It wouldn’t be the holidays without . . .

A post-Thanksgiving walk at the family farm

Cranberry Relish? Every family has special food that “must” be on the holiday table, or the meal just won’t be the same. At the Clark household, it was stuffing. Or dressing, as my grandmother called it. And it could NOT be made by my Aunt Lillian, because her stuffing was awful. One year, my brother John made the turkey, and as we were rushing everything to the table, we discovered that he had forgotten to make any stuffing. He has never been allowed to forget it. I sometimes even call ahead of time to be sure he hasn’t. So what else is special in my family? It has to be the raw cranberry relish that my son Max always makes. Easy as pie (easier, actually) and done in minutes.

Max’s Cranberry Relish

1 bag cranberries, washed and sorted, 1 large red delicious apple, 1 whole orange

Place ingredients in a food processor, chop finely, add sugar to taste, and if possible, let sit overnight in the refrigerator to let the flavors blend.

Whoopie Pies

Kaitlyn Dunnett here. Until a reader who had just finished A Wee Christmas Homicide, third book in the Liss MacCrimmon Scottish-American Heritage Mystery Series, wrote to ask me what a whoopie pie was, I had no idea this sweet treat was so rare outside New England. One version of the classic whoopie pie (there are many) consists of a filling made with marshmallow fluff between two cake-like chocolate cookies. You can also find whoopie pies made with molassas cookies, filled with peanut butter fluff, and so on. With a little sleuthing online, I discovered that the whoopie pies I’m most familiar with are made a bit differently than the usual recipies. So, with permission from my sister-in-law, Elaine Emerson Smith, here is the recipe for whoopie pies that our family enjoys at Christmas and on other special occasions. The photo below shows the batch, made to go with the 2010 Super Bowl.

cream together: 3/4 cup Crisco; 1 1/2 cup sugar; 1 large egg; 1 1/2 tsp vanilla

sift: 3 cups flour; 2 1/4 tsp baking soda; 3/4 tsp salt; 1/2 cup plus 2 Tbsp cocoa

add dry ingredients to creamed mixture, alternating with 1 1/2 cups of milk; drop on ungreased cookie sheet using Tbsp for size; bake at 350 degrees for 10 minutes and let cool

filling: 1 cup Crisco; 1 cup plus 2 Tbsp confectioner’s sugar; dash of salt; 1 7oz. jar marshmallow fluff; whip until light; spread between two cookies. Yum!

Kate: I have references to whoopie pies in my latest Joe Burgess book, Redemption. So hard, when driving along and I see that pickup truck with the whoopie sign on it, not to stop. This season, of course, it is the pumpkin one, but what I can’t resist are the chocolate.

Xmas Scotch Shortbread

Lea Wait, adding in my two cents — or, actually 2 1/2 cups of flour, although I usually double the recipe.  My grandmother came from Edinburgh, bringing with her a number of recipes from her Stewart heritage. One that we always enjoyed at Christmas was her Scotch shortbread.

Mix together throughly 1 cup of soft butter, 5/8 cup sugar (that’s 1/2 cup plus 2 Tablespoons).  Stir in the 2 1/2 cups of flour. Mix with your hands, and then roll it in a long roll (in wax paper helps) and cut it in circles — or cut in squares. Because it’s Christmas, decorate the top with tiny pieces of candied red and green cherries (one slice of red and two spots of green) to look a bit like holly . Bake at 300 degrees for 20-25 minutes, or until bottoms are very slightly brown, on ungreased cookie sheet.  Tops do not brown, and coookies do not change in size or shape.  Note: use butter – not a substitute. One year two of my daughters tried to use margarine. No comment necessary except to say — just, don’t. Shortbread calls for the real thing.

Sister in Crime Sylvie Kurtz shared this:

There are two things my kids insist on having every Christmas. Without them, they say, it just isn’t Christmas. One is the sticky pecan buns for breakfast (from my husband’s side of the family) the other is my Yule log (an updated tradition from my side of the family) for dessert. I evolved my mother’s overly sweet jam-and-frosting Yule log to this less-sweet, but still decadent Yule log.


