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Food traditions are a significant part of many families’ holiday celebrations. This Oct. 13, 2011, photo shows red hot velvet meltaways. (AP Photo/Matthew Mead) (AP)
Food traditions make the holidays special

Posted on Dec. 22, 2013 at 12:00 a.m.

Mary Ann Lienhart-Cross

Food & Nutrition

The holidays are all about traditions, family and memories. If you and I made a list of holiday traditions I think these are some that would come to mind: lights, family gatherings, making gifts, gift giving, music, special church and community services, decorating and, most of all, special foods. Holidays such as Hanukkah and Christmas have many traditions. You and I both know that many family traditions are centered around foods. Many of your family traditions may have been created in other countries, and the blending of families, while others are created within families.

You may go home for the holidays or family members may come home, but once there, everyone wants to eat. For many of you, that sense of the food with the holidays is more important than going home. It could be a certain aroma, the memories of a special recipe, the preparation of it, or sharing it. All of these are part of the memories that bring back links to a time past and sometimes a flood of emotions.

It is fun to list all the foods that are special this time of year. A food list might start with beverages: cranberry glog, eggnog and spiced cider. There is also the candy list: chocolates of all kinds, peanut brittle, rum balls, hard tack candies and taffy. Another group of foods would be all kinds of cheeses: cheese balls, appetizers and similar foods. Then there are cranberry salads and special vegetable dishes such as dried corn and Waldorf apple salad.

When it comes to my family, for the Cross family, it’s Marie’s cranberry salad, date pudding, diamond-cut date bars, and a layered lettuce salad. For the Lienhart family my mother made wonderful honey cookies and cake for 54 years, and my dad smoked turkey breasts and made date treats. I really encourage you to try new foods and start new family traditions.

Some of your family’s holiday recipes have been passed down through many generations. Some of the recipes were prepared for years without being written down. Family recipes are too easily lost, so learn them and preserve them now. Spend time in the kitchen, make notes, take pictures and make videos. When you have a family recipe, you are working with a piece of the past, remaking it, and connecting with times gone by. We all have a cooking link to the past especially during the holidays.

Some of your families have family recipe books that are more than 100 years old. Theses recipe books sometimes carry much family history along with recipes. There is something very special about baking or preparing a recipe you used to make with a family member. You can often picture the experience of the past as well as the aroma.

A wonderful idea you could do this year after a family meal is to make a copy of shared recipes. A couple of old-fashioned ways are to have family members copy them on special recipe cards or write them in a pretty bound book. In working with the bound book, you could start your own family cookbook. The modern way would be to work with the computer and then share copies of the recipes. The best way to learn and share recipes is in the kitchen, elbow to elbow, actually preparing the food, tasting and enjoying. What’s wonderful about the kitchen is the great stories that are shared while cooking. This oral history needs to be recorded with the recipes.

Here are some ideas to get you started. Begin with recipes you love and remember. It is a good idea to make notes from the comments the cook makes while preparing. Some examples would be the color, the feel of something or the aroma. No matter your age don’t trust you memory, make notes and most of all do this recipe gathering now before it is too late.

Mary Ann Lienhart-Cross is county extension director and extension educator in health and human sciences at Purdue Extension Elkhart County. Reach her at 574-533-0554 or