December 02, 2009

Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories
December 2 - Holiday Foods
Did your family or ancestors serve traditional dishes for the holidays? Was there one dish that was unusual?
Fruitcake, light and dark. Sugar cookies in Christmas shapes with colored sprinkles. Date bars rolled in powdered sugar. Macadamia snowballs, ditto. Gingerbread House made from scratch and held together with toothpicks and royal icing. Bean soup on Christmas Eve.

Baking commenced weeks before Christmas, sometimes longer if the fruitcake was to be alcoholic. Mother made a traditional Jamaican fruitcake one year that involved soaking the fruits in alcohol for the month of October, then baking and wrapping the cake in cheesecloth early in November and dousing it a couple times with rum or whiskey, and letting it ripen until it was time for the marzipan coating. On Christmas Eve, when it was brought out with great ceremony, it was the richest, smoothest, yummiest fruitcake in the world!

Gramma made two kinds of fruitcake, dark and light. I preferred the light because it was so colorful: creamy white center, golden crust, and filled with red and green maraschino cherries and candied citron. Over time, though, I came to prefer the rich, dark fruitcake, and would eat it by the handful.

Gram was also the queen of sugar cookies, churning them out by the dozens, and willing to let us help her decorate them with colorful sugar sprinkles. Stars, trees, crescents, circles, santas, gingerbread boys, all filled with butter and eggs and vanilla and Christmas love.

Mom, who raised four kids and taught piano after school to supplement the budget, liked to make date bars and macadamia snowballs. Sometimes she branched out into shortbread or peanut butter "flowers" with Hershey's kisses pressed into their centers while still warm from the oven.

To keep her antsy children from driving her crazy, Mom started a tradition of inviting the neighbors and their children over on Christmas Eve after dinner to sing Christmas carols, and then to enjoy the fruitcake, cookies and eggnog, hot chocolate, or punch.

My son, who doesn't do chocolate or sweets, developed a particular liking for the date bars, so I am careful to always make a big batch of them every year.

Here's Mom's recipe for Date & Nut Bars:
1/4 c. melted butter
1 c. sugar
3 eggs, well beaten
1 c. flour
1/2 tsp. baking powder
Few grains salt
1 c. dates, cut fine
1 c. nut meats, chopped

Mix ingredients in order given. Spread in pan 14 x 8 inches, lined with waxed paper. Bake 15 to 20 mins. in mod. oven (350). Cut in finger-shaped pieces and roll in powdered sugar while warm. Makes 40.

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