The Christmas season is a time for celebrations, family and of course food. Most of us have tasty Christmas treats we associate with the holiday, foods that help make the good times complete. Eggnog and fruitcake are Seasonal classics that have almost become cliches. Maybe frosted sugar cookies are more your style or cheese balls rolled in smoky nuts. What would Christmas be without candy canes and chocolate coins wrapped in foil? For many people Christmas dinner wouldn’t be complete without a roasted turkey or succulent ham, but maybe you enjoy Kung Pau chicken and fried rice. These are all last Christmas treats.
10. That’s Gold, Baby
Giving kids chocolate foil wrapped coins for Christmas is a longstanding Christmas tradition in Europe. These coins have become particularly popular in The United Kingdom, Canada and the United States where they are often included in Christmas celebrations as stocking stuffers. The chocolate candy coins are also a part of Jewish holiday celebrations such as Hanukkah. Some people in the Jewish community claim the giving of foil wrapped chocolates is a very old practice within their religion that predates the Christian practice. However, credit for these foil wrapped chocolates is commonly given to St. Nicholas, a bishop in Lycia, which is part of modern day Turkey. According to the story St. Nicholas threw a handful of real coins down a chimney. The coins ended up falling into a young girl’s stockings that had been hung by the fireplace to dry. The positive reaction from children was so great that the bishop decided to continue the practice with the chocolate versions. Regardless of who actually started this wonderful holiday tradition, we can agree that these chocolate foil wrapped coins will continue to be a tasty Christmas treat.
9. Nutty As A Fruitcake
You probably know that fruitcake is a traditional Christmas cake made with candied or sometimes with dried fruits. Assorted nuts, spices, sugar and flour are all common ingredients as well. Some fruitcake recipes call for the cake to be soaked in spirits such as rum. There are fruitcake recipes that have survived from the time of the Roman Empire. These recipes called for ingredients such as pomegranate seeds and raisins mixed into a barley mixture. You probably think you don’t like fruitcake or at least you’ve heard it isn’t any good, it’s something that your grandmother tried to get you to eat. Fruitcake has gotten a bad reputation lately as though it is a stogy anachronism from a bygone era. Maybe it is, but if you like cake generally you just haven’t found the right fruitcake, because there are many tasty varieties to choose from. Recipes dating from the Middle Ages usually featured honey, or molasses because sugar was hard to come by for most people. What sugar they could get was often used to preserve the fruits for the cake. For much of history fruitcakes were considered a luxury item enjoyed by the wealthy, but in the 1500s sugar became more available and so less expensive in Europe. Fruitcakes became more affordable and were enjoyed by large segments of Europe. Fruitcakes are a Christmas treat enjoyed in many places around the world and each region has its own variations and specialities.
8. Merry Cheesy
The history of cheese balls starts with Thomas Jefferson. John Leland, of Cheshire, Massachusetts crafted a giant cheese ball that weighed in at a whopping 1,200 pounds. The giant ball of cheese became known as the Mammoth Cheese and Mr. Leland had to transport it by barge and wagon to Washington D.C. He presented the cheesy gift to President Jefferson on New Year’s Day, 1801. Cheese balls were a popular staple at Christmas parties 40-50 years ago, but those times were a little more traditional than today. It seems strange that something as tasty as spreadable cheese covered in salty nuts would fall out of favor with holiday revelers, but here we are. Perhaps hosts have moved on to what they consider more sophisticated party foods, but the staples should never go out of style. You’d think cheese spread on some Ritz or Club crackers would always be a winner. Fortunately, it seems that cheese balls have been making something of a comeback with people posting their own unique cheese ball recipes on social media. The traditional cheese ball covered with nuts is a perfectly acceptable and tasty Christmas treat. However, there are a lot of examples of much more inventive and elaborate shapes such as a pine cone design that has you cover the molded cheese shape with whole almonds.
