The Foods of Christmas Past

Plenty is the start of a new journey for me, and when starting out what better place to begin than the beginning? We all have almost infinite beginnings, layer upon layer of starts and re-starts. For Plenty, it might be the beginning – of living history, when simple organisms began consuming for sustenance. Or it could be a mere 10,000 years ago, with the advent of the agricultural systems which so shape our world today. And for me? I trace my food roots back at least two centuries.

For more than two hundred years, my family has made their home in northern NY and French Canada, coaxing a living from the thin soils of its’ temperate forest. At the turn of the twentieth century, my great-grandparents raised 12 children while homesteading outside a tiny Adirondack town. For them, an integral part of life was maple sugaring – distilling sweet sap into valuable syrup. Every year, before the first signs of spring became evident in the snowdrops and leaf buds peeking out from freshly thawed earth, the sap would start to flow just below the bark of Acer saccharum. Tapping into the xylem of these trees would yield up to 50 gallons of sap for every gallon of syrup produced.

Today, my family make their homes in the suburbs of Central NY, seeking sustenance in the aisles and freezer sections of Wegmans. The foods of modern abundance, and convenience, stock their kitchens. Twice a year however, the women in my family return north to procure several gallons of liquid gold– Grade A maple syrup; our one tie to our centuries-old food culture.

Except at Christmas. At Christmas, we track down all the foods of Christmas past – pulling out Aunt Marie’s cookie recipes, stocking the fridge with Croghan bologna and cheese curds, and whipping up batches of maple frosting. These are the Foods of Christmas Past.They provide us with an emotional nourishment which extends far beyond the reaches of taste or convenience.  They connect us to those before us who have passed and to ways of life that seem so long forgotten. They are what we are – and it is a beautiful thing.

Recipe: Aunt Marie’s Buckeyes

Written on the recipe card: This is Aunt Marie’s version, written by her at the age of 80-something, while sitting at Mom & Dad’s kitchen table during one of her fall visits.

1 lb confectioners sugar

2 c. crunchy peanut butter

1 stick butter

3 c. rice krispies

Combine and roll into balls. Combine [and melt] 12 oz. chocolate chips and 1/3 c paraffin wax. Dip and place on paper.

See here if you (like I) wonder why we would ever add wax to an otherwise perfect food:

Eat well. Cook well. Share abundantly.

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