Tis the season for decorating, shopping and last, but not least, eating.
What is it about the holidays that bring out the inspired chef, cook or baker in us? Is it the nostalgia of sharing an age-old, secret family recipe for such a special occasion? Is it the joy of discovering new tasty treats with which to wow family, friends and neighbors? Or is it the simple fact that some foods taste better this time of year?
Perhaps it is for those reasons, if not more, that food bonds us during the holidays.
For most people, fond memories of the holidays often include their favorite seasonal foods. Scent can be a powerful memory trigger and the smell of cookies baking, for example, might remind someone of spending time at their grandmother’s house during the holidays when they were a small child.
Though a myriad of holiday recipes are available through magazines, cookbooks or websites, for everything from appetizers, salads and soups, to side dishes and entrees, it seems as though desserts are among the most popular recipes to be shared this time of the year. Whether it be quick breads and coffee cakes, cookies and candies or cakes and pies, there is no shortage of options to satisfy a sweet tooth.
In the 1950s, bread baking was a part of almost every American kitchen. As more women entered the work force, yeast-bread baking at home declined, but quick breads and coffee cakes remain popular with working mothers (and fathers) because they are easy to make while juggling a hectic schedule.
Cookies, meanwhile, are synonymous with “Mom” and “home.” They are fun and easy to make and a great way to pass on the tradition of baking to children by allowing them to help make or decorate them.
Cakes, whether you bake them from scratch or prefer to start with a cake mix, are also relatively easy to make as long as you follow the instructions. The same can be said about pies, especially with the proliferation of prepared pie crust. You can buy refrigerated pie dough, frozen pie shells and prepared crumb crusts in every flavor and color, or you can make pie crust from scratch, like your grandmother did.
In the end, no matter how you prepare them, the holidays are always sweeter with desserts. So with that in mind, we asked a few local residents to share with us some of their favorite holiday recipes and the stories behind them. Here’s hoping they inspire you to share your favorite foods and recipes with family and friends this holiday season.
Carrying on tradition
Baking, you might say, is in Gloria Olson’s blood, and she says there is no sweeter time to enjoy traditional family recipes than the holidays.
“I’m very Scandinavian, and I come from a long line of traditional Swedish bakers,” says the 44-year-old Windsor Heights woman. “Holiday time is really the only time of year when special baked goods are made.”
The Minnesota native carries on the family tradition set forth by her great-grandmother, Vendla, of baking spritz cookies during the Christmas season. She says the tradition dates back decades ago to when her great-grandmother immigrated from Sweden to the United States and settled in Duluth, Minn., where she would entertain kids from the local elementary school every Christmas season with decorations and baked goods.
“My great-grandmother lived three blocks from the elementary school, and the week before they got out for Christmas vacation they would tour her house and look at the tree and everyone got one of her special Christmas cookies. She did that for at least 30 years,” says Olson.
One of her great-grandmother’s most beloved recipes is for her spritz cookies. Olson bakes and shares them with family and friends during the holidays.
“Simpler is better in my book, and that’s especially true with her spritz cookies. I could eat a whole batch myself, or just the cookie dough,” says Olson, who inherited her great-grandmother’s dough press to make them.
Other traditional Swedish treats that rank among her favorites include sandbakken and krumkakke cookies.
“When I was a child, the sandbakken’s were my favorites. I called them ‘sand buckets’ because I couldn’t pronounce the name,” says Olson. “My mom still makes the krumkakkes, and she uses a special flat iron to make them.”
Olson says that her great-grandmother would store the cookies in decorative tins for the holidays.
“We still have all of them. She would line them with wax paper, and they would store easily for three weeks. These days, people use Tupperware to store cookies, and they get too soft,” she says.
Like many women who grew up watching their mothers and grandmothers bake during the holidays, the art of baking is a rite of passage.
“When you were a kid you were only allowed to do certain things, but other things you weren’t because the adults took extra pride in making them for family and friends. It was a big deal. You had to earn your way to help make more complex things,” she says.
Now that she is an accomplished baker in her own right, Olson appreciates the skills she acquired from her relatives and reflects fondly upon that time in her life.
“For me, baking cookies at Christmas is filled with years of memories of watching my grandmothers and mother bake and learning from them,” she says. “They would start baking in early December, and they would make 34 varieties of cookies. The house would smell like a bakery. You never forget that smell.”
Vendla’s Spritz Cookies
1 cup butter
2/3 cup sugar
3 beaten egg yolks
1 teaspoon flavoring (almond or vanilla)
2-1/2 cups flour
Instructions: Cream together butter and sugar until smooth. Add yolks and flavoring. Gently add flour. Do not over-mix. Put in cookie press, color as needed. Bake at 400 degrees for 7 to 10 minutes.
Old fashioned sour cream pound cake
6 eggs, separated
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 cup sour cream
3 cups sifted flour
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
Instructions: Cream sugar and butter and add yolks one at a time. Blend in vanilla, lemon juice and sour cream. Add dry ingredients. In separate bowl beat egg whites to stiff peaks. Fold into dry ingredients. Pour into greased and floured tube pan. Bake at 300 degrees for 90 minutes.
‘Go-to recipes’ for the holidays
Like many working mothers and wives, Becky Karkovice enjoys decorating, shopping and baking for the holidays as much as her busy work schedule allows. It’s not always easy to find time to bake her favorite holiday treats, but she makes the extra effort each year to do so because she knows how much joy it brings to her family and friends.
“It wouldn’t be the holidays if we didn’t have fresh baked cookies, brownies or fudge. That’s a tradition at our house,” she says. “There are certain treats that taste better this time of year.”
Among them, Karkovice says, are two of her “go-to recipes” which she uses because they not only are family favorites, but because they are relatively easy to make and they are meaningful to her. They include “Fantasy Fudge” and “Grandma’s Graham Cracker Brownies.” She also shares them with friends and neighbors at Christmastime.
“These are my go-to recipes for my Christmas treat plates that I give out to neighbors and friends. They have special meaning to me since my dad spent many Christmases making this fudge recipe and the graham cracker brownies were made by my husband’s grandmother, and both continue to be family favorites. I feel like I’m honoring their memories in my own simple way and carrying on a tradition,” she says.
3 cups sugar
3/4 cup margarine
2/3 cup evaporated milk
One 12-oz. package semi-sweet chocolate chips
One 7-oz. jar Kraft marshmallow creme
1 cup chopped nuts
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Instructions: Combine sugar, margarine and milk in heavy 2-1/2 quart saucepan. Bring to full rolling boil, stirring constantly. Continue boiling 5 minutes over medium heat, stirring. Remove from heat, stir in chocolate until melted. Add marshmallow creme, nuts and vanilla, beat until blended. Pour into greased 13-inch by 9-inch backing pan. Let cool and cut into 1-inch squares.
Grandma’s Graham Cracker Brownies
1 package graham crackers
1 can Eagle brand sweetened condensed milk
One 6 oz. package of chocolate chips
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
Instructions: Roll graham crackers to a fine texture, put in mixing bowl. Melt other ingredients and stir until all is moist and blended well. Pour in a well-greased 8-inch by 8-inch or 9-inch by 9-inch pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 20 to 30 minutes. Cool. Then cut into serving pieces and roll each piece in powdered sugar. Make sure to cover all sides of the brownie.