Monday, December 22, 2008

Holiday Food Traditions

A lot of families seem to have hard and fast holiday food traditions. Mess with them and you're in trouble.

Growing up (Helen here), the don't remember any particular special holiday meal traditions. My mom loves to cook (there's another thing that seemed to have skipped a generation), so she used to mix things up a bit with new recipes. I remember her making an entire Chinese meal once for our big Christmas dinner. It was kind of a flop, and in hindsight I can't imagine the disappointment she must have felt given how much work it must have been.

The only holiday food traditions I do remember are the sweets. (Says something about me, doesn't it?) My two favorites were what we called French Fudge cookies made with dark cocoa, coconut and a ton of butter and a no-bake cookie made with melted marshmallows and butter, green food coloring and corn flakes with little red hots for the holly berries.

Today, those recipes make me cringe. All that butter. All that food coloring. Yikes!

Interestingly enough, I married into a family that has all kinds of food traditions. I'm going to step out on a limb here and guess it's because my dh's parents were first generation Scandinavians. My husband is half Danish and half Norwegian. I, however, am a mutt, and my ancestors have been in the U.S. for forever, it seems.

Every single Christmas meal with my husband's family since I first met him has included a pork roast, mashed potatoes and gravy, lefse, lingonberries, fried apples and butter spritz cookies. Lutefisk comes and goes. And the veggies or salad changes, but all the rest is standard stuff.

I've always threatened to shake things up and fix something like, gasp, a standing rib roast, but every year I chicken out. What we've done instead is developed a couple of family traditions within my immediate family of four. It wouldn't be Christmas for my kids without homemade egg rolls. In the past, I've prepared all the ingredients, then we each make, roll, and fry our own. It's been fun and I have no idea how it all started.

This year, though, a few things are changing. My MIL is in poor health and my SIL who has older married children and grandchildren has decided to do a separate meal. So now, for the first time in twenty five years, we won't be having pork roast.

I have to admit, a part of me is a little sad at the loss of a tradition. But there's another part of me excited to move on and try something different. The kids, instead of making just egg rolls, want to do an entire Chinese meal. They've picked out the recipes and we're all going shopping together for the ingredients. It feels like the making of a new, wonderful tradition where we spend time together planning and preparing a meal, not just eating it.

While I'm hoping this Chinese meal is absolutely perfect, I won't be holding my breath! I have a feeling holiday food traditions have more to do with the people and memories than the food itself.

Do you have holiday food traditions? Are they all related to your family heritage? Have they evolved through the years?



Kylie said...

Like you, Helen, I'm sort of a mutt, too. Ham is a long-standing favorite on my side of the family. Ham for Thanksgiving, again for Christmas and Easter. If turkey was ever fixed for holidays when I was a kid, I don't recall because ham's my favorite, too.

Christmas seems to come up so quickly that often I don't want to do a big meal again. This year we're grilling steaks for Christmas Eve and on Christmas we're having soups, smoked turkey sandwiches and all kinds of snacks. I figure that's better for the all day grazing that will transpire.

But I'm always up for trying something new! Good luck with your Chinese meal. I could get excited about that!

Playground Monitor said...

Mutt here too. I don't ever remember having turkey as a kid. My dad was a real picky eater so we probably had pinto beans.

My husband, though, comes from a mutt family that equates food with love and he expects certain things at the holidays like turkey and dressing, mashed potatoes and gravy, a few veggies, rolls and cranberries. I make it all and have tons of food and then he gripes because he has to eat it so often. Duh! I'm not throwing out good food.

Personally, I'd like to start a new Christmas tradition -- pizza delivered to the house. After 35 years of marriage, I'm tired of baking turkeys and hams.


Michele Hauf said...

Still clinging to family tradition with the roast, mashed potatoes, lefse, lutefisk (aggh!), krumkake, rosettes, russian tea balls (though I believe they are Scandinavian as well), and Chex party mix. Hasn't changed since I can remember, probably never will. Sigh...
i cook huge meals so rarely, it's nice to look forward to the holidays when you know what to expect.
This year I'm going to mix it up a bit though and add dumplings to the roast. Num!

Cindy Gerard said...

Okay - first - there is no way any of you could be categorized as mutts. I'd rather think hybrids :o) And I'm one too.

