Gingerbread HousesPhoto Credit : Illustration by Julia Emiliani
For many Italian-Americans, it wouldn’t be Christmas Eve without an epic seafood feast of salt cod, shrimp, squid, clams, mussels, and other oceanic delicacies. In Italy, it’s common for Catholics to eschew meat the night before Christmas, but the tradition of serving seven seafood species is considered an Italian-American creation (the number seven signifying the number of Catholic sacraments, the days of creation, and the seven virtues and deadly sins). Many Italian restaurants serve these feasts around Christmas, and this year Mare Oyster Bar in Boston’s North End will offer fish such as branzino, salmon, oysters, and calamari over six prix fixe courses on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.
The gingerbread house tradition began in 19th-century Germany, after which immigrants brought the lebkuchenhaus to America. Take in the wonder of modern-day cookie constructions at the Gingerbread House Festival at Wood Memorial Library in South Windsor, Connecticut (11/26–12/19), where gingerbread houses range from professional-grade village-scapes to little graham cracker cottages stuck together with oozy icing by festive 5-year-olds.
Drugstore candy canes are fine, but hand-pulled confections from such makers as New Hampshire’s Nelson’s Candy and Musicand Vermont’s Laughing Moon Chocolateselevate this everyday sweet into a giftable creation. The hard candy mixture is folded, pulled, layered, and twisted, resulting in translucent layers of red and white that gleam like stained glass windows and taste as fresh as a December morning.
The seasonal arrival of eggnog in stores puts Bing Crosby on a happy loop in our heads. You can go commercial (Hoodmakes several tasty variations, including pumpkin spice); small-batch (we’re partial to Connecticut’s Arethusa Farm); or even homemade eggnog. Just be sure to drink up!
In 1969, Mary Bevilacqua and Laurel Gabel of Wellesley, Massachusetts, gathered a small group of friends in a living room to exchange cookies potluck-style. Today, three generations of Mary’s family share duties in hosting the famous Wellesley Cookie Exchange, which has spawned several Yankee articles and a cookbook. In turn, countless others have adopted the tradition for themselves. Bake up some of Yankee’s favorite Christmas cookie recipes (including some original Wellesley favorites) this holiday season.
Many Latin American and Caribbean cultures serve variations on Christmas pasteles, which are similar to tamales, but filled with different ingredients and wrapped in banana leaves rather than corn husks. And since about five percent of New Englanders have Puerto Rican ancestry, the region is rich in restaurants that make this delicious and time-intensive holiday staple. At Mana Escondido Café in Boston’s South End, owner Angel Carrasquillo makes pasteles from late October into early January. Fillings range from pork and chicken to vegetarian options. “People just love them,” he says. “If I didn’t have them, they’d be upset.”
Even if British-style puddings aren’t in your repertoire, you may remember the scene in A Christmas Carol when Mrs. Cratchit enters “flushed, but smiling proudly,” bearing a plum pudding “like a speckled cannonball” blazing with ignited brandy and crowned with Christmas holly. It takes a lot of work to get this holiday delicacy right—luckily, The English Cousinsof Middletown, Rhode Island, will do all the requisite soaking and steaming for you. Based on a 1910 family recipe, their puddings are loaded with fruit, molasses, and butter; soaked in rum; and coated in icing. Better yet: They deliver.
Eating foods fried in oil—specifically the thin, crispy pancakes known as latkes—has long been central to the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah. But it wasn’t until potatoes made their way from South America to Europe a few hundred years ago that the form met its apotheosis. We love the latkes served at Mamaleh’s Deliin Cambridge and Brookline, Massachusetts, and at Rose Foodsin Portland, Maine. Or you can make your own homemade latkes.