Christmas Food Traditions
Going down memory lane ....
My two favorite Christmas food traditions -
Butter cake - we always had a brunch the Sunday before Christmas at Grandmom's. And she always served butter cake. Probably about 2500 calories but ohhhh soooo good. I just found out that my client, Oteri's Bakery in Olney, makes one. I am putting in my order for next week. How many calories is it when you eat the entire thing by yourself?
Egg Nog - my dad made the best! Don't know the recipe but I know there was quite a bit of alcohol in it. And NO virgin nog for the kids - we were allowed to have the real stuff with the adults!
One other memory - we always had Cherries Jubilee for dessert on Christmas Day. Of course, igniting it was half the fun and any "issues" with getting a flame were solved by pouring more booze on top! The next morning - my mother walked out to the kitchen and found my grandfather drinking the left over "juice"!
Merry Christmas everyone!
Our Christmas meal was spread out over the entire day, starting with a marzipan stollen and coffee or cocoa in the morning after presents were opened. Around 1:00, we had a crock of mom's French onion soup (that she learned in Madeleine Kamman's class) to tide us over until Whiskey Sours (affectionately renamed Shishkey Wowers for obvious reasons), Parmesan spinach balls and crab claws with mustard cream sauce emerged around 3:00. By six, the 24-pound bird was ready for tenting and carving. Half past six was the traditional hour of serving turkey, filling, gravy, white potato and sweet potato casseroles, homemade cranberry/orange relish, Cope's corn, petit peas with pearl onions, sweet cabbage slaw, crescent rolls with parsley butter and a relish tray dominated by black olives and gherkins. Add Champagne to the tryptophan and then add pecan pie, apple pie and Christmas cookies around 9:00 and its amazing that anyone was still awake.
Those days are long gone and the table now bears a simpler and lower calorie fare. A few dishes remain (along with the mandatory cookies) but memories of those feasts past are indelible.
And brandied peaches. How could I ever forget the brandied peaches? Especially Christmas of 1961 when dad oversauced the peaches and blew up the oven when the alcohol reached flash point. Yes, "KABOOM" blew off the door, left it hanging on one hinge with the insulation all over the kitchen floor. Fortunately, it was a double decker oven and the turkey upstairs was unharmed.
Mom controlled the saucing from then on and dad (an organic chemist), reminded annually of his folly, was held in reserve for turkey prep and carving only.
Very sweet. I grew up in a Jewish home as well, but since we invariably spent the Holiday vacation with my Gramma and Grampa in MN and she was such a grand cook, we had some holiday-centric foods and customs. One was cheese dreams, which were like mini-blintzes that she served with strawberry or blueberry/cinnamon compote that she "put up." This was a breakfast food, filled with lightly sweetened pot cheese; accompanied by a lox platter and the other usual suspects; bagels, capers, onions, cream cheese or vegetable cheese schmears, tomatoes. She was one kickass Midwestern baker, too, so a variety of cakes and bars were always on offer; especially rugelach, mandelbrot, and anything with caramel, chocolate and toasted nuts.
The other tradition, until it became noticeable and verboten by the self-help program he attended, was for Grampa to continually head out to the garage to "check the car" (?) while he got merrier and merrier and eventually went off to take a nap. I noticed Gramma was a whole lot more relaxed when the car no longer required an hourly visit to check it's condition. : )
Turkey, ham, all kinds of homemade candy and cookies, pies, cakes. I remember my grandmother's orange slice cake and my other grandmother's fruit cake. Oh and making gingerbread men with my grandmother. Then as I grew older learning how to make candy with my mother-in-law and her fruitcakes. They weighed about 7 lbs she put so much stuff in them. Red velvet cake- don't care for the cake, but love the cream cheese frosting. Having holiday buffet supper the night of the church Christmas play. Walking from a big decorated farm house up the road to a little country church to watch the play and then getting to sit on Santa Claus's lap. It seemed so magical.
Forgot about the oysters! My grandfather worked in the coal mines so he brought home several containers of shucked oysters from the company store. Ate fried oysters on Christmas Day. Then saved some oysters back for oyster stew a couple of days after Christmas. Also boxes of fruit- oranges, tangerines, grapefruit, pears. Ate so much citrus that around my mouth broke out from all the citrus fruit. The country ham we ate was our own- killed and sugar cured by my other grandfather.
