Mondays & Memories of My Mom – Homemade Holidays

Happy Monday! Did you know that today, December 9th, is National Pastry Day? Thus, it’s a great time to make those special holiday pies and tarts! In honor of this day, at the end of this blog entry, I’m including Mom’s favorite butter pie crust recipe (which, originally, came from her mom; but Mom thought it was a great imitation of the Baker’s Square product). I posted it in one of my early blog entries and it can also be found on the “Recipes” tab of this web site.

Debates are going on as to whether traditions are a joy to continue or a chore. There’s a great article about that very thing at https://sixtyandme.com/what-are-your-favorite-christmas-memories-and-traditions/. I just finished filling out my traditional Christmas cards this weekend and, like Mom, it started out with lots of joy and excitement and wishes for the receivers but, about half way through my address book, I started feeling like it was a chore; thus, my notes and wishes became shorter and shorter. As seen in last week’s blog entry [*with an additional paragraph added to it this week]…

FROM MOM’S MEMORIES…

As seen in…

Gloria Pitzer’s Christmas Card Cook Book

(Gloria Pitzer’s Secret Recipes, St. Clair, MI; Dec. 1983, p. 3)

Sending Christmas cards has always been a favorite tradition in our house. In 28 years, we only sent store-bought cards twice. Every Christmas, other than that, we made our cards. That was the one important tradition we followed – and still do…

What usually happened was that we had every good intention of confining our list to those who really were important to us [and] who we rarely saw during the rest of the year… I like to put newsy little notes inside that would bring old friends up to date with what we had been doing since we sent them our last Christmas card.

…I am one of those annoying sentimentalists who will, too, read every word of the long, newsy Christmas letters and the page-by-page accounts of how our friends have been doing since the last Christmas.

*Christmas cards for our family have always found us writing newsy notes to those on our list, alphabetically, from the Andreason’s to the Groff’s [names]… I manage to tell them about the five kids, but before I am through the names on our list that begin with ‘H’, I’ve run out of synonyms for IMPOSSIBLE! From the Hudson’s through Zillich, I find that my newsy little notes have usually dwindled to just plain ‘Hi!’

I don’t know if fewer cards are being sent at Christmas since postage became so expensive – or if we simply don’t know that many people. The tradition, however, seems to be fading…

After writing about traditions in last week’s blog entry (titled the same), I couldn’t turn off the memories of my childhood holidays and all the traditions, including all the things that Mom usually made by hand just to make the season more special for all of us. It’s no secret that, before Secret RecipesTM took off, money was usually tight for our family of seven (nine, if you count the dog and cat!) Therefore, a lot of what we enjoyed during the holidays – be it greeting cards, food, gifts, decorations, clothes, etc. – was homemade simply to ease the budget.

Between Mom making our “treats” budget stretch and requests from her readers (when she was writing newspaper columns that focused on homemakers), that’s what inspired the “legend” we came to know as the Recipe DetectiveTM! Mom loved to imitate famous foods from famous places so we could enjoy eating out – right at home and at less of a cost! Homemade fast food and junk food – who’d have thought…!

Mom & Phil Donahue, during her 2nd appearance on his show. (1993)

As it turned out, there were millions of people who wanted to learn how to do the same for their families and they learned it from Mom, first. Now, there are all kinds of “copycats” who copied the ORIGINAL COPYCAT… yet, none of them give her the proper credit she deserves for having inspired them. The biggest culprit is Todd Wilbur, who continues to lie about from where he got his inspiration – saying it was from a Mrs. Field’s cookie recipe, but it was actually from one of Mom’s cookbooks that he ordered after her FIRST appearance on the Phil Donahue Show. Anyway, out of that rabbit hole and on to…

My childhood memories of by-gone holidays took me back to Mom’s (and Grandma’s) homemade holiday treats – such as the traditional rum-soaked fruitcake, bite-sized squares of Christmas fudge, little pastry tarts, a wide-variety of cookies and pies, hot fudge sauce, chunks of peanut brittle and, of course, the candy-covered gingerbread house.

