Christmas 1974We had so many Christmas traditions when I was a kid. And–this probably won’t come as a shock–quite a few had to do with food.

Popcorn Balls – Mom would make popper after popper of corn and load it into a huge bowl. (It might not have been that huge, but I was a kid. It looked REALLY big.) Then she’d make the hot, sweet syrup and pour it over the popcorn. Then she and Dad would butter their hands and form balls. I tried to help, but it was always too hot for me. Once those balls of deliciousness had cooled we’d gnaw away.

Sugar Cookies – Mom would make the dough, roll it out, and bake Santas, reindeer, bells, Christmas trees, gingerbread men, and more. We always begged for bits of raw dough, which were somehow tastier than baked cookies. Then Mom would mix up mugs of frosting in red, green, yellow, blue, and white. And here’s the crazy part–she turned us loose to decorate those cookies. We got to load up the first one and eat it, then it was all business.

Penuche – I don’t know why we called peanut butter fudge by such a funny name, but it was my dad’s favorite. And he liked his a little grainy. This recipe is similar to what Mom made:

2 cups granulated sugar
2 cups brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup whole milk
1 tablespoon light corn syrup
1/2 cup smooth peanut butter
1 teaspoon vanilla

Mix sugars, milk, corn syrup and salt in a heavy pan. Cook and stir continuously over medium heat until sugar dissolves and mixture begins to bubble. Reduce heat and cook until a candy thermometer reads 234F, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat and add peanut butter. Let it cool for five minutes or so, then add the vanilla and beat until the mixture loses its gloss. Pour into a biscuit pan and cool completely before cutting into squares.

Hmmm. Funny how my kid food memories are all around sugar. But as an adult, I can appreciate that those memories are so very sweet because Mom & Dad made them all about family. And now, when I crave a frosted Santa cookie, I think maybe it’s not sugar I want so much as the connection to the people who surrounded me with love in those growing up years. Because there’s nothing more delicious than that.