Every Christmas meal was the same in our house. My grandparents lived on the same property as us, so each year it was my mother and father, my brother and my 2 grandparents. Each year my mother would go out and buy a monsterous sized turkey and a ham that alone would have been large enough to feed a small African nation. My grandfather would also do the same. So for the 6 of us we had 2 giant birds and half an oversized pig. Every year I would wonder if it really was necessary, but then I realised my grandfather just felt the need to contribute, regardless of whether it was needed or not.
So while the morning was spent arguing over cooking methods and times for the 2 ostrich sized birds (and where the hell we we going to fit them?) one would inevitably go into the Weber (my mothers turkey) and one would go into the oven (my grandfathers turkey). I don't think we ever ate before 8pm. Once it was decided the birds had been incinerated enough, my mother (who is a control and health freak) would microwave plain vegetables one at a time and obsess about heating up plates in the oven. I should probably mention here that we live in Australia and Christmas day is usually at least a balmy 30 degrees celsius - if not, hotter. Which means the house is sweltering and my mother is falling apart over her issues of food staying hot. While she microwaves a vegetable and leaves it on the benchtop to get cold as she microwaves another. But she insists that the food is cold due to cold plates. Go figure. By now I am trying to hurry things along and am gracefully allowed to stir gravy after having organised the table and tried to gather all the family at the table.
Eventually the food makes it to the table, everyone is seated and ravenous. Giant birds and hams are carved. Debate ensues about which one is superior, what could be done better for next year and my mother lists all the things that are wrong with the Christmas dinner, skillfully not pointing out her own culinary flaws and unnecessary hot plate obsession. Obviously there is a huge amount of poultry and pork left over and then we are forced to eat it until well beyond it is considered safe.
My grandfather passed away a few weeks ago and I am sad that he won't be there to present his giant turkey out of his own generosity. My mother is still fretting over how large a bird she will need to feed herself, my father and my brother. My father is wisely encouraging my mother to go away somewhere for Christmas.
What I grew up with: Brunch of homemade Danish pastry, a braided wreath, the strands of which are filled with an almond and cheese filling. Dinner of roast goose, originally with a grated-potato stuffing (both goose and stuffing came from my paternal grandmother, of German descent), but later the stuffing was ditched; dessert was a steamed fig pudding, flamed at the table (the flames are known as "blue devils," my maternal grandparents' term), with hard sauce and warm lemon sauce. My mother made fruitcake for the family and gifts, with dried fruit, not candied. And cookies, of course.
Nowadays, my mother still makes the Danish and fig pudding, but her dinner centerpiece is a multilayer vegetable pie in filo (she remarried and her husband is vegetarian).
Also, being of mixed heritage (but not particularly religious in either), it wasn't unheard of to have a dinner of latkes with applesauce and sour cream on Christmas Eve if Hanukkah coincided.
re: Caitlin McGrath
"Also, being of mixed heritage (but not particularly religious in either), it wasn't unheard of to have a dinner of latkes with applesauce and sour cream on Christmas Eve if Hanukkah coincided."
whenever we had a holiday party in college there was a very interesting array of food because those of us hosting were quite an eclectic bunch in terms of heritage...it wasn't uncommon to find things like latkes, ravioli and sweet potato pie all among the same spread :)
Many years ago -- late '50s or early '60s -- my father bought a customer, as sort of a business, a Mission Pak (sugared, dried fruit). Before he'd had a chance to give it, my father discovered that the customer was diabetic. So we wound up with it, under the tree, with the card reading "from a dear, dear friend."
Mission Pak is long gone, as is my father. But to this day, every year there's a gift platter of dried fruit under the tree..."from a dear, dear friend."
Christmas Eve dinner was the most memorable for me in my Italian-American grandparents' Bronx home. We'd start off with huge antipasto platters: capicola, provolone, olives, artichoke hearts, prosciutto, homemade stuffed peppers, and my Grandfather's favorite - baccala salad - he always told all of us grandkids, "Mangia - it'll make you smarter!" Then one by one, the dishes of the Feast of the Seven Fishes would appear out of Grandma's kitchen, almost like magic. You had a choice of three sauces to go with your spaghetti bowl(s): red clam, calamari, and aglio olio (my absolute favorite -- still - no one could make it like Grandma could). Then we'd feast on stuffed shrimp, butter-drenched lobster tail, more baccala, scungili, mussels in olive oil and garlic broth - the spread was absolutely incredible.
Then we'd sit back and Grandpa would break out his accordion and sing Christmas carols as the desserts were put out. As we'd scarf down dessert - jam-filled thumbprint cookies, almond cake, brandy-soaked fruitcake, and sneak a few sips of espresso with Sambuca (a rite of passage!), Grandpa would come in the front door in his Santa suit! He took each of us kids on his lap and gave us our gifts.