All the memories and missing my parents have me craving the old-fashioned (and priceless) homemade holidays. When my own children were growing up and money was tight for our family, as well, we would often have homemade holidays. I still treasure all the artwork and ceramic/clay creations that my kids made for me every holiday.

Likewise, I remember Mom’s homemade gifts more often than any of the store-bought ones. My all-time favorite was a “rag” doll she made for me from scraps of material, yarn, ribbons and buttons. Oh, how I wish I still had it! Now, in hind-sight, I realize just how much love Mom poured into all of our homemade holidays.

I must say, I miss the treats immensely! Maybe I pine for them so much because I can’t have those kinds of things any longer – not if I want to continue controlling my weight and sugar levels and, thereby, my health, as well. As the old idiom imparts, “absence makes the heart grow fonder!” This holiday season, I’m determined to find ways to imitate my favorite treats in some low-carb way so that I can enjoy them once again!

The cards, treats and gifts weren’t the only things that were homemade. So were many decorations. I mentioned in my blog entries, many times, that Mom was very crafty. I remember some Christmas crafts Mom would do with us kids, back in the 1970s, making angels out of her old Reader’s Digest magazines and ornaments out of homemade salt dough.

Me and Mom – 1971 & 2016

At Christmas time, I liked to do those crafts with my children when they were little, as well. Together, we also collected various kinds of pine cones and branches, chestnuts and acorns – all with which to make winter bird feeders, wreaths and garland. We also strung popcorn to wrap around the christmas tree like garland.

MORE FROM MOM’S MEMORIES…

As seen in…

Gloria Pitzer’s Christmas Card Cook Book

(Gloria Pitzer’s Secret Recipes, St. Clair, MI; Dec. 1983, pp. 4-5)

Breaking through the barriers of tradition, we find a spirited acceptance of new family values. Occasions have replaced celebrations. Getting together has been replaced by BEING together! Good food, comfortable conversation [and] warm hospitality have become more important to the family circle than reverence without reason, tolerance without tact, relatives without relationships!

The lovely part about Christmas for us, was always being together – with our friends, our good and dear neighbors and our relatives; in a series of activities that began with Thanksgiving and tapered off around the new year. It was hectic, but it was also many happy reunions, mixed well with spontaneous visitations that, had they been a part of the ordinary activities of the rest of the year, would not mean so much now!

The food was simple, but ample. The food, I feel, should never be more important than the guests for whom it is prepared…All of these preparations are a part of Christmas – but, not the important part. The tokens only represent the real meaning – that of loving, of letting go of old grudges, of forgetting past hurts, of looking for something good (even though you don’t see it – until you do!)

Pitzer kids, group shot – Christmas Eve, 1969

LOVE, most philosophers conclude, is the highest level of thought. It is the logic of the heart. And no other season of the calendar year seems to reflect more of this feeling, this consolation to our woes, than the season of Christmas!

We reach out to others – and want them, in turn, to respond to us. Some of us do it with gifts that we buy or make and some of us do it with social gestures of food and hospitality. While all of these traditions are renewed at this particular time of the year, the critics complain and the cynics look for reasons to begrudge us the pleasure of loving the season, renewing the fellowship of it – with family, friends and neighbors.

But that’s not unusual and we shouldn’t be surprised by the criticisms that try to take some of the joy out of the holiday traditions we follow – or create for ourselves. There are always critics, unfortunately, for those occasions in our lives when we wish to be glad about something…

So, on with the celebration – whether we choose to keep it quietly in our own personal fashion of religious customs, or whether we choose to make it festive and pronounced with the traditions of gifts and food. The point is, we are celebrating the season of hope… It’s a time for loving – for expressing it [and] for offering it to others! How can something like that not be good!

Our own traditions have not been very elaborate in our family, during the Christmas season; but, the things we have always done to make the holiday more enjoyable, brought us pleasure. So, we have continued with them. Whether you choose to follow traditions or to create some of your own, the underlying meaning is still there to express joy and LOVE – that incredible, curious logic of the heart!

