December 11, 2009

Food for the holidays: Readers share favorite recipes that warm the heart and satisfy the palate

Alvin Bynum creates a special cranberry dish for family meals at Thanksgiving and Christmas. A member of St. Thomas Aquinas Parish in Indianapolis, Bynum learned the recipe from his late wife of 52 years, Marie. (Photo by John Shaughnessy)

Alvin Bynum creates a special cranberry dish for family meals at Thanksgiving and Christmas. A member of St. Thomas Aquinas Parish in Indianapolis, Bynum learned the recipe from his late wife of 52 years, Marie. (Photo by John Shaughnessy)

By John Shaughnessy

A splash of bourbon is optional in his family’s favorite holiday recipe, but the feel-good memory of his wife of 52 years is always the main ingredient when Alvin Bynum creates his special cranberry dish.

Jane Shireman also savors the warm feeling of family as she talks about an unusual fruitcake recipe that dates back to the early 1800s and her great-great-grandmother—a recipe that includes a cup of hot black coffee and lean pork tenderloin.

Mary Kay Hood’s favorite Christmas recipe always leads her back to her high school years and memories of a French teacher who insisted that her students not only learn the language, but experience the culture and food of France.

And Jean Allen raises a toast to her mother’s culinary talents with the recipe for her favorite holiday drink.

Those four members of the archdiocese are among the readers of The Criterion who responded to our request to share their favorite recipes of the Christmas season. We thank everyone who submitted a recipe.

Here is a selection of those recipes and the stories of why they are so special to the people who shared them.

A husband’s special dish

When Alvin Bynum begins making “The” Holiday Cranberry Recipe, he naturally thinks of the special woman in his life who created the dish—his late wife of 52 years, Marie.

“She was a loyal and very determined wife and mother,” recalls Bynum, 83, a member of St. Thomas Aquinas Parish in Indianapolis. “She helped our two daughters develop as women and mothers. She was always there when they needed her. She was also a devoted Catholic to Mother Mary. She said her rosary at least once a day. I picked that up from her in my later years. She enjoyed being with people and was a good cook.”

Marie made the cranberry dish for about 20 years. After her death in 2000, Alvin assumed the duty and joy of preparing the recipe for every Thanksgiving and Christmas family dinner.

“The girls are the ones who started calling it ‘The Recipe,’ ” he says. “It’s easy to make, and it has a delightful flavor to it. You have to protect it from people walking through the room with a spoon. It’s very aromatic. People are always asking me if I need a taster.”

Alvin laughs as he shares that line. Then he smiles as he says, “We think fondly of her whenever we have it.”

“The” Holiday Cranberry Recipe
  • 1 cup sugar
  • Q/w cup water
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 bag of cranberries (12 ounces)
  • Q/w orange (pulp, juice and diced rind)
  • 3 cloves
  • Q/r cup good Bourbon Whiskey (optional)
  • Mix sugar, water and other seasonings in a saucepan and boil three minutes. Add cranberries and Q/w orange. Bring to a boil and cook until the berries start to pop. Remove from heat and add Q/r cup good bourbon whiskey (or Q/w cup to kick it up a notch). Let cool, then refrigerate until congealed. Serve with any meat. It makes a beautiful dish if molded.

‘This great treat for Christmas’

Many years have passed, but Jane Shireman can still see her mother working in the kitchen, chopping and mixing the ingredients for what she calls “this great treat for Christmas.”

The fruitcake recipe dates back to the early 1800s when Shireman’s great-great-grandmother first made it—a connection that Shireman has savored whenever she has made it, too.

“It has been passed down from generation to generation,” says Shireman, 65, a member of St. Ann Parish in Indianapolis. “But I believe it is dying out after my generation as so many of the younger set don’t care for fruitcake or don’t bake from scratch any longer. For years, we were told, ‘Don’t give this recipe away as it is for family only.’ Now that I am a great-grandmother, I don’t want this recipe to die out. If someone wants to make it part of their family tradition, then by all means go for it and enjoy.”

