Last month I wrote about Thanksgiving traditions. This month, thinking about Christmas traditions, I quickly realized there are more Christmas traditions to mention than time or space allows. Even limiting the discussion to traditional food items didn't reduce the list of available topics significantly. So, I decided to confine my comments to three Christmas treats – two from my heritage, and one that is as synonymous with Christmas as anything can be.
First up: Christmas Fruitcake. There is an old joke that the total number of fruitcakes in the world is fixed and never changes. These fruitcakes are never eaten. Instead, they are in constant circulation – being gifted year after year at Christmas time from one family to another!
I remember my father chuckling over this story. He enjoyed the joke because he knew better. He knew that the families lucky enough to receive one of his fruitcakes each Christmas always welcomed his gracious gift. Each year, he would make a dozen or more and distribute them to family and friends. He did this until he was in his late eighties.
Then I took over – well, almost. I never made a "dozen or more" and the folks receiving them were limited to my father, my sister, and my daughter and son. And, I must add, I did not make them every year. This year I had two reasons for making them again – to avoid the questions I received last year about why I skipped a year, and to have a picture or two for this blog! As you can see, two perfect accompaniments to this Christmas treat are some shards of a hard Italian cheese and a glass of your favorite Port.
I've mentioned my paternal grandmother before. Several of my Italian recipes originated with her, but I learned most of them from my father. I had almost no opportunity to see her work in her own kitchen. There is (for me, at least) one notable exception – a cake she called Shamulato. Shamulato, assuming I'm spelling this correctly, is reminiscent of a pound cake, although it is lighter than most American versions. In some Italian households, Shamulato may be called Ciambella. I've checked online and have found nothing even close to her recipe. She was justifiably proud of her Shamulato and served it often, but especially at Christmas. It is a very simple, and very delicious Christmas treat.
For reasons I cannot explain or remember, I had an early childhood fascination with English Christmas Pudding. I know I read about it – in the Dickens classic A Christmas Carol, in fact – but I had never tasted it, or even seen it in person. Then, many years ago, Grandma Karen and I met a wonderful couple from Manchester, England. We spent a delightful evening together and have been friends ever since. At dinner that first evening, I vaguely remember asking them if they had a favorite recipe for English Christmas Pudding. They did, of course, and they kindly shared it with me. It's been part of my collection for nearly four decades. I've only prepared it a few times, but again, this blog served as the ideal excuse for making it again this year. After aging for a few weeks, it is reheated, brought to the table on Christmas Day flaming, and then served with Brandied Hard Sauce. For many people throughout the world, it is the classic Christmas treat!
Buon appetito e Buon Natale!
Christmas Fruitcake with Grana Padano cheese and Fenn Vally (Michigan) Classic Port.
English Christmas Pudding.
"Hallo! A great deal of steam! The pudding was out of the copper. A smell like washing day! That was the cloth. A smell like an eating house and a pastry cook's next door to each other, with a laundress's next door to that! That was the pudding! In half a minute Mrs. Cratchit entered flushed, but smiling proudly with the pudding. Like a speckled cannon ball, so hard and firm, blazing in half of half-a-quartern of ignited brandy, and bedight with Christmas holly stuck into the top."
"Oh, a wonderful pudding! Bob Cratchit said, and calmly too, that he regarded it as the greatest success achieved by Mrs. Cratchit since their marriage..."
. . from A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens
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Hobby Chef Grandpa Joe has been practicing Italian-style cooking for over 60 years. He enjoys cooking, entertaining, and sharing culinary experiences with family and friends.
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