You really don’t need to be crafty to create a homemade holiday celebration with anything and everything from food to gifts to decorations. Barely more than a few decades ago, home computers were not a common thing – having a complete set of encyclopedias (in hard copy) was a must – we didn’t have the endless concepts, floating around the internet, like you have currently.

Nowadays, ideas and instructions for making just about anything and everything can be found on the world wide web by typing just a few key words into a search box. The knowledge of the world is, literally, at our finger tips! Pinterest is usually my first go-to-source for ideas and inspirations on the web, but I also like to use Bing, Google and YouTube, as well.

Illustration by Gloria Pitzer

My favorite inexpensive, homemade gift ideas use a Mason jar! Any size or style you choose, these jars are so versatile – and reusable too! They can be filled with dry mix ingredients and a recipe card for making/baking the product. They can be filled with natural elements (like pine sprigs, cinnamon, etc.) for potpourri that can be simmered in a pot of water on the stove. They can be filled with homemade soaps or salves – there are so many “how to” sites on the web, from which to gather many inspirations and instructions.

Pinterest is my favorite “search engine” for inspiration and ideas that I can’t find in my mom’s books, first. My own personal page at Pinterest, ldemerich(which I started years ago), can be seen at https://www.pinterest.com/ldemerich and has quite an eclectic collection of boards; while the OFFICIAL page of The Recipe DetectiveTM (which represents Mom, her last cookbook and her website) can be seen at https://www.pinterest.com/therecipedetective. Keep in mind – that page is still building up boards and is a continuous work in progress (WIP), as is this website, as well.

IN CLOSING…

#NationalPastryDay

P.S. Food-for-thought until we meet again, next Monday…

Gloria Pitzer’s Cookbook – The Best of the Recipe Detective is available for sale, at $20.99 each, through the publisher, Balboa Press, at https://www.balboapress.com/Bookstore/BookDetail.aspx?BookId=SKU-001062252; it’s also available in eBook form, for $3.99, at https://www.balboapress.com/Bookstore/BookDetail.aspx?BookId=SKU-001062253

Either form (or both) will make GREAT Christmas gifts!

Mondays & Memories of My Mom – Traditions

Happy Monday, belated! I apologize for missing my normal Monday deadline. I ran up north on Black Friday, with a couple of girlfriends, to see another girlfriend for an impromptu “Friends-giving” celebration. The weather forecast was calling for only a light dusting to an inch of snow but, of course, this is Michigan; and we ended up getting snowed in, with about 6-8 inches of snow and ice and no internet. But, now, let’s get on with this week’s blog…

I’m a lover of traditions. When I look back on my childhood, so many of my favorite memories involved our family’s holiday traditions. Mom and Dad succeeded at creating a lot of very special memories for me and my siblings. That’s why, after having children of my own, I always tried to carry on those traditions. We even added a few new ones over the years that have since continued.

Every year, world-wide, hundreds of millions of people commemorate the Christmas holiday in so many different ways. Christmas celebrations, traditions, customs and beliefs are incredibly diverse in America, alone, because we‘re a big melting-pot-nation; where numerous nationalities, and traditions thereof, can come together in harmony, melding multiple old traditions into new ones.

THE CHRISTMAS FEELING is basically a simple hope for peace and good will, no matter what other trappings we’ve attached to the occasion through the years since that single star lit up the sky over Bethlehem. No matter what other customs and traditions mankind has attached to Christmas or the celebration of it, the humble wish for ‘peace on Earth, good will towards men’ remains strong among those who thrive on hope and cherish what is good… – Gloria Pitzer, Gloria Pitzer’s Secret Recipes Newsletter (Gloria Pitzer’s Secret Recipes, St. Clair, MI; Nov-Dec 1990, Issue #147, p. 8)

According to Holiday Traditions of the United States…, while the tradition of “feasting” during the holidays is characteristic of all nations, with only the menus being different. We get many of our current combined traditions from our diverse ancestors who immigrated here from so many different countries, bringing their customs with them.

