September 28, 2023
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Are your Christmas traditions as food-centered as ours? I can tell which holiday is being celebrated in my family simply by the meal that is being served! Some of the traditions are ones that go back to my childhood, while others I have added to our family life over the years.
Some of my favorite childhood Christmas memories center around food. The smell of “charmin’ cherry bars” takes me instantly back to waiting for Santa to arrive. There is nothing about this bar cookie that screams “Christmas” beyond their slightly red color and the snow-like powdered sugar topping, but for some reason in my family we only ever had them during the Christmas season. And that is a tradition I’ve carried on in my family.
Of course, being a modern, cosmopolitan girl, I now use all natural maraschino cherries instead of the neon-red version of my youth. The flavor and texture are the same – and it removes just a bit of the guilt!
We have plenty of other cookie traditions too: decorated sugar cookies, “Buckeye” candies, thumbdrops, Russian tea cakes, and of course gingerbread!
One baking tradition I’ve added to our family Christmastime schedule is the Italian panettone. My kids love the Tomie de Paola story about the baker Tony and his fantastic bread, so I decided one year to make it myself and have loved doing it since. It was surprisingly hard to find the distinctive panettone paper that they are left to rise and bake in. Even Chicago’s “Eataly” store didn’t have them, and when I asked they inquired blithely why I wasn’t simply buying their panettone! (Sur la Table came through for me in the end.)
Of course, these traditions aren’t just related to the sweets. Growing up Christmas Eve dinner meant mom’s Boeuf a la bourguignon, while Christmas Day dinner meant Grandma’s Prime Rib (what can I say – I grew up in the midwest and we ate a lot of beef). My husband is a “pescatarian” so I tend to change up the Christmas Eve dinner with different fish dishes, sometimes even doing the feast of the 7 fishes. And usually I’m tired of cooking by that point, and Christmas Day we have a pizza party with homemade pizza. (Untraditional, but trust me, it’s awesome.)
What are your favorite Christmastime food traditions? Do you have a special cookie, or a complete meal that you make each year? Are there Christmas markets that you like to go to?
By Peg Kern
Read about holiday drink traditions in the blog.
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