(This was written originally for the Cookbook Collectors Exchange, about a decade ago)
Christmas is on the horizon (you may not want to think so, since Thanksgiving isn’t even here yet) but our household gears up for Christmas by September, which is days away as I write this. I have begun to stock up on dried fruit–and there are so many more to choose from these days; pineapple and mango and cherries and ginger–many ingredients which will make a fantastic fruitcake, even if you think you don’t really like fruitcake.
Cookbook author Edna Lewis recalled Christmas in Freetown, writing, “When I was a girl growing up in a small farming community of Freetown, Virginia, preparations for Christmas started in early September, when we children went out to gather black walnuts, hickory nuts, and hazelnuts….Whenever she saw a break of a day or two from the September harvest, Mother would set about making the fruitcake. It was a family affair that my older sister and I cheerfully participated in….” I know I get my pecans and walnuts from a supermarket, but in my heart I am gathering black walnuts and hickory nuts somewhere.
I stock up on sugar and flour, watching for sales, and begin digging through my recipe files for all the favorite cookie recipes. I have four sons and six grandchildren and they all have different favorites. All of my friends beg for their favorites. We bake a lot of cookies starting in October. I also spend time making and decorating cookies with my grandchildren and my sister’s three children. This is something they all love to do.
You can make almost any cookie dough ahead of time and pack it in portions in the freezer–but you can also bake cookies in advance, if you want, and freeze them too.
Since our freezer is usually packed, I find it easier to freeze the cookie dough and then go on a baking frenzy with whoever wants to help.
We’ve already been canning little jars of jams and jellies, preserves and fruit butters – much of which comes from our own trees and vines, and these are earmarked as gifts for various friends and former co-workers. There was a time when I gave everyone in the office where I worked a jar of jelly for Christmas. There were less than 50 employees in the office at that time. Now there are over 200. I began limiting the gift-giving of jellies to my own department before I finally retired.
It’s almost as much fun going through my recipe collections and all of the Christmas cookbooks, looking for different holiday cookie or candy recipes to try. Sometimes they’re winners, sometimes not – but it’s always enjoyable, experimenting and trying something new. The reward is when someone asks for the recipe!
I have to admit, my techniques for baking and candy-making has changed considerably since I first started making cookies in my own kitchen in 1958. In fact, one of the first pamphlets I obtained that December is a now-tattered 4-page booklet titled “From our Kitchen to Yours – 66 Wonderful Ways to capture the warmth and Joy of an old-fashioned Christmas, BETTY CROCKER’S HOLIDAY ALMANAC, 1958, with many of the sweet treats made from products no longer available, such as Betty Crocker’s Meringue Mix to make kisses, or creamy fudge made with Betty Crocker Chocolate Fudge Frosting Mix. This was long before you could buy so many different ready-made frostings in a tub. Betty Crocker has changed a great deal in 50 years but so have we.
And I don’t mind confessing that many of my cut-out sugar cookies start out with rolls of refrigerated cookie dough that can be tinkered with to make many different types of cookies. In fact, you can buy cookbooks totally dedicated to showing you how to make
Dozens of cut-out, bar, and drop cookies – with refrigerated cookie dough. I have to say, though – I never use ready-made frostings or icings of any kind; those are all made from scratch. This is just a personal preference and I make a really decadent deep chocolate frosting.
We’ll be ready for Christmas 2012 although as I sit in front of a fan trying to stay cool, it’s hard to imagine Southern California cooling off enough by December!
And no, we won’t be having goose. Prime rib or pork roast, most likely.
–Happy Holidays! Sandy