This is the second part of a two-part post on Winter Holiday Foodways and Cookbooks, co-written with Monica Berger, our Instruction and Scholarly Communications Librarian. The first part of the blog is here.
For those who love sweets, the winter holidays are a highly anticipated time of year! This is the season when many special desserts are made by diverse cultures to celebrate their holidays.
Hanukkah, the Jewish Festival of Lights, memorializes a miracle during the Jewish rebellion against the Greeks, where the Jews were able to regain the ancient city of Jerusalem, and restore their desecrated Temple in Jerusalem. The miracle was that the oil for the menorah in the Temple, only enough for one night, lasted eight days and nights. To honor the sacred oil, for generations the theme surrounding Hanukkah cuisine has been deep fried foods, including delicious desserts. In Israel, the most popular holiday treat is sufganiyah which translates to doughnut in English. It is a specialty item for the holiday because it’s sweet and deep fried, sold exclusively around the holiday season. Sufganiyot (the plural of sufganiyah in Hebrew) originated in Europe. Jalebi, a treat enjoyed by Iraqi Jews, is basically a funnel cake, made out of a flour-based dough then deep fried and soaked in a sugar syrup. One exception to fried desserts is rugelach, an Eastern European pastry, which are crescent-shaped dough cookies filled with fruit preserves, poppy seeds, or chocolate and nuts. Hanukkah Sweets and Treats is a kid-friendly introduction to making these and more. The Kosher Baker is an excellent resource for dairy-free desserts.
Kwanzaa is an African-American festival that lasts from December 26 through January 1. Its purpose is to celebrate African-American family and community, while honoring African ancestors and culture. The holiday is based on seven guiding principles, one for each day of the observance: unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity, and faith. Celebrations begin by lighting candles, giving gifts, and decorating with the African colors of red, green, and black. Throughout the week, favorite African-American dishes, as well as traditional African and Caribbean favorites, are on many menus. On December 31, the holiday culminates in a feast called Karamu. Desserts might include soul food favorites like Sweet Potato Pie, Peach Cobbler, or Caramel Cake. Global Bakery has recipes for delicious cakes from Africa and the Caribbean perfect for Kwanzaa, including Ginger Cake, Rum Cake, and Semolina Cake. A wonderful book on African-American foodways is Vibration Cooking: Or, the Travel Notes of a Geechee Girl by Vertamae Smart-Grosveno. It is a cookbook/memoir reflecting on food as a source of pride and validation of Black womanhood, and it inspired filmmaker Julie Dash to make Daughters of the Dust.
Christmas: There are many special treats identified with Christmas, such as German Stollen, Spanish Turrón, French Bûche de Noël, and Italian Panettone and Struffoli. The United States is best known for its varied Christmas cookies that reflect America’s immigrant heritages. City Tech Professor Michael Krondl is a food writer and culinary historian. He is also the author of Sweet Invention: A History of Dessert. You can listen to his recent interview on The Takeaway about the history of Christmas cookies. His story starts in the Middle Ages, when honey and spices were very expensive and reserved for the most special festivities. Because of their precious ingredients, people started making and giving cookies as gifts during the medieval Christmas season. For your own holiday cookie baking, take a look at The Great Minnesota Cookie Book : Award-Winning Recipes from the Star Tribune’s Holiday Cookie Contest.