While many recipes are seasonal, based on foods that are most readily available and newly harvested at that time of year, other parameters dictate our eating habits and menus as well.
Isn’t it interesting how we associate certain foods and drinks with specific holidays? It’s probably a universal phenomenon. In America, on New Year’s Eve it’s champagne and Valentine’s Day is anything chocolate.
St. Patrick’s Day is the traditional Irish Corned Beef Dinner and Easter is Ham and the fixings.
Thanksgiving is the famous turkey spread, nearly the same menu in most American households. For Christmas, there seems to be a bit more variety depending upon where your ethnic and family customs originate from. This holiday seems to be the most diversely celebrated, including food associations, and the most affected by cultural customs and preferences.
Just as interesting to me, is that many of those unique holiday foods, tend to appear only once a year, at that one meal. The exception being chocolate, of course…
At this time of year, Thanksgiving, in our family, is the menu we are most ‘locked into’ by tradition. Mostly, at our Traditional Christmas Eve dinner, we don’t deviate too far from our old favorite standards either. Some years, a different method of preparing the same time-honored dish or a slightly different version may prevail.
Sometimes, the Christmas Eve menu is influenced by having more or less time than accustomed to, to prepare a meal. It’s mostly altered if a meal needs to be moved up to accommodate another schedule (like church service at midnight), or if the day falls on a day I must be at my job and I have limited preparation time for the meal. Sometimes, when our group is much smaller than usual, as it has been upon occasion, it is easier to try something a bit different, like fewer side dishes or items that can be prepared or even frozen ahead, or do not take very long to cook.
Having a shorter prep time one year led to game hens prepared the night before with herbs, bacon and wine, and refrigerated, then popped into the oven, a mere hour before dinner. The menu that year was simplified to items that could be prepared the evening before and cooked quickly or reheated on Christmas Eve. We skipped gravy altogether and no one even seemed to notice. Dessert was a hot fudge pudding cake, all prepared and baked in the same pan, cooking away while we ate dinner. All’s well that ends well!
Last Christmas Eve, it became apparent that the complicated and time-consuming dessert I’d planned was not going to happen in a timely manner and would delay the meal significantly if I went ahead with that plan. I preferred to spend the precious visit time with my family and made a quick last-minute decision to mix up a fast batch of dark chocolate brownies and add some Ghirardelli dark chocolate chips and some chopped crystallized ginger to the batter. It all went into a giant gingerbread man pan and in 20 minutes we had a gooey, spicy, chocolatey dessert. It never even had time to cool before it disappeared, eaten alive!
Each of these examples has taught me a lesson. It’s fun to spend time cooking interesting holiday recipes but it isn’t always possible or necessary, and when it really comes down to it, having the quality family time is what it’s really about.
Desserts are an area where we’ve gotten a bit experimental. A Yule Log for example, in our crew, always needs to start with a dark rich fuge cake, rolled up, but the filling and frosting can be changed around a bit; chocolate, almond, raspberry, mint, vanilla, orange or mocha for variety. Trifle can be traditional Olde English with homemade custard, fruit, cake and cream layers, or it can be the much quicker all-chocolate version.
Twice-baked potatoes are tasty but time-consuming, while roasted-in-the-pan drippings, new potatoes are just as popular and a whole lot faster to make.
One Christmas time, my brother Jon and I spent all day making an English Plum Pudding; using a recipe we’d adapted to eliminate the candied fruit. The dried fruit we chose instead, needed to be soaked for several hours first, the finished cake had to be watched carefully while it steamed for several more hours. We made hard sauce with butter, sugar, brandy and vanilla beans. We soaked the final resulting ‘pudding’ (British for ‘cake’) in brandy and lit it on fire to bring it to the table. It made a very dramatic ending to our Christmas Eve dinner that year, but it still didn’t disappear very fast…
Well, we wanted to try making it and so we did. We’re all kind of suckers in my family for a little drama so it was quite worthwhile, plus a lot of fun making it with my brother Jon, even though I think the wild birds made out the best!
I will share some of my favorite holiday dishes from Thanksgiving and Christmas as well as some general seasonal favorites, and some recipes for those… All are family traditional dishes I have inherited or developed through the years.
This is my favorite Eggnog Recipe. It takes a little time to make but it’s definitely worth all the trouble.
3 egg yolks
¾ cups sugar
¼ tsp salt
3 cups milk
2 cup heavy or whipping cream
3 tbsp sherry
Fresh grated nutmeg (Using a nutmeg grater and fresh nutmeg, makes all the difference.)
Beat egg yolks, gradually adding ½ cup sugar and ¼ salt, beating constantly. Gradually add milk and cream. Cook in a double boiler, stirring constantly, until mixture is thick enough to coat a spoon. Cool. Blend in sherry.
Shortly before serving, whip 1 cup of cream until stiff, add sugar, fold into chilled custard mixture.
