Thanksgiving may be the biggest food holiday of the year, but Christmas is a food holi-month.
I remember when I was a kid and my mom would start her Christmas baking sometime around Halloween. Thank goodness we had a gigantic chest freezer in the basement for her to put all the goodies in. Of course, she'd already cleared it out of non-essentials like meat, bread and vegetables in order to make room for the sweets to come.
Mom would get our dad into the act by having him help her husk and shell the black walnuts that she'd get from our neighbor's tree in September. She used a lot of black walnuts in her baking, so this was a lengthy and messy task. Black walnuts leave a dark stain on everything they touch and, even with gloves, my parents hands would often be a dark mahogany for weeks.
Once all the preparations were made, each day mom would start her baking the minute my sister and I left for school and not stop until we came through the door in the afternoon. This went on for what seemed like weeks. She made fruitcakes, hundreds of cookies, and pounds of fudge (at least eight kinds).
One of the must-haves every year was lefse, which is best described as a Norwegian potato tortilla. My mom's first husband was Norwegian, so my older brother and sister have this as part of their heritage, but even my Irish-German sister and I couldn't pass up this treat. There was nothing better than mom's fresh lefse slathered with butter, sprinkled with sugar and rolled up to eat.
My brother's two kids even called mom "Grandma Lefse". Since mom is not here to make it anymore, as a present for my brother this year, I ordered lefse from a place in Minnesota to be express mailed to him in Colorado.
It also just wasn't Christmas without the sweetest, gooiest cookies I've ever had. They were a no-bake cookie made of frosted flakes cereal covered in a chocolate sauce and then left to harden. They would get so sticky and chewy that I was afraid I'd lose a tooth in one. I don't know where mom got the recipe, but we called them Crackle Cookies and I've never known anyone else who made them.
After I moved to California, my mom would send a box of homemade goodies to my office early every December, even if I was going back home for the holidays. My coworkers couldn't wait for the package to arrive and I suddenly became very popular when the trays appeared.
I don't make sweets very often. I always say that I don't have the time, but it's more that we don't allow our kids to have the massive amounts of sugar that we consumed when we were young. At this time of year, though, I do wonder what food memories and traditions my kids will have when they grow up.
Maybe I should go make a little pan of fudge.
SHARON RAGHAVACHARY is on the steering committee for Crescenta Valley Community Assn. and a member of the Family Advisory Council for Childrens Hospital Los Angeles. She may be reached at email@example.com.