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Posted December 17, 2008 | Copyright © The Northern Virginia Daily
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Hint of mint: Holiday staple is used in many treats

Peppermint 2
Anne Brown, owner of Shenandoah Fine Chocolates in Winchester, cuts a line of her peppermint and chocolate candy. Rich Cooley/Daily

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By Josette Keelor -- Daily Staff Writer

Certain smells and tastes seem to be synonymous with the holidays. Maple, citrus, cinnamon and hazelnut are a few scents that people might associate with early winter celebrations, but nothing seems to say "Merry Christmas" like peppermint.

Peppermint and the holidays go hand-in-hand, perhaps because of the herb's long history with the holidays. According to the Web site www.customsofchristmas.com, the candy cane was formed almost 350 years ago in Europe. Legend says that in 1670 a choirmaster at the Cologne Cathedral in Germany began handing the candy out to children to pacify them as they attended the church's nativity services. He also chose the shape of the candy, bending it into the shape of a shepherd's staff.

The candy cane was first noticed in the United States in 1847 when German immigrant August Imgard decorated his Christmas tree with the candy. About 50 years later, the site says, the candy cane's red stripes appeared, and the flavors of peppermint and wintergreen were added.

Whether used to play a role in religious tradition or simply because it tastes good, peppermint can be part of any holiday celebration.

"Peppermint is just a great smell ... There's just something about peppermint that says Christmas, holidays," says Anne Brown, owner of Shenandoah Fine Chocolates at 3111 Valley Ave. in Winchester.

"We use peppermint, actually, in not a lot of things, but the things we use it in are just incredible," she says.

The candy store's popular handmade peppermint items include peppermint twists, Cool as Ice mints, Melt-in-your-Mouth Mint, various flavors of peppermint bark and handmade candy canes.

Brown's two favorite flavors to combine with chocolate are also two very popular tastes at Christmas -- peppermint and cinnamon.

"They're both so soothing," she says. "The smell of peppermint is just clean and very soothing."

One of its more common uses, especially around the holidays, is in combination with chocolate.

"It actually goes with milk, dark and white [chocolate] ... and not everything does," Brown says. "Peppermint really complements all three." The same cannot be said for cinnamon, to her chagrin. Cinnamon does not go well with dark chocolate, she says.

Even spearmint is iffy with dark chocolate, she says. Only peppermint seems to universally suit any kind of chocolate.

The combination of peppermint and chocolate can lend itself to any number of homemade holiday treats, such as peppermint hot cocoa or chocolate mint cookies.

Brown recommends buying candy canes when they go on clearance in stores after the holidays and using them in various recipes throughout the year.

Some suggestions she has are using crushed candy canes on top of ice cream, sprinkling the candy on brownies or sugar cookies, and adding crushed peppermint to hot tea for a soothing twist.

"It's fun to make it at home, and it makes your kitchen smell good," Brown says of peppermint treats.

* Contact Josette Keelor at jkeelor@nvdaily.com

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