1 cup all-purpose flour, 1/4 cup cocoa, 1 teaspoon baking powder, 1/4 teaspoon salt, 3 eggs, 1 cup sugar, 1/3 cup water, 1 teaspoon vanilla

Preheat the oven to 375° F. Grease a 10 X 15 X 3/4” pan, then cover with a piece of wax paper that fits the bottom. Sift the flour, cocoa, baking powder and salt together. Using a mixer, beat the eggs in a bowl until thick and pale yellow. While continuing to mix, add the sugar gradually. Add the water and vanilla. Add the dry ingredients while beating at the lowest setting of the mixer. Spread the batter on the prepared pan. Bake 12 minutes. Immediately turn over a dishtowel sprinkled with cocoa. Remove the wax paper. Roll the cake, starting with the narrower side. Cool on a rack with the cake’s edge on the bottom.

Chocolate Cream Frosting

Mix 2 cups of whipping cream, 1/2 cup of cocoa and 1/4 cup of chocolate liqueur or strong, cold coffee. Cover and refrigerate for an hour. Whip the cream until soft peaks form. Unroll the cake. Spread half the chocolate cream on the cake. Reroll the cake. Cut a small slice from one end of the cake. Garnish the top of the cake with the rest of the chocolate cream, saving a few dollops. Make “wood grain” on the “log” with a knife edge. Using the slice of reserved cake, make a couple of branch nubs and place on either side of the cake. Frost nubs with the leftover chocolate cream. Decorate with toasted almond slivers.

Sylvie Kurtz writes adventures that explore the complexity of the human mind and the thrill of suspense. She has written 21 novels. Look for the debut of French translation of A Little Christmas Magic in December.

Marilyn’s Christmas Morning Cinnamon Rolls

Edith Maxwell’s mother, Marilyn, made a version of these cinnamon rolls every Christmas morning. It was the one time in the year when the family consumed real butter instead of margarine and Marilyn made very good use of the opportunity. She used Bisquik for the dough. Edith prefers the dough in the following biscuit recipe from the Tassajara Bread Book (Edward Espe Brown, Shambala Publications, Inc., 1970) and continues the cinnamon roll tradition every year, with real butter, of course.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.


2 c whole wheat flour, 1 c butter, 1T baking powder, ½ tsp salt, 2 eggs, ½ c milk, ½ c sugar, 1 tsp cinnamon, ½ c brown sugar

  1. Combine flour, baking powder, and salt in a mixing bowl.
  2. Cut ½ c (1 stick) butter into flour mixture until mostly pea-sized.
  3. Make well in the middle and add eggs and milk.
  4. Stir eggs into milk with a fork and then all into the flour until moistened.
  5. Turn dough onto a floured board and knead just enough to bring it together.
  6. Roll dough out onto floured board 1/2” thick. Fold in thirds. Repeat rolling and folding (which makes a flakier pastry) three times. Fold one last time and move to the side.
  7. Spread out a thin dishtowel or pastry cloth and dust with flour.
  8. Put 1 stick of butter into a round cake pan and place in preheated oven, checking frequently. Remove when melted. Drop brown sugar evenly onto the melted butter in the pan.
  9. While the butter melts, roll the dough on the cloth until you have a sheet about 18” long and 8” wide. Rounded edges are fine.
  10. Remove the melted butter and pour half of it in a long stream the length of the dough.
  11. Spread the butter on the dough with a wide knife or Rubbermaid spatula.
  12. Sprinkle the sugar and cinnamon all over the butter. Adjust quantities to cover or for preference.
  13. Take the cloth with one hand near each end of the dough and roll away from you, coaxing the dough into a roll.
  14. Continue to roll as tightly as possible until the dough is a long thick snake.
  15. Take a sharp knife, cut pieces about 1/12” wide, and evenly space them cut side up in the prepared pan. (It is customary to promptly eat the two end pieces or give them to someone who enjoys raw biscuit dough.)
  16. Bake for about 20-25 minutes or until light brown on top and bubbling in the pan.
  17. Place a plate upside down on the pan, secure it with two potholders, and invert the rolls onto the plate.
  18. Remove the pan and quickly scrape any of the butter/brown sugar mixture onto the rolls before it cools.

To get a head start on Christmas morning, prepare the dough the night before and refrigerate. You can use unbleached white flour or a mix of white and whole wheat if you want.

