By Chef Carole Murko, Heirloom Meals
Christmas season was all about the baking when I grew up. My most vivid memory, however, is not the actual baking—it’s of Nana’s hospitality table.
Each December the old wooden round folding table with a quilted top made its way out of the attic and into the dining room. My nana would adorn the table with a green wool felt cloth that she made.
She prepared her tiered stand with lace-cut doilies and a tray of cordials. Underneath the table was tin upon tin of cookies. The largest tin was piled high with our famous sugar cookies and other tins were filled with so many different cookies from fruitcake cookies to chocolate-dipped almond fingers.
My brother, sister and I would sneak in and “steal” a cookie from the tin whenever we thought the coast was clear. I am sure this brought pure joy to Nana and Mom, who knew we were filching the cookies. But what was best about the hospitality table is it was a beacon for visitors.
Family and friends would drop in and out came the cookies into the tiered stand, the coffee percolated on the stove and the cordials were poured.
Better yet: Not only did we give cookies, we received them, too. My godmother, Aunt Frances, brought her Torrone Nougat; Cousin Ruthie, her Divine Nut Cups. Best of all: Recipes were exchanged.
Among my favorite of the sweets were the cream puffs. My mom took pride in those. She was (and still is) a baking perfectionist. She knew exactly how the batter should be, how big to make them and when to add just the right amount of cream. When I got old enough to help, I spooned the cream into the puffs and arranged them on a serving plate when the guests arrived.
My mom then showed us how to make a cream puff tree using simple sugar as the “glue.” This cream puff tree was a delight to our eyes. We could pluck off a cream puff with some candy attached to it and enjoy to our heart’s content.
My mom adapted her filling recipe somewhere along the way to use instant pudding and whipped cream. I have observed that the industrialized convenience foods were quite alluring to my mom and nana’s generation as these new foods offered some liberation! Fortunately, we have all come back to the old recipe and tossed aside the time-saving “notes” my mom had added to it.