What a magical time it was. Hope I can come close to creating memories like these for my son - and my little one in-utero. I still smile at the thought. :o)
re: Sra. Swanky
Best wishes for a happy, healthy new babe!
I think being able to remember and appreciate family memories to this extent makes you a person very able to create them! People who are unaware of the beauty of tradition and ritual seldom put the energy into creating the potential..
re: Sra. Swanky
Our Italian family has a traditional soup that is served called Passate. I've found a couple of recipes that were similar but not exact. It consists of a 'dumpling' made from bread crumbs, parmesan and romano cheeses, lemon zest, nutmeg, and black pepper bound with eggs. It's run through the meat grinder so the dumplings are shaped like long, thick squiggles and nuggets. Added to very hot chicken broth and simmered until firm, this stuff might smell like feet but it tastes like ambrosia. I have even been known to eat it cold out of the fridge. The matriarchs of the family take turns making it but my own mother's is the best. When a new boyfriend or girlfriend comes to Christmas dinner everyone holds their breath to see the newbie's reaction. It is, of course, looked upon favorably if they like it.
re: dulce lover
Wow, it sounds great! Sort of a baroque version of matzo ball soup. What region is Passate from? And do you know of any restaurants that serve it, or am I going to have to ingratiate myself with your family? I gather that "passata" - or tomato-based - soups are much more common.
Christmas Eve was always the time for oyster stew.
The dessert for Christmas dinner was always persimmon pudding...a great Hoosier favorite. This is a true pudding and made with wild persimmons, not the big orange cultivated ones you buy in a supermarket. Some people make what they call persimmon pudding but it is like cake. My mother made her pudding in a huge crock and I found out (after mine didn't turn out right) that you have to stir it every 15 minutes! Get a book and sit by the stove!
My husband and I are not big turkey fans - we like to things that are slightly different so we always do a fondue - cheese, oil, chocolate. We then tempura a lot of yummy things and off we go! So much fun with a few guests, too. That is his and my Christmas Eve tradition if we are on our own.
As for Christmas Day we love duck, goose or rack of lamb.
Our favorite is Greek Christmas bread for breakfast. It is a sweet yeast dough with walnuts, figs and golden raisins, brushed with honey when it is hot from the oven. Especially good toasted.
My dad's side of the family is German, and Christmas dinner has had the same menu ever since I can remember (I must have had this meal almost 40 times by now): roast goose stuffed with apples, gravy, mashed potatoes, red cabbage, and cucumber salad, accompanied by Riesling and Pinot Noir. Stollen for dessert. Looking forward to another one in five more days!
My parents divorced when I was young, my mother never big on cooking and the rest of the family lived far away so I never had the nifty grandparent multi-generational Christmas dinner some of you describe. Heck, I'm not even sure what my maternal grandmother made for Christmas dinner. Anyrate, for the first 12 years of my life, my mother had a tradition of making chili for dinner for Christmas Eve and then Christmas day dinner was spent at the homes of friends who had turkey or ham or some such thing. The only thing I really remember is a dark french fruit cake that one friend's mother always made and having marzipane stollen while opening gifts.
Which meant that when my husband and I married, we were able to launch our own traditions for our family and we did it in spades. Christmas Eve is a full giant Swedish/Nordic buffett with ham, pickled fish, jansen's tempation, smoked salmon, meatballs, boiled potatoes, lefse, crispbread, cheese, liver pate, glogg and cookies for dessert. The green veggie is usually kale or peas and sometimes there is lutefisk. My husband lived in Sweden for many years and it was there that Christmas became special for him. So in honor of that and a daughter in Sweden and a godmother of Norwegian descent, thats our Christmas eve. On occassion--this year will be one of them---we do not have the ham. We always bought our cured ham from a scandinavian deli but alas, the place closed and when it would have been time for me to deal with it this year, I was busy with a sick cat.
Then there is Christmas Day. We went for goose--the first year was a "what the heck" as neither of us had ever had goose but after one goose, we were hooked.. This year I will be cooking my 10th goose. The goose will go in around noon or maybe even a bit later. We roast it surrounded with crab apples [when we can get them] and quinces and little potatoes which roast in the goose fat. We always pour off the goose fat and save it for cooking potatoe or making confit the rest of the year.
In as much as we spend much time on presents and just hanging, during the day there is no formal lunch prepared but we do bring out all the leftovers from the night before.
