13 December, 2017
A Christmas Anthology
“Christmas” means something slightly different to everyone. For some, it’s a time of community traditions and religious celebration. For others, it’s a family time, where loved ones gather around their own traditions. For others still, like myself, we really don’t have much in the way of tradition, or we did at one point, but as the years passed, things changed. Most people’s Christmases, however they’re celebrated, involve some kind of food.
As a kid, I remember spending Christmas at my Nana and Poppa’s house. I’ve mentioned both of them more than once in this blog, Nana, as one of my primary sources of inspiration for baking and cooking, and Poppa as a cookie thief, among other things. Nana always cooked WAY more than necessary, no matter what the occasion was — Saint Patrick’s Day (Poppa has some Irish in him), Fourth of July, Thanksgiving (we eventually switched that to my parents house and limited her to desserts, which she insisted on bringing multiple of for a crowd of 5), and of course, Christmas.
My immediate family isn’t particularly religious, but on both sides of the family, there was a strong Roman Catholic influence when it came to tradition. Nana loved to make a big deal about the holidays and bringing family together whenever she could, and what better way to bring a bunch of Italians together than with lots and lots of food?
Though the tradition of everyone coming together at Nana and Poppa’s for Christmas Day and dinner was one that didn’t last terribly long into my lifetime (Nana and Poppa were already in their 70s by the time I was old enough to remember Christmas festivities), I still vividly remember two things: this sweet potato and marshmallow bake Nana used to make and, more importantly, the plethora of Christmas cookies she used to make.
One of the types of cookie she used to make were anisette cookies. Earlier this year, I tried to replicate her recipe and came pretty close. Another type of cookie I vividly remember were struffoli. We thought we had lost that recipe to time and her aging mind, but over the summer, we found her recipe card tucked away in a book in her sewing room. This year, we’ll put it to the test. Since my mom took over the duty of making the Christmas cookies, the struffoli just haven’t been the same, and for the life of us, we couldn’t figure out why. Hopefully, this should crack the code.
Two of the more richly flavorful treats I came to associate with the holidays were wine cakes and Poppa’s dark fruit cakes. I remember, as a kid, helping Nana make the wine cakes when we made the struffoli, and up until about a year ago or so, Poppa made a bunch of fruit cakes every year and mailed them out to family. I’m trying to convince him to give it another go, this year, though we do have the recipe now. There’s just something about when grandparents make sweets, you know? They somehow taste better than when you make them yourself.
As someone who grew up with a hodgepodge of traditions, and later, a lack of “traditional identity,” if you will, what I’ve enjoyed is learning the traditions of others, so, for this post, what I decided to do was to turn to an online community of chefs that includes everyone from microwave savants to professional bakers and cooks, and I asked them what their Christmas traditions and memories were. What I was able to string together was a sort of anthology of Christmas celebrations around the country and around the world. It was a lot of fun putting this project together, and I hope you enjoy reading their stories as much as I have.
A UK Christmas Stuffing
Sam Redfern, author of Sam’s Kitchen, shares with us his favorite Christmas stuffing recipe, along with a little story about how it caused some tension with the in-laws.
Our traditions are fairly normal, though the stuffing isn’t to everyone’s tastes and is a bit sweeter than what most people make. I absolutely love it though. When I got married, my in-laws didn’t like it at all, but I carried on making it and eating on my own!
I lived in Illinois for a year when I was 10 years old, so I understand the whole “midwest life” a little, and I tried to “Americanize” the recipe for you a bit.
A little bit about me: My mother is still alive (she’s 79), but my Dad died three years ago. My sister lives in France, and I live in the UK with my 11 year old daughter, Eleanor.
My wife’s family is Welsh/Scottish, and they turned their noses up at my stuffing the first Christmas we had with them, about 20 years ago. I offered to cook the whole thing, and my mother-in-law looked over my shoulder a lot. My brother-in-law, who was about 20 years old at the time, famously heated up a piece of frozen lasagna in the microwave about 10 minutes before I served the Christmas lunch… And ate it. They all (including my wife) said they preferred a simple stuffing and didn’t like a sweeter one. They never had to eat it again, though — but I still do! I grew up eating this stuffing, and it was always a favorite part of the meal for me. As a teenager and university student, I was often hungover on Christmas Day, as all my school friends met up on Christmas Eve. So, plenty to eat was very important to me!