“Granny’s Sausage Fruitcake” has always been a popular holiday tradition, Shireman says.

“Many people have been surprised by how great it really is,” she notes. “This would include my mother-in-law, who did not like fruitcake. It retains its moisture for a long time if stored properly. My father-in-law enjoyed it so much that I would bake one just for him. It has a lot of unusual ingredients, including a cup of black coffee and a pound of ground, extra-lean pork tenderloin. I’ve had a lot of people tell me they’ve never had a fruitcake with those ingredients.”

Granny’s Sausage Fruitcake
  • 1 pound very lean pork tenderloin, ground, uncooked and unseasoned
  • 1 cup raisins
  • 1 cup chopped dates
  • 1 cup chopped candied cherries, mixture of green and red
  • 1 cup chopped candied pineapple
  • 1 cup chopped walnuts
  • 3 cups brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon allspice
  • 1 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 cup hot black coffee, any brand, decaffeinated or regular
  • 3 cups flour, sifted
  • Dissolve baking soda into coffee. Mix ground tenderloin and sugar together and then add coffee mixture. Stir well. Mix in flour gradually. Slowly add fruit and spices, and then add the chopped walnuts. Stir well after each item is added to the mixture. Pour into greased and floured 10-inch tube pan. Bake in a slow oven at 300 to 325 degrees for 2 or 2 ¼ hours. Cool before turning out onto a cake plate.
  • This cake may be frozen, but wrap very well in freezer paper. This is a very moist cake, and will remain that way if stored properly.
  • For a festive look, walnut halves and candied cherries may be used to decorate the top of the cake before baking.
  • For an extra zip to the cake, after the cake is cooled, wrap it in a clean white towel that has been soaked in a red wine, then place it in the refrigerator for 3 hours before serving. If the towel sticks to the cake, dampen the towel with wine again before trying to remove it from the cake.

‘The legend lives on’

The connection between a mother and her daughter can be a special one, nurtured by shared experiences and traditions that make the bond even closer.

For Jean Allen, the connection with her mother grew tighter every Christmas through creating a favorite holiday drink that the family calls “Custard.”

“I am sharing this recipe for it was always made at Christmas time, and it was a favorite with our family,” says Allen, a member of St. Joseph Parish in Corydon. “My mom always made Custard from the time I was a child and through some of my grown-up years. All that came to our household got a glass of it. There were really a lot of compliments given to my mom.

“She was a wonderful cook and took pride in cooking. I was always eager to learn some of her techniques. I remember her saying that I was her shadow. Mom has been deceased 17 years, but the legend lives on.”

Mom Spalding’s Custard
  • Take over Q/w gallon milk. Put on stove and heat until you can’t put your finger in it. Beat 6 egg yolks, put ¾ cup sugar in egg yolks and beat. Beat all this into milk; stir a little into the pan of milk. Put back on stove and heat. Keep stirring so it won’t stick. Cook until mixture is thick enough to coat a tablespoon. Cool completely.
  • Beat 6 egg whites and add to cold custard. If custard is not sweet enough, add Q/w cup sugar. You may want to add a little vanilla.

“This is an eggnog type of custard, just a little thicker,” Allen says. “Keep it cold! It’s delicious!

“P.S. This is written as my Mom told me. Hope all can understand!”

‘Giving a part of myself’

Mary Kay Hood knows the difference that a teacher can make to students—by encouraging them to look at the world in a different way and challenging them to savor new experiences.

As a freshman at St. Agnes Academy in Indianapolis in 1966, Hood found those qualities in her French teacher.

“Miss Haugh had lived in France for some time,” says Hood, a member of Mary, Queen of Peace Parish in Danville. “She encouraged us to not only learn the language but the culture. She introduced us to French recipes, the museums and monuments of France, and all sorts of things.”

One of the recipes that Haugh had her students make is called Buche de Noel, French for “Christmas Log.”

