Favorite holiday food memories

In this season of celebrations, parties, and massive amounts of food, memories are made. The best ones are fixed when you are a child – when the heaping platters and bowls seem gigantic, you are surrounded by family and friends, and no one admonishses you for eating two desserts.

One of my favorite food memories centers around the container of nuts that made an appearance once a year at my grandparents’ house. Made from a small section of what appeared to be a hollowed out tree trunk (children of the 70s and 80s in the US know what I’m talking about), the container had a center section with four holes in it that housed a hinged, metal nutcracker and two picks for dislodging stubborn nuts. Walnuts, pecans, filberts, almonds, Brazil nuts were heaped in the ring that surrounded the nutcracker. Since nuts were expensive, this magical device was only brought out during the holidays, and once all of the nuts were cracked it went back into the cabinet until the next year.

When I was small, I would always want to shell the nuts myself but my hands were not strong enough. My grandfather would swoop in to assist me, his wizened hands cupping mine, squeezing the nutcracker until the satisfying crack was heard. He let me fish out the nutmeats, and the process would repeat until I had my fill.

I’m not sure what happened to that bowl, but last year I started a new nut tradition. While digging through kitchen debris at the Goodwill Last Chance outlet, I spied Rocket J. Squirrel (pictured above). Somehow he managed to avoid being smashed to bits as bin after bin of glassware was dumped into the large troughs that fill the outlet. I picked through the bin until I found the bottom of his bowl and paid 29 cents to take him home.

For most of the year, Rocket J. lives on the shelf under our sideboard, but come November he is filled with nuts and takes pride of place on our dining room table. Come January, when the nut supply runs out, he goes back to his perch to wait until the next holiday. Putting this nut bowl on the table is a wonderful reminder of my grandfather and of the large family gatherings that centered around food.

What are your favorite holiday food memories?

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  • averythingcooks  on  December 31, 2019

    I was born in 1966 and I absolutely remember that EXACT bowl with the picks and the nutcrackers! A true Christmas memory:) I also remember my mom’s annual Christmas treat tray. Last year, someone at work brought in Christmas treats for the staff room table including little balls of rice crispies & dates rolled in coconut. I hadn’t seen / tasted these since I was a kid and biting into it triggered an absolute flood of memories – I was back in that early 1970’s Ottawa kitchen making these with my mom. I seem to remember a battered old electric frying pan being involved and complaining when they got too hard to stir! It was a truly visceral food memory that makes me a bit teary thinking about it.

  • MarciK  on  December 31, 2019

    Yes, we had the bowl of nuts too. Every Christmas morning my sister and I would reach into our Christmas stocking to find only a bunch of nuts at the bottom. After some time, it started to feel about the equivalent of getting coal, and we had an uprising, demanding no more nuts. All the kids on tv got stockings full of toys, while Santa only raided our parents’ nuts for us.

  • MarciK  on  December 31, 2019

    Other Christmas food memories are every year my aunt makes rosettes. This might be the first Christmas I didn’t get any since we celebrated at my home instead of my childhood hometown. My favorite from my grandma, among the many things she would make, was her fudge.

  • Nancith  on  December 31, 2019

    We had the bowl of nuts as well, but also had a cool gizmo that may have come from my grandmother. It was a wooden cup with a large wooden screw for the handle. Put the nut in the cup, turn the screw (which worked like a vise) & voila, cracked nut! Much easier to use than the standard metal nut cracker.

  • lkgrover  on  December 31, 2019

    The favorite in my family is lefse, which my mother & I make together. (My mother’s family is Swedish.) My nephew & niece have both written about it for school essays on their favorite holiday traditions. My mother also makes rosettes, which I love.

    Christmas dinner traditionally included Swedish potato sausage (which we can no longer source in Colorado — suggestions welcomed!), Swedish meatballs, and herring fillets. My grandparents had lutefisk, but my mother ended that tradition.

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