It can be scary, deviating from tradition.
Around the holidays, these customs — especially the food kind — comfort us and fill us up with a good helping of nostalgia.
Our annual reader-driven Christmas cookie issue has changed this year, as we made the decision to expand it to different kinds of dessert recipes when we started calling for submissions in October. The hundred or so reader recipes we received since then have reassured us that the finished product will become part of your new holiday Taste tradition.
You submitted such a wide variety of holiday desserts that we barely got duplicated recipes. Everything from chocolate cake to doughnuts to fudge to pumpkin pie were sent in, via email and handwritten letter. It should surprise no one that fruitcake was the most popular submission. We received at least 10 versions, each a bit unique.
In addition to a recipe, we asked readers to explain why these desserts mean so much to them, and the stories were likewise diverse. You'll find a selection of 17 stories sent in from readers, along with their cherished holiday recipes. Here are a dozen of those, and for the other five, click below:
Some of the other touching stories we received included:
A family tale from Chris Vivian of St. Petersburg, who wrote about his great-grandmother's (Nana's) pumpkin pie: "When I was growing up there were family favorite dishes for the holidays, but we'd try new things, too. Except when it comes to pumpkin pie — only Nana's Pumpkin Pie With Ginger Meringue would do then, or now. Nana moved from Czechoslovakia when she was only 16 and her cooking is still fondly remembered as the best. My mom transcribed recipes from Nana's scribbled cards back in the '70s and everyone has a copy of the little book."
Connie LeSeur of New Port Richey detailed the story of her signature treat, Holiday Fruit Drops. Last year the cookies traveled far and wide across the Tampa Bay area: "Baked and shared with friend from church. Baked and took to our 90-year-old aunt in Clearwater. Baked to take to 88-year-old mother-in-law. Baked to take to friends in Valrico. Baked to carry over to neighbor across the street and to the neighbor next door."
Martha Brockinton of Tampa (and a few others) makes None Such Prize Mincemeat Cookies. (Mincemeat is a mixture of chopped dried fruit, spirits and spices.) "The recipe I use is the one on the package of Borden's None Such Condensed Mincemeat, just like my grandma used to. The only thing I do different is how I crumble the condensed mincemeat. I use a food processor to break it up."
Lisa Bazzanella Smith of St. Petersburg told us about a Chocolate "Yule" Love Torte. ("It's easy, it's creamy, it's Christmas!" she wrote.) And John J. Pacheco of St. Petersburg shared recipes from his family's Portuguese heritage, including Portuguese Coconut Tarts, which his aunts would make using their hands because they did not have mixers.
Janet Sullivan of Pinellas Park wrote about Sultana Cake, something she has baked for more than 50 years and cannot remember a Christmas without. It was passed down from her grandmother, who came to this country from Aberdeen, Scotland.
"My grandmother never used a written recipe — everything she made came from her memory. She would often say 'a wee bitty of this and a handful of that.' Thankfully, her three daughters managed to get most of her goodies written down over time and they have been enjoyed by the generations that have followed."
And we received this story from sisters Barbara McGeever of Valrico and Sheilah Murphy of Fort Pierce about their family's Christmas Loaf: "For our family, the tradition of the Christmas Loaf began when a dear friend sent the recipe to our mother, Gladys Lennon, in 1968 — complete with a 6-cent Franklin D. Roosevelt stamp on the envelope."
Many recipes were tied to family traditions we hold near and dear, but some were not.
Mary-Ann Janssen of Dunedin shared her Christmas Cookie Truffles story, saying they always remind her of her first year of teaching: "In 1960, when I was a beginning third-grade teacher, I wanted my students to bring home to their parents a Christmas present they had made by themselves. I asked each child to bring in a cookie recipe ... and made a Christmas Cookie Book. Christmas Cookie Truffles is a cookie recipe from one of my students. I have tweaked the recipe over the years, and I make it every Christmas."
Other stories showed the way we sometimes adapt long-held traditions to more modern circumstances, like the Paleo-Friendly Salted Coconut Almond Fudge from Maureen Corbett of St. Petersburg that uses coconut oil and hazelnut-flavored Stevia extract.
She wrote: "Fudge has long been a tradition for our family. This past year, however, we 'fudge elves' have gone paleo. I began experimenting with this way of eating when I realized that sugar was sapping my energy. ... I always have been passionate about dessert, especially at the holidays. ... Our fudge tradition will continue, with a new and improved boost of nutrients from cocoa powder, coconut oil and almond butter."
Sounds good, fudge elves.
Contact Michelle Stark at mstark[email protected] or (727) 893-8829. Follow @mstark17.