Recently, as I was planning the last bit of baking effort for this Holiday season, I encountered an old list tucked in to a book of recipes. In my dear Mother’s hand, the list carefully laid out the holiday baking she planned. One of the recipes, is one I recognized from the early years of our family Christmas celebrations, but not in recent years? Despite its being a wonderful recipe, delicious and easy, it had been removed from Mum’s Holiday baking list. A closer inspection revealed a number of family food traditions were missing from the list. Where were the butter tarts, the Welch cakes, the Cornish pasties?
It takes a dab hand to manage traditions, particularly holiday traditions, and more often than not it falls to the home cook. Some may question if it is even possible to manage traditions? And we are not supposed to break them! The old saw is common from home cooks ” I make the same Christmas treats year after year, and if I fail to make one thing all I hear is, ‘where’s the…?’ the one thing I didn’t make, Errrg!”
My Mum was a master at both making and managing traditions, especially at holiday time. Mum’s preparations for Christmas began in early fall, a bit of her time each week dedicated to making the long list of our family’s favourite holiday foods.
At first look, you could be forgiven for thinking her management style was to make everything anyone could ask for…but not really. Over the years new traditions and foods were added, while others no longer made the list. Mum’s talent was how she did it without anyone feeling disappointed.
Mum seemed to understand that despite talk of ‘broken’ traditions… traditions are not fragile. Most long held traditions are amazingly flexible and even changeable. From Christmas trees to Santa Claus, the change is subtle, unnoticed until you go looking.
So, subtle changes in tradition do happen…but is major change possible? I think so, provided it is organic, and flows from the nature of holiday celebration. Since holidays are about spending time with family and friends, changes to traditions are a natural extension of new experiences, new memories, new people to love and care about. Mum understood that creating new memories generates opportunity to manage expectation, insert change and create new traditions…
I can trace one long held Lyons family food tradition to a specific date and time. The 24 December 1980, Oxford, Nova Scotia my brother Keith, his wife Beverley and their young son Devin who had recently moved to Nova Scotia from Saskatchewan invited Bev’s parents, and our family to spend Christmas with them in their new home. A wonderful and exciting time, grandparents, aunts and uncles coming together to celebrate Christmas for the first time.
Bev was insightful when she planned an activity for the day before Christmas for her guests to share. The prospect of a houseful of family including in laws rattling around the house with nothing to do, required a plan. It was a risky move, bringing four cooks with differing ideas, experiences and opinions together to make one recipe might have gone wrong, but it didn’t. The recipe had just the right mix of challenge, unfamiliar and bit finickity but doable and delicious. It encouraged warm feelings, positive communication, crafted a memory and led to a new family food tradition. Cranberry Croissants have accompanied our Christmas morning coffee ever since.
Of course adding new traditions is easier to manage than removing them…so how do things get taken out of rotation at Holidays? One of the reasons why Bev’s Cranberry Croissants became tradition is because we were open to it. No one expected Christmas of 1980 to be ‘traditional’ in the strictest sense. We knew the basics would be honored but because we expected it, we found it easier to embrace new ideas, experiences and traditions.
Mum’s adept management of expectation combined with her keen observation of who liked what, which things disappeared quickly and which lingered too long kept her list of Holiday baking manageable. Her communication, the debate, discussion and reassurance around what she planned to make, changes she suggested and her direct questions about certain foods helped her plan her work and helped manage expectation, her and ours.
Mum’s preparations and baking were a tradition into themselves, the planning, the effort and the results. Regardless of what her list included or excluded, it reflected one fundamental truth. Holiday baking and cooking was her gift of the season to others…peace, love and joy.
My Mother’s Cookbooks – Cranberry Croissants
2 c. fresh cranberries, washed, dried and chopped fine (or ground);
1 c. sugar
1 tsp orange zest
4 c. flour
6 tsps baking powder
1/2 c. shortening
1/2 c. sugar
2 eggs at room temperature
1 c. full fat cream
1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
2. In a bowl mix flour, baking powder and the 1/2 c. sugar;
3. Using a pastry blender cut the shortening in to the flour mixture to a pea sized crumb;
4. Beat the eggs with the cream in a measuring cup and then add to the dry mixture;
6. Stir to combine, to create a sticky dough (add extra cream as necessary);
7. Turn on to a flour board and knead just until a smooth ball;
8. Cut the ball in to 4 equal pieces, wrap each in plastic, form in to a round disc, set aside in the fridge;
9. In a second bowl mix 1 c sugar, zest and cranberries together and set aside.
10. Roll each ball in to a 12 inch circle, cut each circle in to 8 equal wedges;
11. Place a tsp of the filling on the outer portion of the wedge about 1/8 in from the edge;
12. Beginning at the outer edge, roll each wedge towards its point;
13. Place on a parchment lined baking sheet with the point down, turn the ends to create a crescent shape;
14. Bake for 15 -20 minutes on the upper middle rack, until golden, being careful to avoid the fruit juices burning;
15. Remove from the pan and allow to cool completely on a wire rack. Serve warm or cold. Freeze well.
Are you wondering about the other recipe? The one removed from our Christmas holiday baking list, stay tuned for Christmas Stockings, a potato and Lemon Nut Loaf – it will be released on Thursday 22 Dec 2022.