Holiday Traditions – Stories, Recipes, and Fun!

Family Traditions

Raising a large family is a lot of work, but it’s also a lot of fun—especially when the holidays come along! But whether you are a big family, a small family, or even a group of good friends, it’s wonderful to start traditions that will bind you together with memories of good food and good times for years to come.

Our holiday traditions have grown and evolved as our family dynamics changed from having all our children at home under one roof to being “empty-nesters” with our adult children returning home for the holidays as often as they can, along with our precious grandchildren. The following are some of our favorite Christmas and Thanksgiving traditions along with the recipes for some of our favorite foods...

Christmas Caroling

We received our first loaf of pumpkin bread from friendly next-door neighbors when we first moved to Canyon Country, California in 1974.  We used their delicious recipe and have been baking pumpkin bread and giving it away ever since as gifts at Christmas time to family, friends, neighbors, church acquaintances, school teachers, and our children’s coaches.

Our family tradition was to go caroling to some of our friends and neighbors and leave a small loaf of pumpkin bread. One year when we were living in Londonderry, New Hampshire, we went to our teenagers’ choir teacher’s house. She graciously thanked us for the pumpkin bread and then brought out a beautiful little basket filled with holiday candy and asked if we would like to have some. My youngest daughter, who had been the one to hand her our loaf of pumpkin bread, quickly said, “Yes!”

Instead of just taking one piece of candy out of the basket, she took the whole basket of candy and quickly started walking towards our car. (I guess in her mind, exchanging a basket full of candy for a loaf of pumpkin bread was a fair trade!) I hurriedly tried to stop her and return the basket of candy, but the sweet woman just laughed and said, “Let her keep it!”

I saved that basket with all our other Christmas decorations, and each Christmas when I take it out, I reflect on the joys of caroling with our family and all the fun, happy Christmas traditions we have shared with our family and friends over the years.

Pumpkin Bread Recipe

  • Combine 6 C. sugar, 2 C. Canola oil, and 8 eggs
  • Beat till light and fluffy
  • Add 4 C. pumpkin (1 large can or 2 small cans) and mix well
  • Stir together 4 t. baking powder, 2 t. baking soda, 4 t. salt, 1 t. cloves, 2 t. nutmeg, 2 t. cinnamon, and 2 t. allspice in a small bowl and add to pumpkin mixture
  • Gradually add 7 cups flour
  • Add 1 1/3 C. water
  • Mix well
  • Optional: Add 1-2 C. each of raisins and/or chopped walnuts

Pour into well-oiled pans (I like to use Pam Spray.) Bake at 350 degrees for about 1 hour. (This double recipe makes 6 large loaves or 12 mini loaves. The mini loaves bake faster—about 45 minutes.)

 Decorating Sugar Cookies

When we lived in Salinas, California, we were friends with a young family whose oldest daughter was the same age as our youngest daughter. When we were invited to their house to make sugar cookies before Christmas, I was hesitant to participate because making sugar cookies had always been a disaster for me. However, I learned that there is an art to making good sugar cookies, and it begins with having a great recipe, which we learned from this wonderful family!

Tara’s Sugar Cookie Recipe
(We think these are the best sugar cookies ever!)

  • Beat ½ C. (1 cube) butter very well
  • Add 1 C. sugar slowly until light and fluffy
  • Stir in 2 well-beaten egg yolks and 1 t. vanilla
  • Add 2 T. heavy whipping cream and beat well
  • Stir (or sift) together 1 ¾ C. flour, ½ t. salt and 1 t. baking powder and add to other ingredients
  • Mix only until flour is blended in (over-mixing makes the cookies hard instead of soft!)
  • Chill for 1 hour (or if you’re in a hurry, put it in the freezer for about 15 minutes!)
  • Divide the dough in half and keep one-half in the refrigerator while you cut out your first batch of cookies
  • Roll dough out on a cutting board covered with flour
  • Cut into shapes with cookie cutters
  • Lift cookies up carefully with a spatula and put them on a lightly oiled cookie sheet
  • Tip: I take the leftover scraps of cookie dough and roll them together and make little balls of dough that turn into little round cookies after they are baked

Bake at 350 degrees for about 10 minutes (only until cookies are barely brown around the edges.) Sprinkle cookie dough with sugar before baking or bake cookies plain and frost them when cool.

