Tasty Holiday Traditions from Home and Around the Globe and my Mama's Holiday Cookie Recipes
Holiday food traditions are many things to many people. In our country, it’s a melting pot of collaborated dishes that have been handed down from one generation of well-seasoned cooks to the next. I remember when this rite of passage transpired in my family. I interrogated my mother continuously on her techniques of the Cajun foodways; it eventually became the subject of my first cookbook. Standing next to her in our small but functional kitchen in Louisiana, cooking with her 70-year-old smooth, black iron pots, I felt it was essential to document the actual recipes and stories behind them for the generations to come. I took on the job with pride to preserve the culinary legacy of my family. My favorites by far were the special dishes and rituals during holiday time.
Among my favorite holiday traditions as a child, I remember my mother’s friends coming over to the annual Italian fig bar production gathering. She laid out long cylinders of tender sweet dough on our kitchen table and then rolled them with figs from our fig trees in the backyard. My job was to administer the icing with a precision that only comes from doing the task a multitude of times under her watchful eye. When they were finished, we had enough to last until Mardi Gras, and like most holiday treats, they developed deeper flavors as they age.
We also made a load of Pecan Cocoons before the holiday season. A crunchy shortbread cookie rolled in powdered sugar sometimes known as Mexican wedding cakes in other parts of the country. She froze them and dusted the powdered sugar on them before serving.
Eventually, when I left home, I built my own new culinary traditions. Since I was an avid traveler, I had acquired a pack of friends from every corner of the earth. When I was unable to make it home for the holidays, I always assembled a potluck of the usual suspects with instructions that they had to bring a dish that reminded them of their favorite childhood foods, and they had to bring a story about why it was their choice. Here is a lineup of dishes through the years that adorned the table.
· Scandinavian Descendents brought Lefse, Krumkake, and other baked delights that made our mouth water.
· My Italian friends brought Pannetonne bread, a tall, light, chef’s hat-shaped loaf studded with dried fruit. I always made bread pudding with the leftovers for New Year’s Eve.
· From the Francophiles came a Bouche de Noel, a delicious chocolate log-shaped cake covered in chocolate ganache and decorated with tiny meringue mushrooms.
· My Jewish friends brought crispy potato pancakes complete with sour cream and applesauce that we ate as a first course.
· I always filled in with a lineup of southern side dishes from my own culture and a nod to my friends celebrating Kwanza the day after our Christmas holiday.
One year I made over 2000 dozen holiday cookies when I had my scone business, and I got really good at rolling cocoons during that time. They are the white ones in the picture.
My holiday meals with international friends always turned out to be assimilated dishes that incorporated our ethnicity and culinary preferences. So this year when you plan a traditional family meal with all of your annual favorite dishes, I urge you
to pick a new addition to add some international flavor to your holiday feast. The rewards of cooking outside the box are gratifying and delicious!
Cajun Pecan Cocoons
A Louisiana favorite at Christmas. This recipe was from my mother’s cookie
1 cup unsalted butter- 2 sticks, softened
4 Tablespoons granulated sugar
3 cups sifted all-purpose flour
2 Teaspoons of vanilla or almond
1 ½ Cups pecans, chopped fine
Powdered sugar for rolling and dusting
1. Cream butter and sugar together, blend in flour, extract, and nuts slowly.
2. Mix until dough consistency.
3. Roll into 2-inch cocoon-like forms and bake at 325F for 15-20 minutes.
4. Cool and roll in powdered sugar.
These freeze well, just roll in powdered sugar before serving.