It’s that time of year when I pull out the old recipe box (that’s old recipes and old box) and find something to cook that brings back memories. I don’t cook much most of the time. There are only two of us, and it’s too easy to make waffles, buy a pizza, or even make PBJ at night if we have gone out for lunch. I used to scold my parents for having cold cereal for supper, but now I understand. I am always a little glad to have the kids come by because it gives me an excuse to at least bake a potato or make a hamburger.
That’s one of the reasons this time of year is extra special, because I can bring out the old recipes and spend an afternoon pretending it’s 1965 and I have a crowd to entertain!
I made mincemeat a couple of weeks ago. I must admit I was an adult before I knew that some people make mincemeat without meat. Those friends were astonished to learn that “real” mincemeat does in fact have meat in it. They use green tomatoes and lots of apples and raisins and spices, but no meat (obviously, they never hunted for Minces). That defeats the purpose, I think, because mincemeat is probably the oldest technique used to preserve meat. (Think pemmican). It started as a more savory dish, with salt and acid, but sometime in the middle ages they added sugar and it morphed into the delicacy we know today.
I have a couple of old recipes I rely on, but the thing about mincemeat is there really isn’t a recipe. It’s all by taste. That is the way my grandmothers did it, and my mom, so that is the way I go. And it’s never the same twice. Some years I use orange juice as the liquid, other times water laced with brandy. Even with today’s modern methods, i.e. electric grinders and pressure cookers, it is still an all-day process to cook it down and get it in jars. And the kitchen smells so good!
Another seasonal recipe is fruitcake. (I know!) I have a couple of friends and a daughter-in-law who like fruitcake, so that is an easy giveaway at Christmas time. I make them ahead, because fruitcake and mincemeat have to age to really be good. I wrap the cakes in a brandy-soaked cloth and stick them in the fridge for a couple of weeks or more. By the time the day arrives, brandy stock has risen a few points on Wall Street, I’m sure, because every other dessert this time of year uses “a splash of brandy.” My grandmother used to call and ask Hubby to go to the liquor store for her and get two bottles of brandy, one apricot and one regular “for the fruit cakes.” He’d deliver them and be rewarded with a small glass of each to make sure it was “just right.”
And, of course, candy. I’ve told you the continuing saga of Dad’s Fudge. No one can make it like he did, despite having the recipe and step-by-step instructions — but my sisters and I all keep trying. Someday one of us will succeed, and she will be heralded as the new Fudge Queen! One of dad’s sisters made heavenly divinity, so the holidays when we were kids were filled with lots of competition and lots of sweet stuff. Aunt Ev made divinity at the drop of a hat, so all the households were favored with it along with all of the other specialties of the season from Thanksgiving ‘til New Year’s.
And so it goes. Current tradition has Thanksgiving leading us into the end of year holiday season embracing Christmas and New Year’s. For the next month or so all thoughts turn to food. It has already begun — with pumpkin spice everything since before Halloween — but starting this week, it gets serious and all the stops are pulled out as we dash headlong into the holidays.
Everyone’s mother had a favorite holiday meal that probably was adapted from her mother’s special dinners. Each generation copies the last while adjusting for new family members and different eating trends. I have dropped the homemade dinner rolls (I’m sorry, Mom) because the meal is already heavy on carbs, and my family was choosing an extra helping of stuffing and leaving the rolls. (Of course, they pick up the bread later for turkey sandwiches.) Daughter-in-law has inserted a fluffy Jell-O because some of her kids prefer it to heavier side dishes. And it’s good!
That is the spirit of Thanksgiving, isn’t it? Cultures sharing food and giving thanks for a successful year and petitioning for another. So, as we eat our way into the season, please raise an eggnog in thanks for another year ended.