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Cooking up a special Christmas
1216 echoes
An apple wreath makes a lovely natural decoration. - photo by Photo provided

Times were financially bad in years gone by at Christmas for many of the families in our area. Our ancestors all had enough to eat and made a Merry Christmas by making gifts.

Women sewed and made nightgowns, bonnets or aprons for their relatives. Some crocheted lovely doilies or centerpieces for their tables. A crocheted afghan was a special treat. Men made items from wood. A child might get their own chair, a handmade box for jewelry or any number of ingenious items that would be very useful crafted by a caring parent. Fruit and candy in the stocking on the mantel were a special rare treat.

Some of our people today are having hard times and can go back to days gone by, making their Christmas special using their own hands and crafting skills.

Decorations were simple, too. The tree came from the nearby woodlands. It could be cedar, pine or holly. Holly with berries, cedar and pine made for fragrant beautiful decorations.  The item shown is two plywood half circles painted green with nails spiked upward to secure the apples. The circles can be placed together to form a wreath or used in half circles as centerpieces on a table.

The greenery around the apples is natural holly. These decorations would last during the holidays.

So many families have special recipes. As covered in years gone by, special foods for Christmas include: ambrosia, oysters, coconut, candied fruit in fruitcake, egg nog, pecan pies, fresh pork and sausage, homemade candy and cookies and lots more. Each family has its own traditions.

One thing we always have is a nut cake. Perhaps a reflection of the abundance of the fall delicacy that was available, or a sign of what lies in the family? My recipe accompanies this column. Be sure to roast the pecans with nothing added at 200 degrees for one hour stirring every 15 minutes to bring out the best flavor of the nut.  

Susan’s Nut Cake
8 oz. cream cheese softened to room temperature
2 sticks of butter softened to room temperature
1 stick of margarine softened to room temperature
2 1/2 cups of sugar
6 eggs at room temperature
2 teaspoons pure vanilla flavoring (Watkins or a Mexican vanilla)
3 cups plain flour
2 cups coarsely chopped roasted pecans

Preheat oven to 320 degrees. Cream first three ingredients, and then add the sugar slowly until mixture is light and fluffy. Add eggs slowly one at a time. Add vanilla and beat.  Gradually add flour. Fold in the nuts and place batter in a greased and floured tube pan.  Bake for 1 hour and 20 minutes or until a straw comes out clean and it begins to leave the edge of the pan. Cool on a wire rack.

My aunt always made homemade cranberry salad that we shared. It came with a rich dressing she prepared. The dressing was a specialty item of the Regency Restaurant in Savannah that used to be near the Civic Center.  I remember meeting her there for lunch and she somehow got their recipe. 

Aunt Becca’s Cranberry Salad
2 pkgs. Red Jello (Cranberry, Cherry or Strawberry)
2 cups fresh cranberries
1 orange
1 small can crushed pineapple
1 cup sugar
1 cup chopped pecans
2 cups boiling water

Dissolve Jello in water. Grind or chop the cranberries and whole orange with peel. Add sugar, pineapple and nuts to berry mixture and allow sugar to dissolve and add to cooled Jello mixture.  Pour into mold or flat glass casserole. Refrigerate. This will keep indefinitely. Serve with following dressing.

Regency Room Orange Nut Dressing
8 ounces softened cream cheese
1/2 cup of frozen orange juice concentrate thawed
1/2 cups finely chopped pecans
1/8 teaspoon salt
2 1/2 teaspoons sugar
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
Mayonnaise to achieve a spreading consistency

Cream all ingredients in mixer or food processor adding enough mayonnaise to spread easily. Store the mixture in an airtight container in the refrigerator until ready to use. With the addition of confectioner’s sugar, this can become frosting for cakes or sweet rolls.

The beautiful fresh cranberry salad will find a welcome place at your table for Christmas.  A slice of nut cake with a cup of coffee or some eggnog is a real holiday treat for friends or family dropping by or after the big Christmas meal.

Getting back to homemade simple natural decorations and home cooked desserts is a good way to have a more economical and special Christmas. Historic Effingham hopes you keep Christ in Christmas and enjoy your loved ones in the special days ahead.  

This was written by Susan Exley of Historic Effingham Society. If you have photos, comments or information to share, contact Susan Exley at 754-6681 or email her at: