Valerie Phillips: Christmas treats from countries around the globe

Published: Tuesday, Dec. 21 2010 5:23 p.m. MST

Christmas is brimming over with wonderful food traditions. Many of America's traditions are rooted in the holiday customs from other countries.

At a Christmas party this past weekend, my grandson Anthony informed us that drinking eggnog was an English tradition, and that candy canes were one custom that actually originated in America, according to the worksheets he completed in his school class.

Here are some of the celebratory Christmas foods from other parts of the world. How many have you incorporated into your own holiday? Our family has memories of some of these traditions.

England: Fruitcake is historically associated with Merry Olde England. This much-maligned dessert was popular during the Victorian era (1837-1901). Queen Victoria served a fruitcake at her wedding that weighed more than 300 pounds.

The Victorian era was also the setting for Charles Dickens' ever-popular "A Christmas Carol." Thanks to watching "A Muppets Christmas Carol" when they were young, my own children started their annual "toast to generosity" with sparkling cider in stemmed Christmas glasses.

Holland: Dec. 5 is when "Sinterklaas" and his assistant Zwarte Piet (black Piet) visit homes. Children put their shoes next to the chimney with straw and a carrot (for Sinterklaas's horse). The next morning they'll find presents, candy, cookies or coins in their shoes. Speculaas cookies are served as well. About a dozen years ago, I did a story on Topper Bakery in Ogden, which made speculaas cookies using the same molds Dave DeRyke's grandfather brought with him from Holland around 1909. Since my kids were out of school, they came along on the interview, and DeRyke let them try their hand at making the cookies. Sadly, that's one tradition we didn't incorporate at home.

Greece: A Greek Christmas cookie is melomakarona, made with orange juice, walnuts and honey. Another Christmas cookie is an S-shaped shortbread called koulouria.

Norway: The Marzipan Pig is a popular Christmas custom. Around the middle of Christmas day, the family eats a rice-and-milk concoction called risengrot. The leftover rice is mixed with cream, and one almond is inserted. That evening after church, when it is served, the person who finds the almond gets the marzipan pig. Krumkake, an ice-cream-cone shaped cookie, is filled with cream and fruit. Other traditional Norwegian cookies include berlinerkranser (also known as Norwegian wreath cookies), peppersnitter and almond macaroons.

Sweden: Florentina, a candy with nuts, is a popular holiday treat. The custom of a Yule log comes from Scandinavia. Yuletide means "the sun's turning," referring to the winter solstice. The base of a large tree would be stuck into a fireplace. As the bottom portion of the tree was consumed by fire, the tree would be pushed further in.

Germany: Decorated Christmas trees originated in Germany. And so did stollen, the Christmas yeast bread filled with dried fruit, It originated in Dresden in the 1400s.

Modern-day stollen, in addition to butter, contains raisins, almonds and candied fruit peel, and sometimes rum or marzipan. The powdered sugar covering represents the Christ Child's swaddling clothes.

Italy: Panettone, a tall, cylindrical cake filled with candied fruit, is popular. So is pandoro, or "golden bread," tall golden-colored sponge cake, golden-colored that is usually baked into a star shape.

Mexico: Tamales are a Christmas tradition, and so is the thick, hominy-based soup, posole. Desserts might be deep-fried bunelos served with powdered sugar or cinnamon-flavored syrup. The pinata is a fun tradition; as children whack it open, they are showered with cascades of candy.

France: A popular Christmas pastry is the Buche de Noel, or Christmas log. The "yule log" pastry denotes the warmth of Christmas. The pastry is made in various flavors — chocolate, hazelnut, coffee and Grand Marnier. They range in size from 6 inches to 24 inches, depending on the size of the celebration.

It's interesting how family Christmas traditions get started.

My husband loves a traditional breakfast — eggs, waffles, hash browns, omelets and bacon — but nobody was interested in eating on Christmas morning, due to all the excitement.

So, one year I decided to serve breakfast on Christmas Eve. Now my family considers it our "tradition." My occasional suggestions to try a different menu — tacos or turkey or clam chowder — is considered heresy.

Whatever you family traditions are, and wherever they may have sprung from, have fun with them! Merry Christmas!

e-mail: vphillips@desnews.com

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