“The first one I made wasn’t very pretty,” Hood recalls. “I brought it to school and I was heartsick because it looked awful. I don’t do it every year, but there are times I still make them. It takes five hours. It’s something very unique. Through the years, I’ve mastered the art of making it look real. The chocolate texture looks like bark. I’ve made them and given them as presents to people. I feel it’s giving a part of myself.”

Buche de Noel (Christmas Log)

This recipe is divided into five parts:

  • Cake, which is rolled like a jelly roll
  • Chocolate cream filling
  • Chocolate butter cream frosting
  • Green decorated frosting for the vines and leaves
  • Meringue mushrooms (for decoration)

Cake: (preheat oven to 325 degrees and line a 10Q/w-inch by 15-inch pan with waxed paper)

  • 3 large egg yolks
  • 1 cup sugar
  • Q/w cup boiling water
  • 1 cup flour, sifted
  • 1Q/w teaspoon baking powder
  • Few grains salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3 egg whites
  • Beat egg yolks until thick. Add Q/w cup sugar slowly. Add boiling water. Add remaining sugar and beat until thick. Sift dry ingredients and add to mixture. Beat egg whites until stiff. Fold egg whites into mixture. Bake for 20-25 minutes. Test with toothpick to see if done. Turn out of pan immediately onto damp towel. Take off waxed paper and roll cake like a jelly roll. Cool.

Chocolate cream filling:

  • 2 squares chocolate
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 stick unsalted margarine
  • 1Q/w cups milk
  • 1Q/w teaspoons rum extract
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • Melt chocolate in double boiler. Mix cornstarch and sugar together. Beat egg yolks and add milk to eggs. Add egg and milk mixture to cornstarch and sugar. Mix well. Add to chocolate and cook until thick over boiling water, stirring constantly (about 15 minutes). Stir in—bit by bit—stick of margarine. Remove from heat, and add rum extract and vanilla. Cool. Spread over cake and re-roll. Chill while making frosting.


  • 1 stick butter or margarine (soft)
  • 2 tablespoons water (more or less)
  • 2Q/w cups confectioners sugar
  • 1 teaspoon rum extract
  • 2 squares baking chocolate, melted
  • Q/w teaspoon vanilla
  • Mix soft butter, sugar and water together and beat until smooth. Place Q/e of icing in separate bowl. Add small amount of chocolate (a little at a time) to make a light brown frosting for ends of log. (If necessary, add a little more sugar for correct thickness.) Add flavoring and rest of chocolate to the remaining W/e frosting.
  • Slice ends of filled roll at an angle and set aside. Frost all but the ends of the roll with chocolate frosting. Frost ends with light brown frosting. Make from the two end slices small branches (about
  • 1 inch long) and place on roll to give log effect. Frost the sides of branches with dark chocolate frosting and the top with the light brown. Decorate cake with green leaves and vines.

Leaves and vines:

  • 3 tablespoons soft butter
  • Q/w teaspoon vanilla
  • Few drops green food coloring
  • 1 cup confectioners sugar
  • 1Q/w tablespoons water (more or less)
  • Cream butter and sugar, then add vanilla and green food coloring. Put in decorating tube, and make leaves and vines (colored decorating frosting can also be used).

Mushrooms: (preheat oven to 275 degrees and oil cookie sheet)

  • 1 egg white
  • ¼ teaspoon vanilla
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • Beat egg whites until stiff. Add sugar slowly, 3 tablespoons at a time. Fold in vanilla. Make circular mounds (for mushroom tops) on oiled cookie sheet. Shape with a small knife. Make different sizes. Make pairs of stems. Bake for 30 minutes until dry and pale in color. Remove them from the pan immediately. Put them on a cooling rack to cool.
  • Mix 6 tablespoons confectioners sugar with 1 teaspoon butter. Use this to put the stems and caps together. It should be a smooth pale paste (thick). With sharp knife, scrape a small hole in the center of the flay side of the mushroom caps. Put a little frosting on the tip of the stem (the pairs of meringue stems should be put together first) and insert in mushroom cap. Let frosting harden before placing the mushrooms on the cake. †

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