For example, as the article (mentioned above) explains, a lot of our Christmas carols came from England and Australia, whereas the decorated evergreens are a German influence. The man in the red suit that we know as Santa Claus (aka: St. Nicholas or St. Nick), originated in Scandinavia and his arrival down the chimney to fill stockings with fruit and nuts is reminiscent of the Netherlands. Additionally, Santa’s sleigh, being drawn by reindeer, began in Switzerland; and our annual holiday parades may have been inspired by the Latin processions.

Over the years, America’s influence has fattened up Scandinavia’s red-suited “jolly old St. Nicholas” and blended all the different traditions so that he magically came down everyone’s chimney on Christmas Eve, leaving gifts and stockings filled with treats. Additionally, he arrived and departed in a sleigh drawn by eight tiny reindeer – as in the classic holiday story, ‘Twas the Night before Christmas – then, later, a ninth reindeer, with a shiny red nose, was added.

‘If I give our children only one gift, it will be that I gave some practical sense of what is truly important at this time of year – not the gift, but the gathering of family and friends… Not the food, but the feeling of just being home… Never letting what we want be more important than what we need… Not complaining about [the] trivial… And always appreciating what we’ve already received before we can expect to receive more.’ – Gloria Pitzer, Gloria Pitzer’s Secret Recipes Newsletter (Gloria Pitzer’s Secret Recipes, St. Clair, MI; Nov-Dec 1990, Issue #147, p. 1)

Do you have a traditional Christmas Eve dinner and/or Christmas Day breakfast (or brunch)? As I was growing up, my family celebrated both, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. For years, now, my husband and I have been hosting a Christmas Day Brunch for our families. Offering up a Christmas toast with a glass of homemade eggnog (or some kind of festive drink), is another tradition that many follow during the holiday meal gatherings.

Mom and Santa 2016

Another holiday tradition that I continued from my parents’ influence, as they did from their parents, is mailing out season’s greeting cards to all of our family and friends, along with little notes on them. However, Mom almost always made our family’s holiday greeting cards and every year they were different and special, with news and highlights about our past year and hopes for the coming year; sometimes, adding a recipe.

FROM MOM’S MEMORIES…

As seen in…

Gloria Pitzer’s Christmas Card Cook Book (Gloria Pitzer’s Secret Recipes, St. Clair, MI; Dec. 1983, p. 3)

Sending Christmas cards has always been a favorite tradition in our house. In 28 years, we only sent store-bought cards twice. Every Christmas, other than that, we made our cards. That was the one important tradition we followed – and still do…

What usually happened was that we had every good intention of confining our list to those who really were important to us [and] who we rarely saw during the rest of the year… I like to put newsy little notes inside that would bring old friends up to date with what we had been doing since we sent them our last Christmas card.

…I am one of those annoying sentimentalists who will, too, read every word of the long, newsy Christmas letters and the page-by-page accounts of how our friends have been doing since the last Christmas.

I don’t know if fewer cards are being sent at Christmas since postage became so expensive – or if we simply don’t know that many people. The tradition, however, seems to be fading…

Hanukkah – Christmas, Illustration by Gloria Pitzer

December, and all the holidays within it, was probably Mom’s favorite time of every year. ‘Tis the season of Faith, Hope and Love! ’Tis the season of sentimentalists, as well. Mom said, in the memory above, ‘I am one of those annoying sentimentalists’… I don’t find it annoying to be a sentimentalist, as Mom wrote about (above) and I never have – but, then again, I’m in that sentimentalist club too! And what’s so wrong with being a sentimentalist? I think it’s a good thing to be affected and motivated by feelings of tenderness, sadness, happiness or nostalgia!

‘Every year at this time, we put our very best wishes together with some warm & worthy thoughts, and send them off to you, wrapped in sincere affection and the dearest hopes that this coming year gives you all you expect and derive from it.’ – Gloria Pitzer, Gloria Pitzer’s Secret RecipesTM Quarterly, Winter 94/95.

