By MARY ANN LIENHART CROSS
County Extension Director, Purdue Extension Elkhart County
To many of us the holidays are all about traditions. Among these traditions are special foods only prepared this time of the year. There are many traditions beyond the food such as decorating, church and community services, music, lights, family gatherings, and of course, shopping.
Christmas, Hanukkah, and other special holidays have more traditions than most holidays. I know from working with many of you that many of your family traditions are centered on special foods. Some traditions your family practices often have come from other countries, while others you have created within your family.
This is a good time to have your family make a list of all the foods special to them this time of the year. I will begin my list with cheese balls, soft honey cut out cookies, eggnog, cranberry salad, cranberry glog, candies, peppermint ice cream and of course I can’t forget that famous traditional fruitcake.
I am sure many of you also have special traditional family foods. One of mine is a special honey cookie my mother made for over 50 years and my father prepared smoked turkey breast. For the Cross family, it is date pudding and cranberry salad. Another food tradition we have had for some time is a delicious cheese spread.
You may go home for the holidays or family members may come home, and once you are there, “What do you want to eat?” is often asked. Many times the answer involves an old family recipe. It could be a certain aroma, the memories of a special recipe, the preparing or the sharing of it and most of all eating it. All of these bring back links to a time passed and sometimes a flood of emotions. In my opinion, family recipes should be made as they always have been, healthy or not.
Some of your family’s holiday recipes have been passed down through many generations. Some of these recipes were prepared for years without being written down. Some family recipes are too easily lost, so learn them and preserve them now. When you have a family recipe, you are working with a piece of the past, remaking it and connecting with times gone by. We all have a cooking link to the past, especially during the holidays.
Some families have family recipe books that are over 100 years old. These recipe books sometimes carry a lot of family history along with recipes. There is something very special about baking or preparing a recipe you used to make with a family member. Family recipes are made year-round and often you visit memories of the person who shared them with you.
Something special you could do this year after a family meal is to make copies of shared recipes. A couple of old fashioned ways are to have family members copy them on special recipe cards or write them in the pretty, bound books. In working with the bound book, you could start your own family cookbook.
The modern way would be to work with the computer and share copies of the recipes. The best way to learn and share recipes is in the kitchen, elbow-to-elbow, actually preparing the food and washing the dishes. What’s wonderful about the kitchen are the great stories that get told during the recipe preparation. These oral history stories should be recorded just as much as the recipes. In fact, some of the history or interesting facts should be recorded with the recipes.
I really encourage you to share some family recipes. Begin with recipes you love and remember. You may want to make notes about the comments the cook makes using their senses, an example would be the color, feel or aroma. Some other hints would be: don’t trust your memory, make notes about brands and most of all, do this recipe gathering now, before it’s too late.