2 lbs Pork sausage meat
2 tbsp Tomato puree
2 tsp Ground cinnamon
1 can Chestnut puree (I don’t know if you can get this in the US, but if you can, don’t use the sweet one, it must be the savory one)
4 oz Pine nuts/kernels
1 Full wine glass of whichever you like: Port, Madeira, Red wine, Sherry.
8 oz in total of a mix of dried fruit and nuts, for example: Dried apricots, Raisins, Hazelnuts, Pecans (2oz of each). Add more if you like — this is the not very precise bit!
Chop the onions, and saute in butter, put everything else in a large pan and cook for 45 minutes. It will turn a rich brown color when it’s done.
I normally stuff some inside of the turkey and cook some separately, too.
Old World Traditions
This next story and recipe comes from Linda Freed, a proud Italian American with fond memories of a very special cookie.
The Pizzelle is a simple artisan cookie that every Italian mother or father handed down from generation to generation.
Pizzelles are known to be one of the oldest cookies, originating in central Italy, in the Abruzzo region. The Pizzelle Iron would be made with the family crests on it and passed down through the generations. I watched and learned how to make pizzelles from my mother. When I could smell the anise in the air, I knew a holiday, wedding, or special event was near.
I was born and raised in the Steubenville, Ohio area. Steubenville’s close-knit Italian community was the hometown of the inventor of the electric pizzelle iron, Charles DeMarco, and also the hometown of the actor and entertainer, Dean Martin.
My mother was an Italian immigrant from Italy, from the Ciccarelli family. What skills they had acquired in Italy, they brought with them, and those skills were often seeded in years of tradition. Recipes were passed down, not always by pen and paper, but rather by practice and patience. Each generation put its own signature twist on the family favorite.
I remember always having a love of baking. Creating something that others would enjoy from my labor of love and wanting every day to be a holiday. I decided to share that feeling of joy and reminiscence with others through the taste of old world tradition with a new world twist. Most Americans are not accustomed to the black licorice taste of anise, so I created the Dolce Pizzelle, which is my own private recipe. Dolce means sweet and Pizzelle (pit-ZELL) (pronounced with tz sound, like pizza) roughly means round and flat. I enjoy baking them the traditional way: one small batch at a time.
Our next recipes feature something sweet and something savory, brought to us by fellow blogger, Charissa Kennedy! Be sure to check out her food blog, Something Sweet 2 Eat!
My name is Charissa. I’m a native to Southern California, though my family is in Minnesota, so sometimes you’ll catch me saying I’m going “home” to the mid-west. While my resume reads like a “Jack of all Trades,” I tend to gravitate towards the creative. One of my best friends said the perfect job for me is in social media/marketing consulting. I can meet someone & within a few minutes, start coming up with ideas on how to grow their brand on Pinterest, even if their brand isn’t really a normally Pinterest friendly brand. Overall, I love helping entrepreneurs and small businesses I believe in, whether it’s through my own expertise or introducing them to a resource or a contact I know can be of help. When I’m not coming up with your next social media campaign, I’m either in the kitchen, watching sports or with my loved ones. I hope some of these recipes inspire you to create something sweet!
Something my mom does for Christmas is make a “Happy Birthday Jesus” cake for dessert. It’s been a simple way to remember what the holiday is supposed to be about. Sometimes it’s a simple box cake and sometimes she finds a new recipe to try. As grandma, she will ask my nephews what flavor birthday cake they think Jesus would like. Usually, they say chocolate, since that’s their favorite flavor. If their schedules work out, she will have one or both of my nephews help her make the cake. She puts candles on the cake and we sing, “Happy Birthday,” then my nephews help blow out the candles.
Cranberry Jell-o Salad
1 large box Raspberry Jell-o
1, 20 oz can Crushed pineapple
1 can Whole cranberry sauce (or use your own homemade cranberry sauce)
1 1/3 c. Water, to boil
Whisk Jell-o and hot water, then stir in everything else. Pour into bowl (one large, or individual
ones, like pictured) and place in fridge to set.
Nostalgia is a real thing. This recipe always takes me back to Thanksgiving at Nana’s. Growing
up, no one really made their own cranberry sauce. But the canned kind just cut into slices
wasn’t something my family did. Instead, my grandma always had this cranberry jell-o salad. We
had jell-o at a lot of family get togethers. A different kind at Christmas. A different one for 4th of
July. But this cranberry jell-o salad is nothing I’ve ever seen anywhere else.
1 lb Italian sausage (can sub turkey for pork, but hot works better than mild)
1 clove Garlic, minced
1 tbsp Basil
1 ½ tsp Salt
1 lb Canned tomatoes (~2 cups)
2, 6 oz cans Tomato paste
10 oz Lasagna noodles
3 cups Fresh ricotta cheese (or cottage cheese)
½ cup Grated parmesan or romano cheese
2 tbsp Parsley flakes
2 Eggs, beaten
1 tsp Salt
½ tsp Black pepper
1 lb Thinly sliced mozzarella cheese
Brown sausage slowly and spoon off excess fat. Add next 5 ingredients. Simmer uncovered for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Cook noodles in large amount of boiling water until tender. Drain. Rinse.
Combine remaining ingredients (except mozzarella).
Place half of the noodles in 9×13 pan. Spread with half cheese mixture. Add half mozzarella, then half sauce. Repeat.
Bake at 375° for 30 minutes. Let stand for 10 minutes before cutting.
**Can assemble early and refrigerate. Allow an extra 15 minutes in oven to cook.**
Funny to think about traditions and where they come from. My family isn’t Italian, but we always had lasagna on Christmas as long as I could remember. Even when my brother first got married and was living away from home, he asked for the recipe to make for his new bride because even though they were away, it was tradition. Finally, a couple years ago, I asked my mom where the tradition came from. Lo and behold, it actually started after my first Christmas. My mom had two kids, one roughly 20 months old and one 7 months old, but instead of enjoying Christmas with us, she spent most of the day in the kitchen cooking. Bummed that she missed so much of the day with us, she vowed to never let that happen again. So, the next year the tradition of lasagna started. She could prep everything the day before and enjoy spending Christmas day present with our family. We usually make no less than a double batch. Leftovers are never wasted!
Ringing in the New Year
Our last entry is from Kimberly Hurley, and while it’s not exactly a post about Christmas, it’s still a fun story and food tale for the holiday season! Kimberly says that there aren’t exact measurements to the recipe, because it changes every year. A little more of one thing, a little less of something else, maybe even add in something new. Think of it instead as an outline, and you, too, can have some fun with it and experiment until you find something you like!
My boyfriend is from Verviers, Belgium (which is in the south, Wallonia area). There they speak French. He said he knows that this tradition is celebrated there, but also in parts of France (namely, in the Alsatian region), some areas of Germany, and maybe Holland. They eat sauerkraut on
New Year’s Day for prosperity in the new year. His family has a tradition of placing a coin under the plate to really amplify the effect, but he’s not sure if that’s regional or just his family’s touch! The food lineup look something like this–
New Year’s Eve:
Smoke a bunch of meat (Sausages, ham)
New Year’s Day:
Put pork bellies or bacon in bottom of pot.
He uses store-bought bags of sauerkraut – but the key is to rinse them very well to rid them of the brine and vinegar. Drain thoroughly.
Create a nest of sauerkraut, leaving the middle empty.
– Half an onion pricked with two cloves
– White wine or beer
– A handful of bay leaves, juniper berries, peppercorns
– A bouquet garni
– Cook for 100 minutes then add smoked meats
– Simmer to heat them through
Serve with a dollop of brown mustard and a pile of mashed potatoes — And a good Belgian beer, of course!