Powdered Sugar Frosting Recipe

  • Mix 1 lb. powdered sugar and ½ C. butter together very well
  • Add 1 t. vanilla and 3 T. milk
  • Beat until smooth
  • If frosting is too stiff, beat in a little more milk, one teaspoon at a time, until the frosting is the right consistency for spreading on cookies
  • Tip: You can divide the frosting into several small bowls and add a few drops of food coloring to each bowl for decorating the cookies, along with using a variety of colorful sprinkles!

Delicious Dinner Rolls

I love to make dinner rolls and serve them hot out of the oven with butter and honey. I make them for special occasions and also for serving with simple meals of beef stew, chili, or even “leftovers” at times. Sometimes I make them with whole wheat flour and honey instead of white flour and sugar when I want something healthier to eat.

At Thanksgiving time, I recruit my children and grandchildren to help me make rolls. They always initially ask, “How do I make rolls?”

I say, “It’s easy. It’s like playing with Playdough, except you can eat a little bit if you want! Just put a little bit of oil on the palms of your hands, grab a piece of dough, and roll it between your hands until it’s a nice, smooth round ball. Then drop it into the pan.”

Basic Roll Dough Recipe

  • Mix together 2 T. yeast, 2 C. flour, and 4 T. sugar* in mixing bowl (I use a Bosche bread mixer with the dough hook to make my dough)
  • Add 1 ½ C. lukewarm water and 1 well beaten egg
  • Mix for 2 minutes then add 2 T. salad oil
  • Mix for 2 minutes then sprinkle in 2 t. salt
  • Slowly add 2 to 3 cups more flour until bread dough pulls away from side of bowl (amount of flour depends on altitude and whatever else might be happening with the weather—who knows!)
  • Mix dough for about 10 minutes, then cover with a dish towel and let it rise for about 30 minutes until the dough is double in size
  • Punch the dough down and then make into rolls
  • Let rise again to about double in size and then bake at 350 degrees for about 15 minutes.

*Dinner rolls—use 4 T. Sugar (makes 12 dinner rolls)
*Cinnamon rolls—use 6 T. Sugar (makes 12 cinnamon rolls)
*Pizza dough—use 2 T. sugar (makes 2 large pizzas)

This recipe is adapted from a 1949 Searchlight Recipe Book for a “Swedish Tea Ring.”

    Imperfect Pies

    We make homemade pies for Thanksgiving. Lots and lots of pies! They may not always look "perfect," but they are always delicious! This tradition was started when one of my sisters-in-law was asked to bring a few pies for our Thanksgiving dinner in Boise, Idaho. She brought at least twenty pies—all different kinds of pies—and my children insisted that this was how we were going to celebrate Thanksgiving in the future! I agreed, and I taught all my children how to make pies—including the crust!

    Everyone in the family makes their favorite pie—and our Thanksgiving dinner guests are also invited to participate! We try to make most of our pies the day before Thanksgiving, but some pies are still being baked while we eat dinner! Tradition has it that all the guys make apple pie because they can peel the apples while they are watching football on television at the same time! (The guys also peel all the potatoes!)

    We usually start eating pie about an hour or so after our Thanksgiving feast, and it continues all evening. We also eat pie for breakfast the next morning—a tradition I started because I LOVE pie, and I don’t feel like cooking the next day!

    My husband David always made the pumpkin pies with our youngest children. When our youngest children began making their own pies, our grandchildren started making pumpkin pie with “Papa” at Thanksgiving time! He simply follows the recipe on the back of the Libby Pumpkin can, and it’s always great! We serve it with homemade whipped cream.

