We grew up hacking down a grand pine tree in the woods at my grandparent’s house, schlepping it back to their house, and adorning the branches with glitter-coated stars and peaceful doves; the decorations of Jews who have Christmas trees. Why did we have a tree? The answer is simple and not. Simply, the trees are pretty, the holiday brought everyone together with colorful paper chains, cranberries strung next to popcorn, and stockings. Fun. And not so simply, my dad’s parents grew up with immigrant parents who thought Christmas to be an American holiday and come hell or high water, they would be Americans! So Christmas it was in their little communist Jewish enclave. And on my mother’s side, there was nothing. No menorah and no stockings. Sad and not fun at all. So my mother made the holiday festive with tiny Swedish angels who rang bells and a funny bear in a sled and brightly wrapped gifts and a smoked salmon breakfast.
Then we moved to England and all traditions went into the blender. Midnight mass? Ok. Running from church service to latke party with my teenage friends? Yes!
Throw in some arcane bishops, a few delightfully drunken dinners, and there you have it. Do I miss the wackiness? Not really.
But as we prepare for Chanukah here, I think of England. Of my oldest friend, Jules, and our hilarious holiday feasts, the carefree yet lovelorn days of yore and yule. And I remember cooking with her. So today, after posting her holiday parcel, I went home and made an old tradition: Eton Mess.
Now, this is traditionally served by crumbling up meringue cookies or nests. However, tradition can go up the chimney on this one. My new bloggy friend, Celia, reminded me how much I adore pavlova, a pudding served traditionally in the summer in the UK. And what I like most about it is the crunchy outside matched with the chewy, sugary interior.
So I thought…Eton Mess but with raspberries not strawberries and made with pavlova…and my Grandma Ruth’s custard recipe but with vanilla…and red berries and…the kids and my husband (no berries on his) loved it so much they have asked to have it every year.
Well, that’s how jumbled pasts and puddings and ideas turn into tradition.
*If you feel like more tradition…on December 20th check out the new PBS special Lidia Celebrates America: Holiday Tables and Traditions in which chef Lidia Bastianich whips up well-loved holiday dishes with some famous friends (actors Stanley Tucci and Mo Rocca, food writer Ruth Reichl, to name a few).
You can sneak a peek here: