Monday, December 12, 2016

Christmas Dessert ~ my column from Sunday's paper

It’s officially Christmastime for us. This weekend we’ll get a live tree, fire up the Christmas music, and light up the fireplace mantel. The celebrations are still special, but they more
subdued since our folks passed on. Like always, there will be time with family, good food,
and great desserts involved.

I miss those huge Christmas gatherings at home of Jilda’s parents. As families arrived and settled in for the feast, they splintered into satellites of conversations. Most of the talk was about jobs, health, and what Santa was bringing for Christmas. The drone got ever louder until it was time for the blessing. After that, the only sounds were grunts and the clatter of forks on dinner plates.

The food was always exceptional. Each family tried to outdo the other by bringing their best covered dishes. Some of my favorites included green beans, coleslaw, and “smashed” potatoes. And of course, it wouldn’t be Christmas without my mother-in-law Ruby’s world-famous coconut cake.

A well-made coconut cake is moist on the inside and has frosting like divinity candy with coconut sprinkled liberally over the top. The only downside to coconut cake is that it requires toothpicks and digging flecks of coconut from between the teeth. But it’s still one of my top five favorite desserts.

This past Sunday, Jilda’s siblings gathered to celebrate. I was happy to see her sister Nell kept the coconut cake tradition alive. It was hard for me to enjoy the entrees because I saw the coconut cake out of the corner of my eye. It was just sitting there unattended. Bolting from my seat, grabbing the cake, and dashing out the back door would have been a cinch. I could have locked myself in the car, and eaten the entire cake by myself.

Jilda’s family is a peaceful bunch, but absconding with the cake could have changed all that.

So rather than act on my impulse, I munched on BBQ, potato salad, and baked beans while biding my time. The coconut cake was worth the wait.

On the way home, I told Jilda that she needs to ensure she gets that recipe from her sister who is now in her 80s. She’d already thought of that.

My lovely wife has a book of family recipes that she’s collected over the years. I call it her good book.

When my mom was living, she made these incredible apple pies. Jilda asked her for the recipe many times, but my mom was hesitant, and we didn’t know why.

After years of asking, my mom finally gave in. Mama knew we were health conscious and watched what we ate. The apple pie recipe called for real butter, buckets of sugar, and a scoop of lard. Even though those pies were heart attacks in a Corningware dish, they were incredible. Getting the recipe thrilled Jilda.

When it comes to great food, we go with the Bible’s take on this topic. The book of Ecclesiastes said it best: “To everything, there is a season and a time to every purpose under the heaven…” To me, that means it’s OK to pig out on coconut cake and apple pie during the holidays.

One Christmas a few years ago, Jilda made mom’s apple pie for some guests who were dining with us. After the meal, Jilda pulled the apple pie from the warm oven and served it with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. The aroma of that dessert brought back old memories. As our guests ate, the woman closed her eyes and had what seemed like was an out-of-body experience. She then asked, “What’s in this?” Jilda smiled and said, “You don’t want to know.”


  1. That Apple pie sounds divine Rick. .. I can just imagine how rich a delicious it tastes, yummy :-)

    It's cool how different foods bring back great past memories xox

  2. Some wonderful memories there.
    Food eaten from the fridge in the dark has no calories. Christmas treats have even less. So long as they are only eaten at the right time of the year.

  3. Oh yes, eating those Christmas treats is a must ! They are worth the wait for sure. There truly is a time and place for everything !

  4. The coconut cake sound some yummy and the tree is lovely. It must smell Christmasy...
    Our Christmas desert is called Broken Glass Desert and I've been making it for as long as I can remember when the kids were small. Every time I tried to change to another desert, I was met with unanimous opposition. It's a light desert that goes down easy even on a full stomach. By light, I don't mean calorie light... You can google the recipe.

    Hugs, Julia

  5. Oh Shucks, Good one. I do 'sorta' miss the big family gatherings, but most of 'that' bunch is gone. Thinking of your 'Coconut Cake' story, I remember Collette's 'Ambrosia' she would always bring.

    Now we are content to hear of the kids and grands times with their extended families. We do not feel 'left out' because we are the ones who absented ourselves to let them make memories. (NONE OF WHCIH CAN TOP OURS.) HAHAHAHAHA
    Thanks my friend, stay warm.

  6. Anonymous11:55 AM

    Enjoy, Rick, enjoy!!

  7. I understand about the lard. It is the best for making pie dough. That is a trick many good cooks use. Our family Christmases get quite loud. As the group over there begins to talk the group over here has to raise their voices a bit to be heard. Soon everyone is screaming at the tops of their lungs. It is a great time.

  8. A great column, Rick, with a photo of a beautiful woman. You shoulda taken off with the coconut cake. 'Tis the season of forgiveness, you could have reminded them.


  9. You have me laughing here. My mom always makes the best fruit cakes at Christmas. They are nothing like the ones with the horror stories you find on the shelves of the grocery store.

  10. Apple pie and coconut cake! Yummy! I love family traditions!! Love hearing about your memories!

  11. If I close your eyes tightly, those times can almost reappear. I'd go for anything my mom baked.

  12. My grandmother was a diabetic and made fabulous apple pies. She'd make one for herself with very little sugar, and when I commented on how good hers was she started making me my own little low sugar pie every year. It was something special we shared.

  13. I'm so glad you have these recipes. My mom, my ex's mom and many others don't want to share their cherished recipes because it is supposed to stay "in the family" and only be handed down to the actual daughter. It is really weird.

  14. Wouldn't be Christmas if we don't have trifle just saying


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