for her gingerbread.
  • Medieval gingerbread was made of bread crumbs.
  • Queen Elizabeth I had a royal gingerbread maker.
  • Thirteenth-century Englishmen ate gingerbrati lozenges.
  • A fairy tale by the brothers Grimm created a demand for gingerbread houses.

Chocolate by the Book
One of this season's best sources on the subject is the immodestly titled Chocolate Bible by Christian Teubner ($30; Viking).

Christmas Citrus
A dwarf lemon tree from Garden of Delights is one gift idea sure to bear fruit ($30; 954-370-9004).

Fondant is created by kneading a thick cooked sugar syrup until it be-comes creamy white. It can be made into sweets or flavored and used as a filling for individual chocolates or as a frosting for cakes, petits fours and pastries.

    By Lettie Teague and Monica F. Forrestall