7. A Good Caning
Candy canes are one of the few Christmas treats that is equally at home as an ornament. Is a Christmas tree really complete without red and white striped peppermint flavored candies hanging from an evergreen’s lush branches? The exact origins of this traditional holiday favorites are not completely clear, but there is an interesting tale from 17th century Germany. A Cologne choirmaster at the local church needed a way to occupy the rambunctious children in his charge who had a habit of disrupting services. The choirmaster employed a candy maker to create some “sugar sticks” to placate the unruly children. To give the candy a religious justification he could sell to his parishioners he asked the candy maker to put a bend in the sticks to make them look like shepherds’ crooks. These would have religious significance for them because crooks were used by many of the ancients who gathered to see the baby Jesus in Bethlehem. The choirmaster also believed the white color was important because it would remind people that the savior Jesus was free of sin. Some people doubt the truth of this account, but there is no doubt it is a good Christmas story worth telling. The first written reference to a “candy cane” appeared in 1866, but no specific description was included. Starting around 1882 people began hanging candy canes on their Christmas trees and the rest is history. It would be easy not to appreciate the lowly candy cane, but this tasty Christmas treat has become an indispensable tradition worth preserving.
6. Smooth As Velvet
The red velvet cake is believed to have emerged during the Victorian era (1837-1901) in Great Britain. From the beginning this dramatic cake was considered an elegant dessert and soon became associated with Christmas celebrations. Traditionally the reddish color of the cake was produced by using certain kinds of cocoa. Beetroot was also included in many recipes to provide a deeper and more reliable red color, but most modern recipes use red food coloring. The frosting is usually made either from a white cream cheese recipe or an ermine, which is a kind of boiled-milk mixture. Both of these frosting recipes are very sweet, but compliment the cocoa flavored cake well. The cake’s popularity quickly spread to America and Canada where it was often featured prominently in elegant department store and hotel restaurants in the first half of the 20th century. The Waldorf Astoria Hotel became particularly associated with the elegant dessert and even started calling its version of the red velvet dessert Waldorf Astoria cake. The striking red cake and white frosting make this cake a natural choice for a tasty Christmas treat, but as cake lovers know, this delicious dessert is perfect for any occasion.
5. Proof In The Pudding
This treat may not look like much to many of us, but Christmas Pudding is still one of the top holiday desserts in Great Britain. The dessert is not popular in America; maybe the word “pudding” throws people off because they envision a creamy texture that might turn them off. Classic Christmas Pudding, however, is not a pudding in the American sense of the word. Although it is steamed, not baked the result is closer to a traditional fruitcake. Many pudding recipes in Britain dating back to the Middle Ages included sausages and other meats. The word “Pudding” is believed to be derived from a French word that means “small sausage.” Many recipes in the Middle Ages used sausages for a savory treat or a combination of savory and sweet. Modern Christmas Pudding recipes usually hold the meat and concentrate on the dried fruits, sugars and spices. These ingredients are held together by eggs and suet (a hard animal fat) that gives the sweet pudding its rich texture. The Pudding batter usually includes alcohol such as brandy. The finished pudding is then aged for up to a year to improve the aroma and flavor. King George I (ruled 1714-1727) is said to have requested the delicacy at his first royal Christmas dinner as king. Ever since the king gave the tasty treat his stamp of approval British families have made the pudding an important Christmas tradition.
4. A Good Egg
We can thank the British for creamy drink known as eggnog, however some people believe the name is actually an Americanism from the middle of the 18th century. Most eggnog experts believe the drink originated in the Middle Ages from a traditional hot milk drink called posset. The milk was curdled with wine or ale and spiced with cinnamon or nutmeg. This festive drink has also been known as milk punch and egg milk punch. Eggnog is a heavy drink made from milk, cream, sugar, raw egg yokes and egg whites. The use of raw eggs in the recipes is often cited as a reason for the decline in popularity of homemade egg nog because people are concerned about inflicting party guests with salmonella poisoning. The processing of commercial egg nog avoids this problem. Most store bought egg nog contains very little egg anyway. Assorted spirits are often added to the creamy drink. Popular choices include rum, whiskey and brandy. It was a popular drink with the upper classes during the holidays because ingredients like eggs and milk were luxuries in the Middle Ages. A British reporter invented a version of egg nog in the 1820’s called the Tom and Jerry. This egg nog variation was made with brandy and rum and served hot to revelers. A large punch bowl containing frothy egg nog used to be a common sight at Christmas parties and even though its popularity has declined somewhat it’s still a tasty Christmas treat and it deserves a second look.
