‘Tis the season for baking. I’m thrilled to share these treasured family recipes with you; a gift from my southern family’s heart.
There is nothing blacker than a rural Carolina midnight in winter. No street lamps, no storefronts. A sky so dark and star-filled you can trace the Milky Way with a finger. If it’s Christmas and you’re lucky, you might spy something other than stars in that dark expanse:
A sleigh, pulled behind eight tiny reindeer, on his way to your Grandfather’s farmhouse.
My Grandparents lived in Bell Arthur, a tiny hamlet outside Greenville, North Carolina. Farmland stretched for what seemed like eternity, its rows of dried corn and harvested tobacco standing sentinel by the side of the road. For years we traveled south every Christmas, spending the holiday with my grandparents in their 1920s-era farmhouse.
I remember a silver tinsel-clad Christmas tree, its lack of string lights forgotten by the glow of the illuminated color wheel.
I remember staring outside through the ancient, wavy glass windows, waiting for presents and pancakes and pecan rolls.
I remember midnight mass at tiny St. Elizabeth’s, her cruciform interior smelling of incense and chrism and pine.
I remember tradition and family and deep Southern roots in a place where ailing ancient tobacco barns and storied shotgun farmhouse bred a mystique more enchanting than lonely.
My grandfather had a sister. Her name was Avery Mae. Whether she had died or moved away before I was born I can’t recall, but what I do know is this: she had the most fantastic fudge recipe. Christmas simply wasn’t Christmas without it.
We made it every year without fail, often boxing it up to share with friends and family. Over the years we branched out to include my father’s favorite, a buttery, powdered-sugar dream called a Russian Teacake. And later, once I started my own family, I stumbled across a delightfully adaptable cookie whose shortbread crust and topping I stuff full of cranberry bliss.
Our Christmases are closer to home these days. My grandparents are gone, their farmhouse and land a distant memory. But the traditions and memories remain all the same, and I’m sharing them with you today as a gift from my family’s southern heart.
I’ve printed the recipes below, but if you’d like to print them you can download them here.
My Aunt Avery Mae’s Fudge (adapted from the Marshmallow Fluff recipe)
2 1/2 c. sugar
3/4 tsp. salt
1/2 stick butter or margarine
1 5 oz. can evaporated milk (2/3 c.)
1 Jar (7 1/2oz) Marshmallow Fluff
3/4 tsp. vanilla
1 12-oz. package semi-sweet chocolate pieces
1 /2 c. chopped walnuts
Line a 9-inch square baking pan with parchment paper and set it aside. Combine the first five ingredients in a large saucepan. Stir until blended over low heat. Increase heat to medium; bring to a rolling boil. Boil slowly, stirring constantly, for five minutes (you can check to see if it’s ready by using the soft-ball test).
Remove from the heat, then stir in the vanilla and chocolate chips until the chocolate is melted. Add nuts, if desired. Pour into the prepared pan and set aside (or refrigerate) to cool.
Makes 2.5 pounds
Russian Tea Cookies (a family favorite; recipe here adapted from AllRecipes because the original has been lost)
1 cup butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
6 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup chopped walnuts
1/3 cup confectioners’ sugar for decoration
Preheat oven to 350. Have ready an ungreased baking sheet (you can line it with parchment if you like).
Cream the butter and vanilla together until smooth. Combine the six tablespoons of powdered sugar with the flour; add to the butter just until blending. Add chopped walnuts.
While this step is optional, I recommend refrigerating the dough for at least half an hour. This will help the cookies hold their shape. Once chilled, roll dough into 1 inch balls, and place them 2 inches apart on the cookie sheet.
Once again, consider chilling the dough for half an hour. I know it seems like overkill, but mine never come out ball-shaped unless I do this.
After (optional) chilling, bake for 12-14 minutes. Cool; roll in remaining powdered sugar once, then again to completely coat.
Makes a ton.
Cranberry Crumb Bars (A new family tradition. Adapted from Smitten Kitchen, who adapted from AllRecipes)
1 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup cold unsalted butter (2 sticks or 8 ounces)
1/4 teaspoon salt
Zest and juice of one orange
4 cups fresh cranberries
1/2 cup white sugar
4 teaspoons cornstarch
Preheat the oven to 375. Line a 9×13 pan with parchment paper
In a medium bowl, stir together one cup of sugar, three cups of flour, and the baking powder. Mix in salt and orange zest. Use a fork, a pastry blender, or your hands to blend in the butter and egg. The dough will be pretty crumbly – don’t worry!
Pat half of the dough into the prepared pan and set aside.
In another bowl, stir together the sugar, cornstarch and orange juice. Gently mix in the cranberries. Sprinkle the cranberry mixture evenly over the crust and crumble the remaining dough over the cranberry mixture
Bake in the preheated oven for 45 minutes, or until the top is slightly brown. Cool completely before cutting into squares (I like to chill mine first for nice clean edges.
Makes 18-24, depending upon how large you slice them.