Tastes of Christmas

Candy Cane Peeps! What’s that about?

We found them in the grocery store this week, little white marshmallow chicks, with red flecks of red peppermint. Beside the first box was a slightly more expensive set. I wondered why the extra cost until I saw the bottom of the chicks had been dipped in chocolate.

I have gone through life knowing Peeps are yellow and come for Easter, to be stashed on top of the refrigerator, at the back where they are not easily reached, until they are discovered sometime in late summer, dried to a perfect chewiness. It will not be long, I suppose, until they bear a label proclaiming new Peeps to be “Perfectly Chewy.”

But they did tickle my memories of other Christmas treats.

A friend’s missus, for instance, makes “kropin” at Christmas. I do not guarantee the spelling, but I do guarantee the palatable pleasure of those balls of German sweet dough, like donut holes of my youth. deep fried and rolled in granulated sugar.

“My great-grandfather came from Germany,” she told me, “and my grandmother made it.”

Every year I find an excuse to drop by, and she sends me home with a small bag of the tasty little globules.

Another friend posted about a similar treat, from southern Italy. Sal, who, by blood, hails from that region, described the confection as a traditional Neapolitan sweet dish called Struffoli. They are marble-size balls of pastry, deep-fried to be crunchy outside and light inside, they are coated with honey, multi-colored sprinkles, orange rind and other sweet stuff, and piled high on a plate, like hundreds of mini cannon balls.

One might think the cannon ball metaphor appropriate for a diabetic, but I’ve checked. Italians’ life expectancy is about 84. In the U.S., it is only 79, which proves honey is, indeed, good for what ails you.

A Christmas confection that holds a special place in my salivary storage are stuffed dates. Mom’s were stuffed with a hard creamy, concoction of butter and powdered sugar, a little vanilla and sometimes topped with a walnut half or almond sliver. I wish I had asked her how to make the stuffing, but I can taste them even now.

As a kid, I often went along with Mom to visit her best friend, Jenny Pratt, where there always were lots of National Geographic magazines (a story for another telling) and, at Christmas, a supply of ribbon candy. The hard candy strips lay accordion-pleated in their box, like real ribbon of varying thicknesses, and colors.

There were other goodies of the season. High on the list was mincemeat pie, which had real venison in it, except when it didn’t; then Mother substituted lard and green tomatoes. I remember her being insistent on particular ingredients, and when she was done it was my favorite – far above apple, and I love apple pie – piled high with apple slices, sprinkled liberally with cinnamon and baked to a golden brown – which seems a cliché until one has seen, smelled and savored the real thing. But mincemeat was always my favorite, even without venison.

I love food. Anyone can take a quick look at the results and see that. But most of all, I love to sit with friends or family – or both – and enjoy good company over good food. I’ve tasted menus of many cultures and find myself unable to pick a favorite. And I’ve met many wonderful people sitting across tables of favorite dishes

And lots of good sweetness – but no Candy Cane Peeps at Christmas. That’s just wrong.

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