Eat Your Face Off: In Praise of Holiday Food

I was at home in Ottawa last week. My mother, my sister and I were in my grandmother’s sitting room. We were having tea, and to go with it, we were eating vinaterte. We are not Icelandic; this delicacy is a treasured memory from Nana’s childhood in 1920’s Manitoba. Nan is 95 and going strong this year, and as a special treat, my mother painstakingly researched this elaborate and wonderful cake, going all the way to the Winnipeg Free Press Archives to find an authentic recipe to make my grandmother a unique birthday treat. Said Nana; “I never thought I would taste vinaterte again!” She was delighted, and for the rest of my life, whenever I have a piece of vinaterte, I will associate it with my lovely grandmother and my loving mother’s thoughtfulness and care.

As we head into the holidays, food comes to the forefront. Bizarre, traditional, foods we would never suffer to eat at any other time of the year become not-to-be-missed nosh.
Holiday food is like the Royal Ascot: intense, rich, and seasonal. When else is it perfectly acceptable to eat pancakes made of potatoes, eggs, and onions practically deep fried in oil? When else are you going to get your chompers into rich, sweet bread soaked, literally SOAKED, in booze? When else have you ever had a suet pudding? Or voluntarily drank an uncooked egg with rum in it? Personally, I can’t wait. With the exception of the sauced raw eggs, traditional holiday food is something I revel in.

Maybe it’s just me. Perhaps everyone else is busy munching on kale-wrapped-cranberry-nut-no-cook spring rolls, but I am the freak who actually looks forward to fruitcake. I love Christmas pudding with hard sauce.Who doesn’t love hard sauce? It’s whipped butter, sugar, and brandy, served in little hard chunks that melt all over your slice. My half French-Canadian husband declares it too sweet. This from a man who reveres sugar pie. Pie literally made of maple sugar. Which brings me to the point: food is cultural, personal, sensual. Its taste, smell, and feel remind us of cherished aunts, our first kiss, or the most awkward dinner party of 2007. Everyone’s experience of food is different, and everyone’s allowed some eccentricity around it. So – bring on the herring salad! Ripen those fruitcakes! Stock up on oil for those latkes! The following are some links to recipes I use to make the holidays bright. They cover a range of traditions, because that’s how my family rolls!

Stollen: A traditional German Christmas fruit bread, it doesn’t need to ripen like fruitcake, so can be made on the same day you want to eat it. It does contain yeast, so at least a half day must be set aside for its preparation. My mother has a wonderful recipe for this and this is the closest I could find to that recipe. Enjoy!

Fruitcake: When I was a child, my Nana would make both light and dark fruitcake at Christmas every year. My personal preference is for the dark; and if you’re thinking you’d like to have this for December 25, you’re out of luck: fruitcake needs to be made at least a month in advance to ripen and really soak in all the booze you’re going to feed it. Lucky for you, fruitcake is traditionally served to celebrate any significant occasion: the year I was married, my grandmother and I made fruitcake over the Christmas break, and my engagement party in late January was a feast of fruitcake, champagne, and popcorn. If you’ve only ever had fruitcake out of a box, you don’t know what you’re missing.

Latkes: I first made latkes to honour my husband’s Jewish heritage the first Hannukah we were married. Seriously, there is nothing to compare to them. If you like potatoes, and crispy things, you need to put these in your mouth. You won’t want to stop.

Shortbread: This delicious, rich, and deceptively simple Scottish delicacy is all about careful preparation and the art of mixing the ingredients. The list of components is short; it’s about really creaming the butter, not overworking the dough, and having patience. It’s fashionable now to have fancy shortbread, with chocolate, lemon, and sprinkles. Trust me, masterfully made traditional shortbread beats a novelty every time. Wait for the butter to come to room temperature, and do it thoroughly. It’ll be melt in your mouth delicious.

Tortiere: From the same culture that brought us sugar pie, this delectable meat pie is traditionally served with pickles of multiple kinds: cabbage, gerkhins, relish. A delightful way to celebrate New Year’s, Christmas, or your day off, this dish can be made ahead of time and frozen, or whipped up and enjoyed on the same day.

Did you really think I was going to give you a recipe for herring salad? Ok, hardcores, tweet me at @KateWburg, and we can get really down with my cultural shame/pride in that area.

2 Comments

  1. jopfoh
    December 11, 2014

    shedoesthecity you are so brave impessed

  2. Sheelagh
    December 13, 2014

    Haha love this! Yes to enjoying holiday food!

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