Food and Family Centered Holiday Traditions

By Christine A. Holliday

Christmas is weeks away, but many are already in the holiday spirit, planning for family members to appreciate the special traditions, food, decorations, and music of the season

Judy Scharren’s  family and friends call her The Fruitcake Lady, a title she has earned for the 30 or more cakes she bakes each year. The recipe, passed along from a childhood neighbor, has Judy’s own embellishments, including more dates, cherries, raisins, pecans, and walnuts. She bakes all the cakes in two days,  giving them only to those who express a real liking for the holiday treat. She freezes a few of the cakes for herself and enjoys them all year long with a cup of tea. “I’ve tried to encourage others to put on the apron at Christmas and learn to bake them, but for now I retain the title of Fruitcake Lady.”

Spiritual Preparation

Residents at the Ursuline Center on Indian Road, many of them retired religious sisters or priests, use the time before Christmas for spiritual preparation. They avoid the “busyness” of the season until the third week of Advent, when they begin decorating their home and bake holiday cookies.  St. Ursula Academy students visit and friends of the Center take residents on night-time tours of homes decorated for the season.  The highlight of the season is the Christmas Mass, replete with a nativity scene where the Superior/President of the Ursuline sisters places statue of the Christ Child during the service. Local choral groups, including the Spanish classes at St. Ursula, sing for the residents, and Santa pays a visit.

Dick Schroeder is on the lookout for the perfect gift for his friends and family members all year long. He shops while he travels, often bringing home special mementos to give as holiday presents. He hangs stockings for his grown-up children, recalling his maternal aunt who made the stockings, and he has  a special spot to hang the stocking that was his deceased mother’s. That special item is filled with 3 x 5-inch file cards containing “special Grandma” memories. Friends at church know that Advent has started when Dick begins to wear his collection of Christmas ties.

Food For the Holidays

Food is a vital part of most holiday celebrations. Joe Reynolds and his wife, Anne, continue his mother’s tradition of serving potato soup on Christmas Eve after they attend the 4:30 church service. “Making that rich soup, as my mom did and as my grandma did according to my Granny Dugan’s Irish recipe, and enjoying it with the family,  bring back lots of happy memories at a time when we really miss them,”explains Reynolds.

Anne Marie Blank comes from an Italian and Scottish background, but she celebrates the holiday season by making a Yule Log (Buche de Noel), a typical French pastry she has prepared for the last 30 years. She uses her late mother’s cookie recipes to prepare baked treats, and counts on her dad to do meticulous decorating, even putting eyeglasses on the gingerbread men.

Marge Poole’s family looks forward to cheese, cabbage, potato, and prune pierogi and her mother’s Polish coffee cake for Christmas Eve dinner. The family includes six grandchildren, who will receive just three gifts this year, “like the Three Wise Men,” she explains. “Each child will get a toy, a book, and some clothes, and we will read The Night Before Christmas to them as often as they want to hear it!”


Boche de Noel (Yule log)

  • 2 cups heavy cream            
  • 1 ½  teaspoon vanilla extract        
  • ½ C white sugar            
  • 1/8 tsp. salt               
  • ¼ C white sugar
  • ½ C confectioners’ sugar + extra for dusting
  • 6 egg yolks   
  • 1/3 C sweetened cocoa powder
  • 6 egg whites                                                                          

375 degrees F (190 degrees C). 

Line a 10×15-inch jellyroll pan with parchment paper.

To make the filling, whip the cream, 1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar, 1/2 cup cocoa, and 1 teaspoon vanilla in a glass bowl until thick and stiff. Refrigerate.

In a large bowl, use an electric mixer to beat the egg yolks with ½ C sugar until thick and pale. Blend in 1/3 C cocoa, the vanilla, and the salt. In a large glass bowl, using clean beaters, whip egg whites until they form soft peaks. Gradually add to them ¼ C sugar and beat until stiff white peaks are formed, then immediately fold the egg yolk mixture into the whites mixture. Spread the batter into the prepared pan.

Bake for 12 to 15 minutes in the preheated oven.  Cake will spring back when lightly touched. Take a clean dishtowel and dust it confectioners’ sugar. Run a knife around the edge of the pan, and turn the warm cake out onto the towel. Remove and discard parchment paper. Starting at the short edge of the cake, roll the cake up with the towel. Cool for 30 minutes.

Remove the filling from the refrigerator, and spread it on the flattened cake to within 1 inch of the edge. Roll the cake up with the filling inside, and place the roll seam side down on a serving plate. Keep it refrigerated until serving. Decorate with a dusting of confectioners’ sugar before serving.

Anne Marie Blank
Anne Marie Blank

Potato Soup (Nana Mackin & Granny Dugan’s recipe)

  • 3 large potatoes
  • 3 medium onions, diced
  • 1/2 stick of butter
  • 1/2 cup of flour
  • 6 slices of bacon


Boil potatoes and drain, but save the water. Mash the potatoes and set aside.

Saute bacon, remove from grease and add to potatoes. Save the grease.

Cook onions in bacon grease until lightly browned. Add cooked onions to potatoes.

To remaining bacon grease, add more grease or about ½ stick butter. Melt slowly, then add ½ C flour . Stir until all fat is absorbed. Slowly add the potato water and cook for a few minutes. Add to potato mixture (add more if needed).

Serve hot! Serves 4.


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