    Pumpkin Pie Recipe

    • Mix ¾ C. sugar, ½ t. salt, 1 t. ground cinnamon
    • ½ t. ground ginger and ½ t. ground cloves in a small bowl
    • Beat 2 large eggs in big mixing bowl
    • Stir in 1 can (15 oz.) pumpkin and sugar-spice mixture
    • Gradually stir in 1 can (12 fl. oz.) evaporated milk
    • Pour into 1 unbaked 9” deep dish pie shell
    • Bake in preheated oven at 425 degrees for 15 minutes
    • Reduce temperature to 350 degrees; bake for 40-50 minutes or until knife inserted near center comes out clean
    • Cool on wire rack for 2 hours. Serve immediately or refrigerate.

    Libby’s 100% Pure Pumpkin—Recipe on back of the can—Enough for 1 pie

    Homemade Whipped Cream Recipe

    • Chill mixing bowl and beaters in freezer for about 10 minutes
    • Pour 2 C. (1 pint) heavy whipping cream into bowl
    • Beat on highest speed until soft peaks form. (I like to put my bowl in the sink because the cream usually splashes outside the bowl and makes a mess - until it begins to thicken.)
    • Add 2 T. sugar and ½ t. vanilla
    • Beat until stiff peaks form. (do NOT over-beat or it will turn into butter!)

    This is a recipe I got from my Aunt Ann when I was a teenager. She said that she only put a little bit of sugar in her whipped cream because she wanted to taste the cream, not the sugar. I agree with my aunt! I sometimes use 1 T. of honey instead of 2 T. of sugar for sugar-free whipped cream.

    Perfect Apple Pie Recipe

    • Prepare 8 tart apples, peeled, cored and thinly sliced
    • Mix together ¾ C. sugar, 2 T. flour, 2 t. cinnamon, and ¼ t. ground nutmeg
    • Stir sugar mixture into apple slices until apples are well coated
    • Pour into pastry shell and add butter
    • Put on the top crust and flute the edges or use a “Crumb Topping” or make a lattice top for your pie

    This recipe was adapted from the 1972 Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook

    Flour & Oil Pastry Crust Recipe

    This recipe is so easy, and the crust is light and flaky!

    • Mix together 2 C. flour and 1 ½ t. salt in a small bowl
    • Pour in ½ C. Canola oil and gently stir with fork
    • Gently stir in enough water to make the flour mixture moist and form two small balls. (Don’t over-stir the dough or the pie crust will be hard and stiff!)
    • Roll out each ball with a rolling pin in between two 12-inch squares of wax paper
    • Carefully peel off the top layer of wax paper, put your hand under the bottom layer of wax paper, and then carefully flip the pie crust over into the pie pan
    • Carefully remove the wax paper
    • Arrange the crust in the pan and flute (or pinch) the edges of your pie as you desire
    • Tip: For a baked pie shell, put in pie pan and prick with fork in several places. Bake in oven at 425 degrees for about 10 minutes

    This recipe makes 2 one-crust pies or 1 two-crust pie. (I use a large mixing bowl and make four recipes at once!)

    This recipe was adapted from the 1972 Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook

    Crumb Topping Recipe

    • Mix together 1/3 C. sugar and 3/4 C. flour
    • “Cut in” 6 T. butter. (I take two table knives and cut the butter up in small pieces into the sugar and flour.)
    • Squeeze the mixture in your hands a few times and then sprinkle it evenly on top of all the apples
    • Finish by gently patting it down so the edges are sealed

    Bake at 400 degrees for about 50 minutes or until done. (I bake fruit pies on a cookie sheet to keep the oven clean because the fruit in the pie sometimes bubbles over.) Serve pie hot with homemade whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.

    This recipe was adapted from the 1972 Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook

    Last, but not least . . . Turkey & Stuffing

    I saved the turkey to discuss last because it’s kind of gross to talk about! When you buy a conventional turkey, it most likely will have two things inside it that MUST come out before you cook the turkey.

