Traditional Christmas foods bring back memories

By Susan Phare Boback

Special to the Journal

ISHPEMING–Christmas traditions affect us all differently. For me, the foods of my heritage bring the memories alive from those precious moments of childhood when grandparents, aunts & uncles and my parents were all here celebrating together.

As I’ve gotten older, eating all these goodies isn’t really the best thing for my health, but that doesn’t mean I don’t still love them. So to keep my memories alive while being a bit more health-conscious, I’ve adapted two of my favorites to mini versions.

One is my English paternal grandfather’s recipe for plum pudding, which I describe as a rich raisin cake. I’ve made it many times, though my version is somewhat healthier than the way he made it when I was a kid. I’ve been making our plum pudding in the form of mini cupcakes. While I mix up the recipe the same as when I wrap it in cheesecloth and steam it in my crockpot, I now cook it in my mini cupcake maker.

This way I can eat just a couple at a time throughout the holidays, as well as share them with others who also enjoy this traditional Plum Pudding, once baked by their grandparents.

PHARE Family Plum Pudding

The recipe may be cut in half; and may be steamed in a crock pot or made into mini cupcakes

Mix together 4 sifted cups of flour, 1 tsp ea allspice, cloves, nutmeg, salt

Beat together 4-5 eggs, 1 c brown sugar, ½ c dark molasses mixed with 1 tsp baking soda, ½ cup wine, brandy or other alcohol

Mix the dry with the wet ingredients.

To make mini cupcakes: use an electric cup cake maker, follow the instructions with the product. Or use mini cupcake pans and bake in the oven according to a cake recipe for mini cupcakes.

To steam in a crockpot: form it into a round ball, and wrap it in cheesecloth or a clean flour sack towel. Make sure the corners are brought up on top and tie it all together with string or elastic band. Put a glass bowl on the bottom of the crockpot to hold the pudding and keep it from getting in the water. Pour water in the bottom, only up to the edge of the bowl. Put the pudding in the bowl. Cover the crock pot. You may have to put a weight on top to keep it down. Steam for 4-5 hours on high. Its done when it is a cake-like texture. Take out of the crock pot and test as you would a cake. Cool. Store in the refrigerator or freezer, when cool. Serve warm with hard sauce.

Gramma Douglass’ family recipe for Pork Pie:

The second recipe that I’ve revised so that I can enjoy it is the French Meat Pie or Pork Pie, a tradition from our French-Canadian heritage. There are some variations of this recipe as well. One is that you add mashed potatoes to the cooked meat mixture, which makes the mixture richer and increases the amount. It’s what they are used to doing – tradition.

That recipe is pretty rich for me these days, and eating the crust is out of the question, until I tried making meatballs!

Here’s the recipe for the pie or the meatballs:


Boil 6 white potatoes, peel. Mash, set aside.

Brown: 1 lb ground beef, ¾ lb ground pork, ¾ cup chopped onion, 2 stalks chopped celery and 2 chopped garlic gloves, ½ tsp each of rosemary, rubbed sage, thyme, plus ¼ tsp marjoram; salt & pepper. Drain off fat.

In large bowl, mix:

Mashed potatoes, ¼ cup chicken broth, and cooked meat mixture. Divide in half for two pies. Make crusts for two pies. Fill each and make sure to seal the edges of the top crusts, and make slits in the top crust. Bake 375F oven for 30-35 minutes.

Pork Pie Meatballs

Brown the onion, celery, garlic with seasonings. Add to uncooked ground beef & pork. Roll into balls and cook either in the frying pan on the stove top or bake in the oven. 425F for 10-12 min.


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