New Christmas Traditions


Image Dala HorseSeven days to go until Christmas Day and I don't have a single cookie, batch of fudge, old-fashioned date quick-bread or Grand Marnier-drenched fruitcake prepared. In terms of these Swedish-Minnesota traditions of my upbringing, my Hospitality and Good Mom Card, are at-risk.

A little perspective....

Not everyone in Minnesota was of Swedish-heritage, but during the Christmas season, our family, friends, and most acquaintances followed Swedish Christmas customs, whether or not they knew it.  

Swedish hospitality was measured by the number of Christmas cookies - a minimum of 12 varieties (7 if you were Norwegian) , ranging from 3 to 6-dozen of each one - which had to be created by December 1st. 

Drop in to a neighbor's house for a "cuppa", after December 1st, and you could expect a beautiful assortment of cookies along with your coffee. Chances were, your host or hostess would wrap up the leftovers, sending them home with you. 

Five Weeks of Baking

Image Swedish CookiesWe used to begin baking cookies the day after Halloween, starting with those cookies which stored well in the freezer - Swedish Britches (almond), Thumbprints (walnut), Tepparkakar (cardamom), Drömkakor (Swedish Dream Cookies), and Trilbys (date-filled).  

The basic cookie dough ingredients were pretty much the same for all recipes - equal amounts of all-purpose flour and granulated or powdered sugar - and sometimes both.

Molded, pressed, or rolled into a variety of shapes, the favored-fat was butter, while a knowing nod, "She uses margarine", was a death knell to a baking-reputation.

Use shortening? That meant you'd never earn a reputation to defend or protect!

In studying food history, I discovered that my Scandinavian ancestors probably didn't have access or the finances to acquire large amounts of sugar, a luxury item.  My husband remembers his grandmother making batches of deep-fried Fattimand, more crispy-pastry than a sweet cookie, which is probably more authentic than my sweet-treats.

"In Iceland, dairy food nevertheless enjoyed higher prestige than meat..."  - Jochens, Jenni M. Women in Old Norse Society. Ithaca: Cornell University Press. 1995

Another rare food staple was butter.  When it ran out, seal fat was substituted for the frying of food.  

In other words, my ancestors would not have wasted their precious, life-sustaining foods and staples on creating treats when survival was at stake.  Later, in more "modern times (1680 and beyond) sugar became more readily available, and it was then that sugar consumption increased, but still, it was nowhere near the level of today. 

Sugar Sugar Sugar

Image Sugar BowlIn the last 20 years, sugar consumption in the U.S. has increased from 26 pounds to 135 lbs. of sugar per person per year! Prior to the turn of this century (1887-1890), the average consumption was only 5 lbs. per person per year.

The first Christmas that I didn't create Christmas cookies, was our first cold and flu-free Christmas.  We'd always assumed winter illnesses were part of the Christmas season, right along with cookies and egg nog.

Dr. Nancy Appleton's 143 Reasons Sugar Ruins Your Health provided a possible answer:  maybe the sugar was suppressing our immune system! 

On the flip-side, the "sugar weakens the immune system theory" claim is said to bewithout good science-based evidence.  

I'm going with the Appleton-theory since those of the "no science" mindset don't appear to differentiate between factory-food sugars, stripped-bare of valuable minerals, and those sugars which are whole-food, rich in important nutrients which are beneficial. Take this recent study on maple sugar, for example - 

Dr. Keiko Abe of the University of Tokyo’s Graduate School of Agricultural and Life Sciences led a study that showed that maple syrup could promote a healthier liver. The results will be published in the November 2011 issue of Bioscience, Biotechnology, and Biochemistry.  Dr. Abe’s recent findings, published research suggests that 100% pure maple syrup may prove to be a better choice of sweetener because it was found to be rich in polyphenolic antioxidants and contains vitamins and minerals. In the study, rats on the maple syrup diet after 11 days showed significantly decreased levels of liver enzymes AST, ALT, and LDH in the blood, standard biomarkers for evaluating liver function. Gene expression profiling observations suggest a mechanism whereby the maple syrup diet caused genes involved in the production of harmful ammonia in the liver to be less active. - Maple Syrup Maple syrup Shows Health Benefits 

We've created a number of new holiday food-traditions which harken back to traditions and recipes more common to our ancestors of old, more than modern "traditions". Take a look at how Pickl-It Cranberry Orange & Apple Relish can be used to create a tasty Pickl-It Cranberry Granola Gems.