    First, is the neck. It is a long, scraggly-looking thing that I always pull out and throw away, although some people boil it and make soup with it.

    Second, are the “giblets” (heart, gizzard, and liver) that usually come in a tiny white paper bag (that is soggy and wet from being inside the turkey!) I boil the giblets, grind them up in my blender, and add them to my stuffing, which gives it a unique, delicious flavor.

    There are many websites on the Internet that can teach you how to cook a turkey. However, I DO NOT soak my turkey in a Brine, which is often suggested. If the turkey is frozen, I put it in my laundry room sink the day before Thanksgiving, cover it with water, and let it defrost overnight.

    On two different occasions, once when my one of my sons was playing college football and again a few years later when one of my daughters was playing college basketball, we brought Thanksgiving dinner to them! We gathered up all our supplies, put the turkey in a five-gallon bucket of water to defrost as we drove from Idaho to Utah, and we all cooked dinner together after we arrived!

    I DO LOVE using the large Reynold’s Turkey Bags, which I use inside a big roaster pan in the oven. These bags keep the turkey very moist and also cook the turkey in less time.

    I remember the first time I cooked a turkey. I was so scared that it wouldn’t turn out right or get done on time. It’s a much different experience to cook a turkey than to watch other people cook a turkey, which I had done all my life until I was married!

    But after you cook a turkey once, the fear is gone! One of my concerns was making the stuffing, but I adapted a recipe from my Betty Crocker Cookbook the first time I cooked my turkey, and everyone loved it. I’ve been making it ever since!

    I tried to follow my mother’s example of saving the turkey bones to make turkey soup later in the week. Once, when I knew I wouldn’t have time to make soup for a while because I was so busy, I put my large, turkey roasting pan along with the turkey bones into the freezer so I could make soup “later.”

    The next Thanksgiving, I started looking for my roasting pan, but I couldn’t find it anywhere. Since it’s a very large object, I knew it must be around somewhere. Finally, the thought came into my mind that I should look in the freezer. Sure enough, there was my turkey roasting pan with the freezer-burned turkey bones from the previous Thanksgiving! That is when I decided if I couldn’t make soup within the week, I would just throw the bones away!

    Turkey Recipe

    Because I’m always paranoid about my turkey not getting done, I cook it for the first hour on 450 degrees. Then I turn the heat down and cook it the rest of the time according to the directions on the Reynolds Turkey Bags.

    Stuffing Recipe

    • Boil giblets with 1 C. water for 15 minutes and then blend in blender until smooth
    • Add 1 1/2 C. chopped onion, 3 C. chopped celery, 1 C. (2 cubes) melted butter, 4 t. salt, 3 t. sage, 2 t. thyme, and 1 t. pepper and blend until smooth and creamy
    • Cut up 2 loaves of bread into 1-inch cubes (I like to use one loaf whole wheat bread and 1 loaf white bread—about 9 cups each)
    • In a large mixing bowl, pour the ingredients from the blender over the whole wheat bread cubes and stir together
    • Add the white bread cubes and stir together
    • Stuff the “Stuffing” or “Dressing” into both ends of the turkey
    • The stuffing that doesn’t fit inside the turkey, put in a baking dish and cook separately in the oven. (Our family always likes to have plenty of stuffing!)
    • Cook according to directions for the size of stuffed turkey you are cooking.

    Adapted from the Betty Crocker Cookbook (which I received as a wedding gift in 1972!) This is enough stuffing for two-12 lb. or one-20+ lb. turkey.

    Make Holidays Meaningful

    Whatever the holiday or other special occasion, such as birthdays and anniversaries, take the time to stop and make it different and meaningful from the other days of the year.

    Whether it’s Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, 4th of July, or even Halloween (or “Fall Festival” as some people prefer to call it), stop and create some happy memories with delicious food and memorable fun that will bind your family and friends together forever!