Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Winter Holidays and Food

Growing up, my family's traditional Christmas eve meal included Swedish potato sausage, pickled herring, fruit salad, yule kaka, a flaming Christmas pudding, fruitcake, and to drink, cheap red wine with ginger ale. We must have had vegies but I do not think it was carrots and rutabagas which we had for Thanksgiving. It's interesting that we had such a mix of Scandinavian and English foods. We aren't of Scandinavian heritage but living in Minnesota with it's influences from that part of the world, we seemed to adopt the food.

My children and I developed our tradition for our Solstice meal, based on living in the PNW, seasonal foods and our preferences. Usually we have crab which is in season and plentiful at this time of year and because it's Arie's favorite. If not crab, then salmon or shrimp. Fresh pasta was incorporated into the menu for Sam who liked especially bland food when he was young. Fruit salad and pickled herring continued from my childhood. Sometimes I bake holiday bread, kind of like yulekaka but my modifications to a traditional recipe which I do not have. And I have been making Mom's fruitcake every year for decades. I never make it the same, it's an incredibly flexible recipe, never seems to not turn out. I am one of those who loves fruitcake and this is such a good recipe, not too rich but moist and dark. Here's Mom's recipe with my modification notes following:

Dark Fruit Cake

3 cups apple sauce (unsweetened)
1 cup shortening
2 cups sugar

4.5 cups flour
4 tsp baking soda
1 tsp nutmeg
2.5 tsp cinnamon
0.5 tsp cloves

1 lb dates (pitted of course)
1 lb raisins
cherries and misc candied fruit

Boil together for 5 minutes, the applesauce, sugar and shortening. Let stand overnight. Dredge chopped fruit mix with flour, soda and spices which have been sifted together. Mix all ingredients together. Fill pans about 2/3 full. Bake in slow oven 250 degrees until done (takes hours). Remember to line pans with brown paper and greased waxed paper and put a pan of water in the oven. When cakes have baked and cooled, pour rum or brandy or some sort of alcohol on them, wrap them up, and store in refrigerator.

Okay, my modifications, I NEVER cook or bake according to an exact recipe. I've made this recipe in my younger, purer days using whole wheat flour, honey and oil with dried fruit. It worked fine!, or at least I remember that it worked okay. These days I use organic white flour, organic sugar (and less than the recipe calls for), butter, dried fruit, applesauce made from my neighbors' apples, medjool dates because they're about the only ones available, and I don't line the pans like Mom did, I just grease them. I have also found that if I don't mix the pitted chopped dates in the applesauce mixture before mixing the wet and dry together, that the dates tend to have the dry mix embedded in the inside seed cavity and it's very difficult to get it well mixed. So my newest change is to mix them in with the wet. It worked well this year.

Monday, December 15, 2008


I was recently in Guadalajara and while I was there visited a supermarket, buying up fruit to take back to my room to taste. I bought a large papaya, two types of guayaba, a tejocote, limes and baby bananas. I was talking to a woman who lives there about the tejocote and she shared this list of ingredients for a punch:

Azúcar de caña (Caña de azúcar?)
Ciruela pasas

The Vision

My two main and life-long interests are food and books. This blog will be primarily about food but will flow between these two topics where they intersect, as I tend to research food and plant information in books.

Food and agriculture, native plants as food, plants native to the western hemisphere utilized for food, origins and geography of food plants, all aspects of these topics and more have interested me since I took a horticulture class in 1981 called Systematics of Fruits and Nuts, Oregon State University, co-taught by Dr. Jim Baggett and Dr. Maxine Thompson. The descriptions of tropical and semi-tropical fruits growing in places exotic to me have stayed on my mind ever since. Whenever and wherever I happen upon fruits, vegetable, recipes that interest me, I will post what I learn.

I have also talked to my family about collecting our family recipes and would like to see family members and friends contribute favorite recipes to someday make into a family cookbook.