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Only on Christmas—traditions continue
December 17, 2003

            (Christmas is all about family traditions.  Gloria Coppinger shared some of hers with me.  Now I’ve asked Gloria to share them with you  as my guest columnist.)  Christmas has always been my favorite season, as for many other people.  Since I was an only child, and my grandparents lived only twenty miles away, every Christmas while I was growing up was spent in Donalsonville at “Grannie’s house.” [Grannie was Julia Bryant Chandler.]  For five years I was the only young child, but after that, Mother’s brother had three sons.  That made it more fun.

            Food was always a big thing for our family.  Grannie’s kitchen was full of good things, and the aroma was heavenly!  I don’t recall having turkey at Christmas, but we very likely did.  The meat I remember particularly was fresh pork ham—Grannie either boiled it in an enormous pot, or she baked it in the oven of the wood stove.  When it was almost done, she took it out, trimmed off the skin, leaving a layer of fat on the top.  Then she took her fire poker, which was a piece of heavy flat metal with a handle formed on one end.  The other end she put into the firebox of the wood stove until it was red-hot, the she used it to score a diamond pattern in the fat of the ham.  She baked the ham long enough to lightly brown it. 

            Another prize memory is her plum pudding, which we had every Christmas, but ONLY on Christmas.  She started several days before “drying “ bread to make the breadcrumbs that her recipe called for.  Before she actually started putting the mix together, she had to peel and boil enough potatoes to make the cup of mashed potatoes.  She had to talk some butcher into giving her suet (beef fat), which had to be grated or ground in her food chopper.  (My Daddy was a butcher, but he didn’t grind suet in his sausage grinder!!)  After the plum pudding ingredients were mixed, Grannie very carefully tied it all up in a clean cloth and dropped it into a big pot of boiling water for about three hours. 

            Meanwhile, she prepared a hard sauce of confectioner’s sugar, butter and a very small amount of cream—there was no rum in Grannie’s hard sauce!  When the plum pudding was taken out of its big pot of water, it was kept warm until time to serve it.  Then the string was cut, the cloth peeled off, and the pudding cut.

            There are many questions I regret I didn’t ask Grannie, and where the plum pudding recipe came from is at the top of the list!  It is unlike the ones you usually see.  It doesn’t have candied fruit and peels—only raisins, currants and dried figs. My guess is that it may have been developed or altered after the Civil War when Grannie’s family, like many others, was very poor.

            Whatever its origin, it is a big part of our Christmas dinner still, and we all love it.  I have made the family’s plum pudding ever since Grannie became unable to do it, and now my daughter, Barbara Sontoro, helps.  Hopefully, if I become disabled, she will carry on!

            Now, though, we can use packaged breadcrumbs, instant mashed potato flakes and pudding molds—which is a mixed blessing.  When I am scrubbing that greasy mold, I think it might be easier to peel off a cloth and throw it away.

            Another necessary food at our house at Christmas is cinnamon rolls.  Grannie made these too, but they weren’t reserved especially for Christmas.  I’m not sure how many generations of our family have made these rolls at Christmas, but now my granddaughters help make them, so that is five generations. 

            Since Barbara and the girls don’t usually get here until very near Christmas Day, I make the dough a day or so before they arrive, so that it is ready for Rebecca, who is a senior at Brown University, and Claire, who is a junior at University City High School in St. Louis, to form into cinnamon rolls and dinner rolls for Christmas dinner. 

            When Rebecca started helping with the cinnamon rolls, Claire was so small that she stood in a kitchen chair and pinched off pieces of the dough not yet rolled and placed then in a greased muffin tin, four to a cup, to make the dinner rolls. She still helps make the dinner rolls, and the cinnamon rolls, too.  This is done on Christmas Eve.  We do it in time to join the crowd at Willis Park for carols with the Bainbridge British Brass Band.  After that, we make quick visits to deliver the cinnamon roll gifts to friends.  Then, usually we go to St. John’s Episcopal Church for their late evening service.  Of course, we hurry home in time for Santa Claus to come.

            Our family has shrunk, but our traditions remain the same and are important to each of us.

Grannie Julia Chandler’s Plum Pudding

1 1/2 cup suet, grated

3 1/2 cups all purpose flour

1 cup currants

1 1/2 cups raisins

1/2 cup figs

1 1/2  cups bread crumbs

1 cup sugar

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon ground allspice

1/2  teaspoon soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup syrup

            Dissolve soda in a small amount of water.  Mix all ingredients.  Tie in a cloth and drop into boiling water.  Simmer for 3 hours.* Serve hot, with hard sauce made of butter, confectioner’s sugar and a little cream.

*Our changes for one pudding mold:  1 cup suet, 2 1/3 cups flour, 2/3 cup currents, 1 cup raisins, 1/3 cup figs, 1 1/3 cups bread crumbs, 2/3 cup sugar, 2/3 teaspoon cinnamon, 2.3 teaspoon allspice, 1/3 teaspoon salt, 1/3 teaspoon soda, 1/2 cup syrup.  Since we use a mold instead of dropping it into water in a cloth, we also add about ½ cup orange juice or other liquid.

Christmas thanks

            Thank you, Gloria for sharing your special Christmas.  We’ll see you at the Christmas Carols in the park.

Do you have family traditions to share? 


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Trilla Pando is a member of the Southern Foodways Alliance & the Story Circle Network