Our traditional Christmas dinner when my parents were alive consisted of the standbys: Turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, corn pudding and pumpkin pies. My sis still follows through with that menu at Thanksgiving when the entire family gets together. For our immediate family it's come down to soups and sandwiches and lots of snacks and lots of deserts and party punch and wine. It's the together time that's the major draw here and I love it. We had our Christmas with our kids yesterday because as is the way with so many families there are so many obligations that tug everyone in different directions.

amy*skf said...

For years we had the same menu too...pork roast, mashed potatoes, etc. My inlaws always have Christmas breakfast==we would stuff our faces open presents pack up the car and move on to my side with the roast etc.

so. much. food. And anxiety--oh what fun.

So now we have my side over early in December--this year we started a new tradition with a taco bar! Everyone brought food to go with said bar--it was a huge hit. So Helen, I have high hopes for your Chinese dinner.

We still have lefse at my MIL's and I make Russian tea cakes (they're called cakes and not balls in our family Michele) Peanut butter blossoms and sometimes sugar cookies.

GunDiva said...

Like Helen, our family tradition revolves around sweets - Magic Window Cookies. Originally an LifeSavers recipe, we've tinkered with it over the last 30-some years and made it our own. Christmas wouldn't be Christmas without Magic Window Cookies to hang on our trees - to later steal off as a snack when Mom's not looking.

On the Mexican side of the family, we're all about the homemade tamales. My 88 year-old Grandma cranks up the tamale making around Thanksgiving, sells as many as she can for her Christmas spending money, and always manages to have two or three dozen left for Christmas Eve. We're going to lose something very special when she dies...she's the glue that holds the family together.

Betina Krahn said...

Christmas menu for us is the prerogative of whoever is hosting. This year it will be at my niece's house and will probably be turkey and ham... she loves both and loves to cook. Other years, when I have Christmas, I make Chicken Divan and rice pilaf and lots of lovely pies.

But we almost always have New Years Day at my house and make it a brunch! I make my famous Williamsburg Casserole (a rice, sausage, egg dish that's to die for) and croissants and fruit and muffins. . . and the DO(being a good southern boy and a good cook) makes the greens and the "hoppin' John." Apparently for him the new year won't be a success unless he eats lots of black-eye peas on Jan 1st.

FYI-- Hoppin' John is a combination of blackeyed peas, pork (the bacony kind), sausage, maybe some ham, sauteed onions and celery, and rice. It sounded iffy to me the first year, but I'm a big fan now and the whole family is coming around to the custom! Tradition says that you get a certain amount of $$ in the new year for every pea and grain of rice eaten on New Years. I always use that as an excuse to load up.
The aftermanth, however, can be volatile. :)

lunaticcafe said...

This is the first year since we have been married and had kids that we get to stay home. While we will miss our families we are all excited to start our own traditions. This year I am cooking pork tenderloins, party potatoes, home made mac and cheese, cranberry salad and rolls. I am even baking my own pies. Then on Christmas Eve we will bake our cookies for Santa. Christmas Day will be lots of snacks- veggies, dips, etc.

We are going to my mom's for New Years Eve- she makes snacks for the kids. We have been at her house since the kids were born and they can't have New Years without her.

Helen Brenna said...

Well ... I can see I'm going to need some recipes!! And so many fun family traditions!

GunDiva - Magic Window cookies sound like a magical recipe for the holidays. Would you mind posting the recipe? And the tamale thing confuses me - MN, born and bred, and not familiar with many Mexican dishes.

Every time I've ordered a tamale in a restaurant I've been ... disappointed. How does your grandma make them, sell them, etc... and what makes them special when compared to the restaurant variety?

Helen Brenna said...

I'm getting excited for tomorrow night!

amy*skf said...

See how you guys need to do a recipe book, page, something.

Gundiva, I'm interrested in the tamales too--someone needs to carry the torch.

And the magic windows and hoppin john...

Helen, I meant to say I was sorry to hear about your mother-in-law, hope she feels better.

Latkes! I also forgot the potato pancakes. My mom is a wizard at them--but they're sort of a spur of the moment thing, she can make them at a moment's notice--of cousre she also will say, "We should paint that table." and the next thing you know, she's got the paint out and has started.

amy*skf said...

Oh and what are party potatoes Lunaticcafe?

We do a potato dish for Christmas breakfast--julienne potatoes, sour cream, grated cheese, cream of chicken soup--lots-o-butter. Are they like that?

Hey Marilyn (playground) I think you absolutely deserve a break.

GunDiva said...

