Has the “hustle and bustle” of the holidays gotten to you yet? Have you finished your Christmas shopping and decorated your home? If your children are coming home for the holidays, are you prepared?
Do you remember trying to stay up all night on Christmas Eve to get a peek at Santa Claus? You had everything set up—a plate of cookies, a glass of milk, and carrots for Rudolph and the other reindeer. You may have left the front door unlocked because you didn’t have a chimney for Santa to use.
Whether you order a steak, a burger or a platter of fried fish, the next step is whether or not to have fries with the order. Regardless of where you dine, fast food or upscale restaurant, fries are always a choice for the side.
Although harvesting of sweet potatoes began several weeks ago, Thanksgiving is the time we think about serving them. In fact, more sweet potatoes are eaten on Thanksgiving Day than any other day of the year. The sweet potato has a rich history and interesting origin. It is one of our oldest vegetables and they have been found as far as back as 8000 B.C. in Peru. In Central America, historical evidence shows sweet potatoes were domesticated at least 5000 years ago. Christopher Columbus is one of the explorers responsible for introducing sweet potatoes to Europe. After his first voyage to the Americans in 1492, he took some of the vegetables back home. The crop was introduced into China in the late 16th century and spread thought Asia, Africa and Latin America in the 17th and 18th centuries. It was after the 1740’s that the term sweet potato began to be used by American colonists. Until then, potato was the name. In fact, sweet potatoes are grown all over the U.S., especially in the South. I got a bushel box from Cullman Country recently. Couldn’t wait to get some baked. As a child, we ate them four ways — baked, candied, in a casserole with marshmallows on top, or in orange cups. The orange cups we had at Christmas because my mother always made ambrosia. Instead of peeling the oranges, she cut them in half and scooped out the sections then filled the oranges with her sweet potato casserole. Sometimes they had marshmallows on top. Recipes have come a long way from baked and candied dishes of the 1800’s. Today, we have cakes, pies, breads, pancakes, soups and many other recipes for this ancient vegetable. Regardless of how you prepare them, it’s just not Thanksgiving if you don’t have sweet potatoes prepared some way. Give some of these recipes a try this year.
All Southerners know that we must respect black-eyed peas on New Year’s Day. Ignore them, if you must, the rest of the year; but for a year of good luck, health, peace and wealth, we must consume some “cow peas” whether we like them or not.
Although we didn’t have any pecans at our house thanks to the squirrels and crows, this was a good year for everyone’s favorite holiday nut. Pecan halves are available in our grocery stores and local clubs are quickly selling all that’s been ordered. Now that you have a supply of pecan halves from this year’s chop what are you going to do with them? Have you thought about making special gifts for the family and friends? If so, try some of these recipes and provide them with a very tasty, special assortment of America’s native nut.
Last week, I heard that cheese balls are making a comeback. Big city caterers are making them the perfect party food. Yes, they are retro; they have been around all my life, but I didn’t know they had gone anywhere. I still make them for all kinds of occasions. Then, I wondered just how long cheese balls have been around. According to author Michelle Buffardi in “Great Balls of Cheese,” the first cheese ball was made in 1801 and presented to President Thomas Jefferson at the White House by farmer Elisha Brown, Jr. He made it on his farm, and it weighed 1235 pounds and was called the “mammoth cheese.” Now that’s a cheese ball. Or was it? Not the kind we know about. In fact, the cheese ball seemed to have dropped out of sight until 1944, when a recipe for one first appeared in print in a cookbook by Virginia Stafford, “Food of My Friends.” Stafford was a popular columnist for the Minneapolis Star Journal, and she went on to write other cookbooks featuring cheese. My earliest memories of the cheese ball are in the fifties. That’s the time when this appetizer found its place in homes across the U.S. My mother had several recipes, but her favorite was one she served on Ritz crackers with a slice of dill pickle on top. Over time, that basic cheese ball made with cheddar cheese was recreated and joined by numerous other recipes. For years, they were tops on the party foods list. As sausage balls, wings, dips, meatballs and pigs in a blanket appeared, old faithful faded somewhat into the background. The history of cheese balls is similar to many other foods. For a time, something will be really popular. Then something else will come along and force it into the background. Now, it seems the cheese ball is on the party list again. Actually, it just may be that home cooks have been buying, rather than making, this tasty appetizer. There are numerous ones even in the grocery stores. Now that their popularity is on the rise again, it’s time to get out our old recipes, look up new ones on the internet or watch those cooking shows on TV and get ready to have the perfect holiday party with the perfect holiday party food — a cheese ball, or maybe two or three. Don’t forget that most cheese ball recipes can be shaped into different things to represent the occasion. For Christmas you might do a tree, bell or star, especially if you have several on the party table. Use your imagination and be creative. They don’t all have to be round, just good. Enjoy the holidays.
Christmas is only three weeks away. How time flies. Now is the time to start thinking about special gifts for friends and people you want to remember with a little something — or just say “Thank you” to the postman, a teacher, a parent or someone special. Making Christmas gifts was something my sister and I did as children. All our friends did. That doesn’t happen as often today, but why not give it a try? A gift in a jar can range from a cookie mix, soup mix to a beverage mix or cake mix and numerous other mixes. With the variety of ingredients available in our grocery stores, gifts in a jar are easy to make and fun, too. Choose the appropriate size container, measure accurately and include directions for how to use your gift. If you are using a canning jar, you can place a piece of fabric over the lid before securing it with the ring, or you can use a piece of fabric and tie with a ribbon, raffia or a cord, or double sided tape. You can layer the ingredients in any way you like but, in general, “powdery” ingredients such as flour, cocoa, or powdered sugar should be placed on the bottom with larger coarser ingredients such as oats, nuts, chips, candies, or dried fruits should be placed on top of the other ingredients. Finally, if you like, you can attach an additional gift to the jar, such as a wooden spoon, a spatula, or a measuring spoon. Use your imagination and make holiday gift giving truly personal and special this year.
Since the creation of the German chocolate bar in 1852, American cooks have taken the flavor and created numerous recipes to enjoy it. Besides cakes, there are cookie and pie recipes, snack cakes and coffee cakes, bars and squares. The Flavor of German chocolate became so popular in this country that companies created a cake mix for cooks to use. Of course, this makes baking a lot easier and also gives creative cooks new ways to use this all American flavor. Try some of these recipes. They are sure to be big hits with family, friends, church groups and great for reunions too.
Who can turn down a slice of moist chocolate cake with a caramel icing of coconut and pecans? Very few! That’s what we call a German Chocolate Cake. Contrary to its name, this cake is not German; it’s all American, even through there is some confusion about its history.