The rest of the Christmas dinner menu is more flexible depending on our moods. Typically have smoked salmon and maybe some more chicken liver pate and lots of cheese for appetisers and then have some sort of veggie or salad. Stuffing is something we make on the side. The appertiff is sparkling wine, there is red wine with dinner [sparkling cider for the pups] and a digestive after everything. Dessert is typically some sort of steamed pudding---persimon when I remember to freeze persimons in season and store bought plum pudding when I don't. This year we are feeling very english so around Thanksgiving I actually made my first plum pudding from scratch ---along with a batch of mince meat ---and we will be desserting on plum pudding and mince pies.
We considered changing our program once but the elder pup looked at us aghast so we dropped the idea. I guess if we have established something that is that memorable and important to him at 12, we have succeeded.
Happy holidays to the universe!
My mother was such an awful cook, that Dad started a tradition of grilling steaks on Christmas day. Snow, blizzards, sunshine, rain....it didn't matter. My husband and I continue this, in memory of Dad. That and his mom's tradition of breaking out cocktails early.
The Christmas bug just bit me and I'm in an all glowy Christmas spirit. As I wrote most of this, a posada was passing my house with children carrying lamps and singing.
Growing up in a Polish household, it wouldn't be Christmas without my mom's rose-shaped chrusciki, a fried dough dusted with powdered sugar with a dab of strawberry jam or mint jelly in the center.
Christmas Eve, Wigilia, is the important dinner. There is no meat. There are supposed to be 12 dishes for the 12 apostles … some have an odd-numbered number of dishes such as 11 … but that wasn't strictly adhered to. What WAS important was to eat a bit of each dish or it was believed there would be bad luck in the following year.
Dinner starts with breaking the opłatek, a wafer like a communion host, but large and stamped with elaborate designs such as nativity scenes. When my grandparents were still alive these were sent from Poland by brothers and sisters. People break off a piece, kiss and wish each other good health and a good year.
Dinner started with sauerkraut soup with dried mushrooms (also from Poland). It was served with potatoes fried with onions. There was pickled herring, smoked white fish, cucumbers in sour cream, fresh white mushrooms with sour cream that were fried with onions in butter, cheese pirogi,, a compote with dried fruit.
When I was very little, there were live carp that were kept alive in the bathtub until they were ready to be cooked. My mother then took it from there and improvised with what other dishes were served. Often there was also that fine Polish dish ... lasagna.
In a mixed ethic nabe we exchanged chrusciki with our Italian next door neighbors for Italian Christmas cookies. Some years there was a gift of homemade Italian wine. Usually my father, who drank wine only on Christmas Eve, broke out the good stuff - Manischewitz.
Then it was off to midnight mass in the frigid and often snowy Connecticut night. The Polish church had the nicest mass. All the lights were turned off and at midnight, Silent Night was softly played on the organ as the lights slowly were turned on. Then home to open presents.
This has nothing to do with Poland but for some unknown reason we always had ribbon candy though no one in the family liked it. I guess it looked pretty ... oh, and popcorn balls ... loved those. My grandmother always gave me a box of Whitman chocolate and a card with money. I'd spend Christmas day amusing myself by picking holes in the bottoms of the Whitman’s, avoiding the creams and the dreaded jellies.
This year, with a new family in Guatemala, it is ponche, bueneulos, fruit studded cakes and breads similar to fruitcakes and stolen … Guatemala has a large German influence. Bimbo actually makes a fine pannetone here.
There were black tamales filled with pork, prunes, raisins and macadamia nuts and finished with chocolate sauce. On the 23rd we will make the tamales rojo with various meats such as pork, turkey, beef and more.
The turkey in the backyard is still a teenager, so it will be a Butterball from Dispensa Familiar or Paiz. There is lots of discussion about what cut of pork should be purchased … and if it should be from the local carneceria or supermarket.
For some reason marshmallows are wildly popular at Christmas here with huge mountains of bags in pastel colors on market shelves.
My absolute minimum for traditional (for me) Christmas is smoked white fish and pickled herring. I actually found some exquisite smoked fish in Antigua made by a lady from Germany who had a special coal smoker built for her here. One day a week she smokes whatever fish is fresh. The jarred herring I found at one of Walmart's stores. Today I'm going to pick up some eggnog from one of the Walmart supermarkets, Paiz. So ... eggnong, ponche, tamales, smoked and pickled fish this year .. something new and something familiar ... actually that smoked fish is better than anything I've bought in the States.