3. A Friendly Jubilee
As a kid growing up in New England, Friendly’s Jubilee Role was one of my favorite Christmas time treats. The Friendly’s restaurants have long been known in New England and other parts of the east coast for their tasty ice cream creations such as the formidable Reese’s Pieces sunday and classic Fribble shakes. The Massachusetts based chain went through some tough times, but has worked past the issues and has about 400 locations. Some people might not associate the winter holiday season with ice cream, but New Englanders love their ice cream even when the calendar says winter. This cool festive dessert is sure to warm even the most skeptical sweet tooth. A writer for New England Today described the delicious holiday tradition in an article published in 2017: a chocolate ice cream center surrounded by chocolate chip ice cream, topped with fudge, chopped almonds, red and green candy chips, and what Friendly’s refers to as “an ice cream ribbon.” I just call it “the pink part,” aka “the best part.” I agree that the best part of the role is that ribbon of extra-rich ice cream frosting. She perfectly captured the delightful combination of flavors and colors that made my siblings’ and my childhood selves eagerly await the appearance of a Friendly’s Jubilee Role on the holiday dinner table.
2. Christmas Is Cookies
Perhaps no single food says Christmas more to people than those colorfully decorated cookies we all love to seeing coming out of the oven. Sugar cookies, butter cookies, gingerbread cookies are just the most recognized, but there are dozens of varieties baked during the holiday season so there are plenty of varieties that will appeal to all tastes. For a lot of us frosted cookies shaped like trees, bells, snowmen and Santa Clause are an important part of what makes Christmas Christmas. This tradition isn’t a new thing, however; it goes all the way back to Medieval Europe’s Winter Solstice festivals. Feasting was a central element of these festivals and a growing availability of luxury ingredients like cinnamon and sugar stirred a renaissance of sorts in baking. Of course various cakes and pies were enjoyed at these festivals, but cookies were more easily shared which made them popular items for the feasts. People would often exchange baskets of cookies with friends and relatives. It is believed that Queen Elizabeth I of England (ruled 1558-1603) was one of the first to eat a beloved Christmas staple: the Gingerbread man. She is said to have told the royal baker to form the holiday cookies to resemble members of her court. many children have precious memories of helping to decorate fresh baked cookies with colored frostings and sprinkles to turn them into tasty Christmas treats.
1. Incredible Edible House
I can’t look at a gingerbread house without thinking about the Hansel and Gretel story. An image of the evil witch’s house made of gingerbread and candy to lure unsuspecting children to their doom has lingered in my memory. The classic children’s tale is pretty grim, with the famine, child abandonment and attempted cannibalism, so its probably better not to dwell on it too much during the Christmas season. Gingerbread houses are a tasty and fanciful Christmas treat and we have a 10th century Armenian Monk to thank for them. The monk traveled from Greece to France and is said to have taught the local Christians to bake gingerbread with ginger, cinnamon and nutmeg. From France gingerbread baking spread to other parts of Europe. Germans loved gingerbread in its different forms and 16th century German bakers were inspired by the Grimms’ fairy tale to bake tiny structures out of gingerbread and decorate them with icings and dried fruits and nuts. It was the English, however, who turned the tasty treats into an essential Christmas tradition. Ambitious families can make a gingerbread house with all the trimmings from scratch if they choose, but there are plenty of kits available that make the process a lot easier. Americans have been baking various kinds gingerbread recipes for about 2 centuries and George Washington’s mother made one of the most popular gingerbread recipes. Part decoration and part tasty Christmas treat gingerbread houses are a delicious piece of holiday nostalgia.