American Christmas Traditions, by Robin Bickerstaff Glover, (Updated 03/20/19) lists many of the same wonderful traditions that my family has followed for decades and does so, still. Besides sending out the annual Christmas cards, as I mentioned above, I remember, as a kid, helping Dad put together our artificial Christmas tree and then decorating it with Mom after Dad put the lights on the tree. It was always a family event, hanging the ornaments, candy canes and tinsel. We know a few families who traditionally go to a tree farm on Thanksgiving weekend to pick out a real Christmas tree.

Other decorations that our family put up included Mom’s Christmas village and our empty stockings that were magically filled on Christmas morning with fruit and candy and little trinkets, while the plate of cookies and carrots that we left out for Santa and his reindeer on Christmas Eve was always found empty on Christmas morning. A new tradition I want to start for my family is giving everyone a new ornament in their stocking each year.

A lot of my favorite Christmas decorations are simple, homemade items. Including my tree. I’ve always loved being kind of crafty, because I’ve never had a lot of money to spend on beautiful, store-bought decorations. Often, I’ve made my own wreaths and garland out of natural items from my backyard evergreens. I made my own artificial tree out of a large tomato cage and faux pine garland, with real pine cones, a string of lights and my ornament collection. When I don’t have ideas of my own, like the tree, Pinterest is one of my “go-to” sources for fresh ideas on decorations to make, myself. I also love walking through all the craft fairs for more ideas.

Initially inspired by Mom’s Christmas village, I started collecting my own village pieces over 30 years ago, when I was selling Home Interiors & Gifts. I’ve been collecting pieces from many different manufacturers, since then, and I love putting it all together every year – I’ve never set it up the same way twice, as I usually add a new building each year, along with a few new figurines and accessories. The village has grown quite large over the past 3 decades, with all the different styles, sizes and manufacturers. I need to trim it down to, at least, the styles and sizes that are most alike. I feel a yard sale is going to be necessary next spring!

As a child, growing up, and as an adult, with my own family, there were always many kinds of Christmas treats to make during the holidays such as cookies, fudge and a candy-covered gingerbread house, to name a few. I always loved helping to decorate the sugar cookies and gingerbread houses that Mom made every year, with all the different candies and frosting! My kids enjoyed that too and, now, my daughter, Tara, enjoys making holiday cookies and other treats with her son.

Photo by Gloria Pitzer (me and my Xmas Candy House)

Along with decorating the house for the eyes to enjoy, traditional Christmas songs were usually playing on the stereo to please the ears. In addition, Mom always had scents for the nose to enjoy as well. When she wasn’t cooking or baking, Mom often had a simmering pot of homemade potpourri on the stove to give off all the scents of the season.

To make sure your house smells like Christmas, follow this tip I love from DaringToLiveFully.com at https://daringtolivefully.com/christmas-traditions: “Place 4 to 6 cups of water in a pot on the stove. Add orange peels (from 1 or 2 oranges), 3 to 4 cinnamon sticks, 1 tablespoon of whole cloves and 1 tablespoon of vanilla extract. If you want to get fancy you can add cranberries and some ginger. Bring the contents to a boil and then reduce the heat so it is left to simmer.” I enjoy it because it’s very much like Mom’s homemade potpourri.

We usually attended at least one Christmas party a year that was geared towards the whole family, with great food, eggnog and punch. While the adults socialized, the kids would get to do some holiday crafts, sing Christmas carols, listen to someone read the classic story, ‘Twas the Night before Christmas, see Santa Claus and receive a special gift – early! We also drove through town, in the evening, to see all of the beautiful light displays. I think I enjoyed the Christmas parties and driving through town to see all the Christmas lights as much as a child as I did as a parent, taking my own children.

Photo by Gloria Pitzer

I followed a lot of the same traditions with my kids, when they were growing up, that my parents did with me and my siblings, plus some! Another tradition I enjoyed as much as a child as I did as a parent was when we’d eat popcorn and watch the old classic, holiday movies like “Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” “Frosty the Snowman,” “It’s a Wonderful Life” and “Miracle on 34th Street”; plus, the newer classics (with my own kids) like “Home Alone,” “The Santa Clause” and “The Grinch Who Stole Christmas”. We also would string some of that popcorn to hang on the Christmas tree like garland.