To serve, add to a punch bowl, top with freshly grated nutmeg on top.
Makes about 2qt. or 30, 4 oz. servings.
Feel free to add a dash of spiced rum or brandy to individual glasses depending upon the preference of each guest.
I’d love to hear from other readers with some of their favorite holiday recipes. If you have a little history with it, that would be even more interesting.
In my family, we tend to prefer the traditional foods on holidays, but sometimes we get a little creative.
Cranberry Salad with a Ginger and Yogurt Sauce I found this recipe in a Christmas Cookbook I’d taken out of the library as a teenager. I’ve made several in the years since.It’s a molded gelatin salad with whole cranberry sauce, pears, raisins, green apples, mandarin oranges and spices blended and topped in a creamy honey and ginger sauce.
German Coffee Braid One year, when I was in Junior High School, we were having a big crowd for Christmas Day dinner. My dad, the cook in our household, was pulling an all-nighter to prepare for the crowd. I wanted to keep him company. I wanted to make a recipe I’d seen in a cookbook a while before, but it was very long and involved and I hadn’t had the time to try before. It was a filled, rolled and braided yeast bread recipe from Germany. I’d shown it to my brother and he seemed really interested (in the results). I decided to make it for him for a Christmas gift. It took all night with several risings and rollings and fillings, then braiding, baking and topping. But it was all worth while when I handed him a large warm fragrant box on Christmas morning. I don’t think that particular German Coffee Braid ever saw the light of day! It has graced many a Christmas morning tables since and when I make it, I still make a whole once just for him.
Pork Roast, studded for 24 hours with garlic slivers before roasting and glazed with apricot jam and brandy, melted together and brushed on frequently
Filletted and Rolled Pork Roast, stuffed with dried fruit soaked in brandy, and Boursin cheese, rubbed all over with herbs and sea salt This is incomparably tender and flavorful
Game Hens Roasted in Wine and Herbs (on the rare occasion when we have a small holiday gathering, this makes a nice dish change from a large roast. It’s also much faster)
Roast Turkey with herbs and Bacon, Steeped in Apple Wine
Anadama Bread and Honey Butter
Corn Bread, Sweet Sausage and Apple Stuffing baked separately in a large casserole dish until golden and crusty on top
Wild Rice and Barley Dressing with Cranberries and Pecans, savory and sweet at the same time
Orange and Ginger Glazed Carrots
Wilted Whole Green Beans with Crumbled Bacon, Onions and Almonds
Baby Onions and Mushrooms Baked in a Cheddar Cheese Sauce with a Parmesan crust
Holiday Cheddar Cheese Ball can be made days ahead
Roasted Root Vegetables so very good, sweet and full of fresh thyme and rosemary
Old Fashioned Custard Eggnog I top this with fresh-grated nutmeg and real whipped cream, a bit of rum or brandy makes this really heartwarming
Baked Stuffed Potatoes made with 3 cheeses and sour cream
Roasted Potatoes Cooked in the roast pork pan drippings
Wild Berry Pie Made from dark cherries, blueberries, blackberries, raspberries and cranberries, tasty with gorgeous deep red glowing juice
Apple and Cheddar Pie The cheese adds a surprising contrast and compliment to the tart McIntosh apples
Pecan and Maple Pie An interesting blend of flavors, a twist on an old favorite
Hot Fudge Pudding Cake with Heavy Whipped Cream Warm and sinful tasting
Gingerbread With freshly grated ginger. Sometimes I chop crystallized ginger and/or dark chocolate chunks to this
Indian Pudding This was a specialty of my Grandmother’s. She would make her famous brandy hard sauce to go with it and serve it all warm…
Chewy Ginger and Molasses Cookies Need I say more?
Autumn Oatmeal Cookies See the recipe in my Seasonal Recipe Post
Olde English Trifle Made with homemade boiled custard, home made fruit preserves, fresh whipped cream and home baked pound cake, sprinkled with brandy or fruit liqueur
Deep Chocolate Trifle Creamy homemade chocolate pudding, homemade chocolate whipped cream and dark chocolate brownies, in decadent layers
Yule Log, many ways
Jon and Elizabeth’s version of Plum Pudding made with dried fruits instead of candied fruits and full of nuts and liqueurs
Baked Stuffed Acorn Squash stuffed with the cornbread, sausage and apple stuffing OR Apples, Cranberries and Maple syrup
Mulled Cider This is what greets our guests on the cast iron cook stove as they arrive on Thanksgiving Day
Whole Cranberry Sauce
Whole Apple Sauce
Dad’s Famous Butter and Cream with Mashed Potatoes or so it tastes, it’s just heavenly!
Minted Peas Fresh peas steamed with mint leaves until just tender
Suddenly, I’m feeling like celebrating !
What are your Traditional Holiday Foods ?