As I drove back home from Antigua Sunday night on the road that passes between three volcanoes … the chill of the city eased into a warm tropical coastal night ... a pretty pine tree so perfect it looked artificial, was strapped to the roof of the car ... the trunk was filled with items from the Christmas market ... instead of cranberries there were strings of tejocotes ... there was a small manger thatched with sugar cane flowers ... lots of fireworks for Christmas Eve ... the radio was playing "It's Beginning to Look a Bit like Christmas". I guess so.
My Flickr photostream with photos of Christmas in Guatemala. My favorite for the sheer gall-o is the Gallo beer Christmas tree … that will be my Christmas card next year.
I came across this site with the top ten international Christmas dinners. It is just a cut and paste of the next wiki Christmas dinner link, but it has some nice photos.
you hit a sore spot! ---- posadas! Not a sore cranky spot, just an emotional sore spot of a thing I miss. In LA we lived in the, as my husband put it, Salvadorean section of K-town. There were always people pushing shopping carts selling tamales and chili relanos but best of all, at Christmas there were the posadas. It was so neat. Now we live in the most diverse zip in the country  but alas, we have seen no posadas. . . maybe I need to look harder. Thanks for the wonderful description.
merry xmas, God Jul! Noel!
A little late for this year, but check out the Latino Catholic churches in your area. They usually have posada schedules in the bulletins.
Last year in San Francisco I went to a few Mexican posadas which were different from the Guatemalan version. There were street fairs with lots of food around the churches and more structrued programs such as plays or music programs.
OK....so I am half Danish/half American. My half-sisters are American, though I grew up with them and refer to the as my sisters.
The Danish tradition was always the norm. Christmas would not be the same without the straw Christmas goat, the Christmas pig or the angels that twirled from the heat of the lit candles below them. We wove heart baskets to go on the tree. They were filled with candy. Heck, one year we even did live candles on the tree!
As for food, when Auntie was visiting from Denmark, it was a goose as only she could cook. Beyond the amazing flavor, oddly, I remember she used Kosher salt to draw out some of the grease I think? When Auntie wasn't with us, we did frikardeller, red cabbage, and mashed potatoes. My poor mom could never make enough.
As many families go, ours split. My oldest sister and my Danish dad never got along. As she eventually became the Christmas host, it looked like the Danish traditions were becoming non-existent. I decided to gently take the bulls by the horn and I taught my niece and nephews how to make the woven hearts.
To make a long story short, the Danish traditions are back and melted in with my brother-in-law's Italian traditions. So after presents food will be gravlax, antipasto, anchovies, esrom(which we still call the stinky feet cheese but love) and that flat dark square bread whose name I can't think of at the moment, and good beer. Dinner....frikadeller, red cabbage and mashed potatoes. If I'm lucky, Mom will brew up some glogg:)
My mother is Danish, and many of the traditions you describe are familiar to me. You do not mention one that was invariably - one might say inescapably - part our Christmas: bowls of rice pudding, one of which contained an almond. S/he who found the almond won a marzipan treat, often in the shape of a pig. Glaedelig Jul!
Our Christmas traditions start before Christmas or Christmas ever, in some random weekend in December, Me, My Mother, My Cousins and Aunt get together to make decorate Christmas cookies.The cookies are plain lemon scented and cut out with cookie cutters in various holiday shapes (and an axe for some reason). We make frosting with confectionary sugar, butter and food coloring: red, green, yellow, blue, purple, white and chocolate. My mom is an artist with frosting, so is my cousin Anna and My Aunt. Me and the younger cousin not so much. We also have: sprinkles, red hots, dragees, colored sugar, and various other cookie toppings. For hours we decorate cookies and chat. It's wonderful and can get quite silly after a while. My young cousin always opts out early and goes to do some "bored teen activity," My cousin Anna and my Mom tease me about Randolph the purple nosed reindeer (Rudolph's cousin) who drinks at local bar, they like to say I join him there. And I come home with tin or box or cookies that I consume with in a day or two. it's so much fun, and female bonding dontcha know.
Our proper christmas traditions include: shrimp cocktail by a raging fire, cold duck, a green jello salad and trying not get anyone (My Grandmother) mad. Also My mother complaining about the party then never wanting to leave it when me and my Stepfather do. :)
We start with a delicious chicken soup (brodo) made from an old hen together with small meatballs, cardons and cheese and egg mixture.
Followed by cheese filled manicotti with a simple marinara sauce.
Stuffed capon and pork roast with a side dish of oven roasted potatoes and a fennel/orange salad.
My family has never really had a set Christmas food tradition. Our tradition has always been more of a choose your favorite food - we all choose three and then we all cook together. It's a bit schizophrenic but it seems to work for us and gets us all laughing in the kitchen.