Shopping is known to be a tradition for many people, but not one we really followed. A lot of families will spend their entire Thanksgiving holiday, camping out at some toy or electronic-type store to get the BIG Black Friday deals. Although, many see it as their family tradition, others believe that the holiday season has become too commercialized. The original, unselfish tradition of just GIVING has seemingly disappeared.

Nevertheless, we always hear about the many wonderful stories of “Secret Santas”, who paid-off peoples’ layaway-purchases or paid for someone else’s meal, while in line at a fast food place. Other stories often tell of someone, at a sit-down-style restaurant, having given their waiter/waitress a really big tip for the holidays. Start the ball rolling on a “Pay-It-Forward” chain, yourself, and help spread some holiday cheer in your town.

Some older traditions seem to have fallen to the wayside with the newer generations, like dressing up for the holiday. I remember Mom making all of us girls matching outfits for the holidays or other special event (like a wedding). After all, you know there are going to be photos taken and, possibly, a video recording made. Why wouldn’t you want to look your best?

Photo by Gloria Pitzer

No matter what your favorite Christmas tradition is, the most important thing to keep in mind this season is to simply MAKE MEMORIES with those you love – ones that will be cherished for years to come! Copy and celebrate some old traditions and continue creating at least one new traditions each year to share with your family and friends. Wikipedia.org says that imitation is a form of social learning that leads to the development of traditions.

Who hasn’t made new family traditions for coming generations to copy and embrace? Just think about it, at some point, all of those old traditions were, once, new traditions that were so enjoyed they were, thus, passed on to future generations and continue to be so. Last year, I started a cookie exchange tradition with my girlfriends. I hope we can do it again in a couple of weeks or so.

As for me and my husband, our families’ gift exchanges have changed over the years. The old tradition focused more on the gifts and knowing exactly what the recipient wanted, while our new tradition of turning the exchange into a game focuses more on having fun and spending time together. In the end, years from now, the fun is probably what we’ll remember most when we share our memories of “Christmas Past”; not what we gave or received as gifts.

IN CLOSING…

To kick off the holidays, enjoy Mom’s homemade Kahlua-style liquor. Keep in mind, this isn’t something you can make and serve right away. Plan ahead because this needs to “sit” for at least 2 weeks before serving – but it’s so worth the wait!

Border artwork by Gloria Pitzer

Gloria Pitzer’s Cookbook – The Best of the Recipe Detective is available for sale, at $20.99 each, through the publisher, Balboa Press, at https://www.balboapress.com/Bookstore/BookDetail.aspx?BookId=SKU-001062252; it’s also available in eBook form, for $3.99, at https://www.balboapress.com/Bookstore/BookDetail.aspx?BookId=SKU-001062253

1983 – Gloria Pitzer’s Christmas Card Cook Book

1983 (Dec) – Gloria Pitzer’s Christmas Card Cook Book

1983 – Gloria Pitzer’s Christmas Card Cook Book was a limited edition that was written, illustrated and published by Gloria Pitzer (Gloria Pitzer’s Secret Recipes, St. Clair, MI). NO LONGER IN PRINT – this little recipe booklet had a 22-page, 5.5″ x 8.5″ format filled with interesting customs and history tidbits about the Hanukkah and Christmas holidays, humorous readings and 36 recipes. Perfect for gift-giving and stocking stuffers, these booklets sold for $2 per copy.

Fun Facts:

  • Sub-Titles: “Food for Thought and Thoughts on Food”
  • Printings: 1
  • Years: Dec 1983
  • Recipes: 36
  • Pages: 22
  • Size: 5.5″ x 8.5″
  • Original Price: $2.00
  • Used copies on eBay: none found
  • Used copies on Amazon: none found
  • ISBN: unknown
  • NO LONGER IN PRINT