by Nike Chillemi, author of GOODBYE NOEL (Desert Breeze)
I love Christmas cooking. In fact, I have a collection of Christmas cookbooks that I add to every year. I've also sent Christmas cookbooks to friends as gifts. I love the smells of Christmas baking, as well as the aroma of a Christmas turkey or roast in the oven. There's nothing like that to make a house feel comfy.
Christmas is a time when folks try to be a blessing to others. They're generous. Part of that generosity carries over to food. People who start baking Christmas cookies the day after Thanksgiving (shall we call it Baking Friday) are making some sort of commitment that involves a generosity of time and effort, not to mention financial generosity in terms of the money they put out for ingredients. But more than that Christmas baking and cooking is a labor of love. The secret ingredient in all Christmas cooking is LOVE.
My Sanctuary Point historical romantic suspense series, set on the South Shore of Long Island, NY (1946/47) is a fictitious village that decks the halls for Christmas ( BURNING HEARTS, book one and GOODBYE NOEL, book two) These two novels present Scotch-Irish and African-American characters (traditions hailing from the British Isles), also Czechoslovak and Jewish characters (with Germanic traditions). As it turns out, America gets nearly all of its Christmas traditions from the British/Celtic and Germanic/Austrian cultures (the Christmas tree, wreaths, holly, the Yule Log, wassail, Christmas caroling, Christmas cards, the famous or infamous fruit cake, and don't forget mistletoe).
Christmas cuisine in the British Isles begins with a table that is gorgeously set out with the best china and gleaming crystal be it Christmas morning or Christmas dinner and decorated with candles and fresh fruit. The Christmas pudding must contain thirteen ingredients, one represents Jesus and the rest the twelve disciples. Other Christmas foods include the Christmas goose, turkey or chicken with stuffing, roasted potatoes, cranberry sauce, mince pie, and Christmas cake which is a rich fruit cake with marzipan and frosting.
The Christmas table in the Germanic countries (Austria, Czechoslovakia, Hungary) will have a duck, goose, rabbit, or roast of beef or pork with apple and sausage stuffing. Along side this will be red cabbage, potato dumplings, mulled sweet wine, ending with Christmas stolen, gingerbread, and Christmas cookies. In Sanctuary Point, the Czech families make walnut balls dusted with confectioner sugar for Christmas.
In GOODBYE NOEL, the Zebulon Jaspar family celebrates Christmas with some of the African-American Christmas traditions they brought with them from the south. Their Christmas table would hold oyster stew, Christmas ham, collard greens in a hot sauce, corn bread, macaroni and cheese, and sweet potato pie.
The Carmoly family would celebrate Hanukkah with food traditions from their Germanic roots. With the menorah in their front window to commemorate this festival of lights, the family would sit down at a table set with their best Bavarian china. Mr. Carmoly would go to the bakery to get a festive challah bread and jelly donuts. Mrs. Carmoly would spend the day preparing potato latkes (pancakes), beef brisket, homemade applesauce, a medley of roasted winter vegetables, and babka (a tall yeast cake with raisins).
There's nothing I like better as the days get shorter and the nights get longer than to read a good Christmas murder mystery. I guess that's why I wrote GOODBYE NOEL this year. I do take breaks to cook and bake holiday delicacies. My husband 's family is of Italian heritage and mine is Eastern European. Both traditions maintain that Christmas Eve is a meatless meal. Of course, the table is decked out with candles and set with good dishes, though not our best china. This is a meal of anticipation, a meatless semi-fast. First comes the shrimp cocktail served with a horseradishy cocktail sauce. This is pure American, but hubby and I love it. Next comes the Ukrainian/Polish pierogi (cheese and potato dumplings) slathered in butter and served with sour cream or apple sauce. For vegetables, we go Italian serving asparagus broiled with grated Parmesan cheese. Every Christmas Eve we end the meal with coffee or Espresso and an Italian pastry New Yorkers call lobster tails. This is a lobster tail shaped puff pastry filled with whipped cream. Our family ends the night by going to a candlelight worship service.
I'd like to wish you all a blessed Christmas filled with good eats from my home to your home...and from all the characters in the village of Sanctuary Point. Merry Christmas!!!
About the Author: Nike Chillemi has been called a crime fictionista due to her passion for crime fiction. She was an Inspy Awards 2010 judge in the Suspense/Thriller/Mystery category and a judge in the 2011 Carol Awards in the suspense, mystery, and romantic suspense categories. She is the founding board member and chairman of the Grace Awards, a reader's choice awards for excellence in Christian fiction. She writes book reviews for The Christian Pulse online magazine.
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