I’m a product of the 1950’s. Literally. That timeframe in the United States was very transitional even though we look back and think of it as a slower, gentler time. Christmas preparations always make me think of Christmases past. As I sit here Christmas Eve, I remember certain “must do” recipes from back in the day.
In my childhood, suburban housewives, (my mother was one) traded no-fail, trusted recipes at teas and coffee klatches. There were always steaks and chops in the freezer, and the pressure cooker was frequently my mother’s best friend. Moms baked in those days as a normal occurrence, not just for holidays. When I think back on that time, I remember plates of all kinds of cookies at my friend’s houses. There were cookie jars with cookies in them!
When I watch episodes of Mad Men on TV, it’s a voyage back in time for me. The Atomic Age shown in episodes fascinated my parents back in the day, and they lived the same young upward mobile lifestyle. They also imagined there would soon be a four day work week. This last backfired with the invention of smart phones, computers, and the internet. Now we wish for a forty hour work week, instead of the longer ones many of us work now.
By this time on Christmas Eve, as a child, I would have put out a glass of milk and a special plate of cookies for Santa. Then I would try to go to sleep- Santa wouldn’t come to my house if I was awake. It was difficult. My own grandchildren have put out cookies for Santa tonight. Here is a photo of my daughter’s children anticipating Santa tonight. I look at their sweet faces and know exactly what they are feeling.
Even with all the modernness they were seeking, my parents still honored the old family traditions from their parents- they just put a new twist on it. Tinsel on the Christmas trees gave way to aluminum tinsel Christmas trees that had a rotating color changing light shining on them. My parents always insisted on a real tree, but our neighbor had the silver aluminum one and I loved it. The tinsel my parents hung carefully on the ends of each tree branch was, in the early days, made of lead. They saved it each year, reusing again and again. The thin lead strands broke and the tinsel became shorter and shorter. Eventually it had to be replaced with the new version. My father never adjusted. He balked at having to use the new plastic stringy stuff. It had static cling.
My mother always made cut out sugar cookies and my sister and I were allowed to sprinkle some of the vast array of colored sugars and dragées onto the trees, angels, stars, wreaths, and Santas. A tradition I still uphold. Mom also made wreath cookies made from cornflakes, green food coloring and some sticky stuff. I did not bring that tradition to my own home.
Lots of us have fruitcake memories. Some good memories, but frequently bad. My mother loved fruitcake until the day she died. My grandmother sent one every year until the late 1970’s when she no longer baked. She made a big group of them, dicing the candied fruits carefully, and then mixing a huge amount of heavy batter just before Thanksgiving every year. Then she wrapped them in cheesecloth and doused them with brandy or bourbon every week until they were wrapped in a new tea towel and mailed out to recipients. I eventually made the fruit cakes when I grew up. No one in my own house could stand them, but my mother was happy when I took them to her. That is a tradition officially retired this year, as my mother passed away this past August.
When I got married, my new husband and I incorporated some traditions from both of our families. He insisted there must be Snickerdoodle cookies every Christmas. I failed to see these as Christmas cookies and added red and green sugars to the final cinnamon sugar roll before baking. They seemed better that way. My daughter-in-law makes them for “PopPop” now. She surprised him with them tonight.
We started making spiced pecans every year, and a favorite of my children, Chinese noodle confections. They also adore the Puppy Chow (some call it Charlie Brown mix) that we always make. Somewhere along the way fudge was added as a “must make” treat at Christmas. The kind made from semisweet chocolate chips and marshmallow whip. We’ve tried the more complicated kind, but my kids love simplicity.
So we kept some traditions, and made some of our own. Passed them down. The kids have improved on them and added. That’s the best. It’s wonderful.
Chinese Noodle Confection
1 cup Chocolate chips- semi sweet
1 cup Butterscotch chips
2 cups chow mein noodles
1/2-1 cup salted peanuts
Melt all chips over simmering water in a double boiler, being careful that water does not get into the chips and bind them up.
Place noodles into a medium-sized bowl.
Remove from heat and pour over the noodles. Add peanuts and stir all together.
Drop by teaspoonfuls onto waxed or parchment paper and let cool and become firm.
Store in a tin. If you are in a warm climate, you’ll want to store in the refrigerator.
Whatever your traditions, celebrate them. I wish each of you a wonderful Merry Christmas and the happiest and safest of New Year’s Eve celebrations.
I would love to hear about your family traditions, if you would like to share.