Edith Maxwell is the author of SPEAKING OF MURDER (Barking Rain Press, under pseudonym Tace Baker) featuring Quaker linguistics professor Lauren Rousseau. Edith holds a PhD in linguistics and is a member of Amesbury Monthly Meeting of Friends. The book was first runner up in the Linda Howard Award for Excellence contest. She also writes the Local Foods Mysteries. A TINE TO LIVE, A TINE TO DIE introduces organic farmer Cam Flaherty and a colorful Locavore Club (Kensington Publishing, June 2013). Two decades ago Edith owned and operated the smallest organic farm in Essex Country, Massachusetts. Tace Baker:

John Clark here. Funny Kate should put cranberry relish at the top of her list because I wrote a story over the 4th of July that involved murder by cranberry relish. When we were kids, the highlight of the Christmas season was when Lili Johnson, a wonderful woman of Finnish extraction would invite us to stop at her place up the road in Appleton. Every year we’d pile into the car and make the two mile drive. She and husband Karl would welcome us in their wonderful accents, ushering us into the warm kitchen where we could smell all sorts of intriguing and delectable aromas. After visiting for an hour or so, Lili would bring out a box filled with the Finnish pastries that to this day I’m convinced only she could make. There was always an immense coffee bread as the centerpiece, surrounded by varied mini rolls, all decorated with icing and candied fruit. They never lasted long, but the memory of those visits and the amazing taste of her cooking remains to this day. Whenever I travel up East Sennebec Road, I always look as I pass the road leading to their house and smile.

Finnish coffee bread ready for baking

Finnish Coffee Bread

1 cup sugar
1 tsp. salt
2 cups milk
2 eggs
2 yeast cakes
2-4 cardamom seeds, ground, depending on taste
6 1/2 cups flour
1/2 cup butter

Heat milk with butter. Cool. Beat eggs, add sugar and salt. Dissolve yeast in 1/2 cup warm water. Combine milk and yeast mixture with egg batter. Add seeds and flour. Knead until smooth. Let rise 3 hours, then divide and braid into loaves. Bake at 350 for about 30 minutes.

(Note: Lili Johnson always put candied fruit in the break and topped it with a confectioner’s sugar frosting and sprinkles or slivered almonds)

Oddly enough my favorite food related Thanksgiving memory took place while I was going to school in Arizona back in the 1960s. Imagine a small town boy who graduated in a class of 38 finding himself on a campus 2800 miles away starting college at a school where the enrollment was 29,000. My first friend was from South America, studying architecture, the two kids across the hall were a Navajo and a Hopi from up near the Mogollon Rim in northern Arizona. It was culture shock in spades. Money was tight, so I was able to come home at Christmas, but not Thanksgiving. My second year away from the family on turkey day found me with no place to go after I got out of work, so a casual friend too pity on me and invited me to a multicultural outside Thanksgiving buffet. When I arrived on campus in September of 1966, I looked at Mexican food with disdain. Real Mainers would never eat that slop. By the end of my freshman year, it was pretty much all I’d eat.
One of the men who lived in the apartment complex set out a pan of roast beef burritos with his own secret sauce. They were so mind-boggling good I had to exercise all my self-control to avoid eating the entire pan. I’ve been on a burrito grail quest ever since to find one that tasted as good. Sadly, I’m still looking. At the very least, it opened my mind to the possibilities inherent in serving something completely nontraditional at holiday meals.

Sarah Graves: It wouldn’t be the holidays without A Christmas Story, the tale of Ralphie and his quest for the gift of a Red Ryder BB gun. Every year I say this time I won’t watch the evil kid in the Davy Crockett cap get pummeled by a had-it-up-to-here Ralphie, or the secret decoder ring’s message turn out to be “a crummy ad,” or the lady’s leg lamp get “accidentally” broken, or — best of all! — the head get lopped unceremoniously off the roast duck, after the dogs steal the turkey. Every year I say I won’t. After all, I already know what happens. I could recite all the lines. But what can I say? These are my people…and one year (another story entirely), that was even my duck.

This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to It wouldn’t be the holidays without . . .

  1. MCWriTers says:

    Sarah…we had that duck, too. Three of them, actually. Some summer folks who’d gotten cute pet ducks for their kids were leaving at the end of the summer, and Hughy, Dewey, and Louey all came to live with us. Later, of course, to be eaten by us. I expect the head-lopping happened while we were at school, though.


  2. Brenda says:

    Love these! Thanks for sharing! We can always use a new shortbread recipe. Lately we have been leaving it up to Walker’s.

    The cornbread dressing of my childhood with my husband’s healthy adjustments to it are a must at Thanksgiving and Christmas at our house. He has converted me from the required canned cranberry sauce I grew up with to his cranberry sauce.

    Champagne is a wonderful newer tradition.

  3. Brenda says:

    Love ALL of your different recipes you shared in case I wasn’t specific!

Leave a Reply