Helen, here's the Magic Window Cookie recipe, only instead of using LIFESAVERS, we use Jolly Ranchers (smash them up with a hammer).
Betty Crocker
3/4 cup shortening (part butter or margarine, softened)
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla or 1/2 teaspoon lemon extract
2 1/2 cups Gold Medal flour*
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
Jolly Ranchers hard candy

Mix shortening, sugar, eggs and flavoring. Blend in flour, baking powder and salt. Cover; chill at least 1 hour.
Heat oven to 375°. Roll dough 1/8 inch thick on lightly floured cloth-covered board. Cut into desired shapes, using cutters of two sizes to obtain cutouts, or design your own patterns (see other side). Place cookies on aluminum foil-covered baking sheet. For larger cookies, transfer to baking sheet before cutting out designs. Place crushed Jolly Ranchers candy in cutouts.
Fill cutouts until candy is just level with dough. If cookies are to be hung, make a hole in each 1/4 inch from top with end of plastic straw.
Bake 7 to 9 minutes or until cookies are very light brown and candy is melted. If candy has not spread within cutout design, immediately spread with metal spatula. Cool completely on baking sheet. Gently remove cookies. About 6 dozen 3-inch cookies

As for Grandma's tamales - I love them, but hate to make them. She makes her own masa (dough)using tamale flour and makes the filling with a pork roast in red chili. Very complicated - worth buying if you can find someone else to do the work. I can make them, so the recipe won't completely die away, but I can never make them as tasty as Grandma's.

lunaticcafe said...

Tamales, I had forgotten about those! My BF usually makes those for me but she is living in Maryland this year so I am sad. Good tamales are hard to find and MUST be homemade.

Party potatoes are delish and super easy: I make a boatload but here is the recipe.

10 lbs potatoes
stick of butter
1 package cream cheese
1 container sour cream

mash the potatoes using only a little milk, add cream cheese and sour cream, mix well, and put in 9 by 13 casserole. Put tabs of butter on top and cover with foil. Bake at 350 for about 30 minutes.

amy*skf- Your dish sounds yummy and I might have to try it.

Playground Monitor said...

I started doing the ham and collard greens and black-eyed peas thing for New Years a couple years ago. I personally HATE collards, but the DH loves them. The things we do for love.

This year it looks like #2 son's girlfriend might be coming here for New Years. Gotta make an impression ya know. And collards stink to high heaven when they cook. I guess that'll definitely make an impression.

Jane said...

I wouldn't mind having some egg rolls on Christmas. We have traditional Christmas meal. Sometimes we switch it up and have chicken instead of turkey. We like to have different desserts in addition to the traditional apple and pumpkin pie. One year we had cheesecake and another year we had passion fruit meringue pie.

lois greiman said...

I'm at my mom's house right now so I've had a chance to start overeating early. Yay for me. Boo for my poor arteries. Butter is king here. And lefsa is a must even though Mom is German. :)

Helen Brenna said...

Amy, a recipe book is an awesome idea! The problem is organizing it :(

Thanks Gundiva - sounds like a cool recipe, especially for kids!

Hey, LunaticC - I have that same recipe. Nummy mashed potatoes!

Marilyn, that does sound like an impression. Never made collard greens, but I've heard they're good for ya!

Mmm, Jane, passion fruit pie. I'm getting hungry here!!!

Lois, it's funny lefse isn't German, isn't it? Potato pancakes are, right?

Cindy - love the HYBRID comment, but I actually don't mind being a mutt. Mutts are very lovable :)

Estella said...

We have no food traditions. We have something different every Christmas.

amy*skf said...

Helen, potato pancakes as latkes are a traditional Hanukkah dish. But my Mom's German and Yugoslavian--I'm thinking it's a traditional german dish as well.

Okay, the home made tamales sound heavenly--my guess Helen, is you've never had the right tamale.

Debra Dixon said...

Helen-- I love the idea of being flexible to make new holiday traditions. This year we're moving our mean to my sister's house. She's raising a little one late in life and it's hard to deal with the excitement when you're dragging the poor thing around all night Christmas Eve! So for the forseeable future we'll be at her house.

We need a new "intimate" family Christmas tradition so my son, hubby and I are looking to do a lovely lunch meal out on Christmas Eve.

Helen Brenna said...

Nope, Amy, never had the right tamale!

Deb - a lovely lunch meal out sounds like a wonderful new tradition to me!