Kroger shelves empty of my favorite unbleached flour. I search from store to store for green candied cherries. Bags of chocolate chips and packs of butter spill over in my grocery cart. Dough is chilling for pecan dreams and molasses crinkles. A Concord grape pie is already baked and in the freezer.
In full frenzy, I stop, though, rolling pin in hand,when I see a friend’s Facebook post:
“At our house we have one dessert per holiday.”
I was struck with awe! One dessert per holiday! Still festive, but controlled. That would totally solve so many problems—how to have enough hours in the day for all baking projects, how to prevent a kitchen backache, how to keep from sampling every tasty treat and ending up with too much of a good thing.
But how would that look at our house—one dessert? I was stumped. Whose favorite dessert would I choose? And for which meal?Some holidays there are people in and out of our house for weeks, nibbling, tasting, and enjoying while the kettle boils for another plunge of the French press. The desserts share the stage with savories like soups, salads, and breads.
On Christmas morning some expect this cranberry coffee braid. Others love my mother’s orange slice fruit cake full of dates and nuts and coconut. A double recipe of Aunt Mary’s layer cookies is required.
And then chocolate. Don’t forget chocolate! The Buche de Noel tradition, French teacher that I was—some years I made five or six gorgeous chocolate and cream logs in a season. I took them to school and to parties; I served them at home. I passed on the recipe, never quite managing the meringue mushrooms crafted by the true French but improvising with cream cheese mushrooms rubbed in cocoa and spearmint holly leaves with cinnamon candy berries.
One dessert per Christmas—I don’t know how to do it. And what about the other holidays? Is one dessert even possible then?
A birthday bunny cake, sure, but you need mice to go with it.
A coconut lamb cake at Easter, yes, but what about a fruity trifle, too, piled high in a glass bowl ?Pumpkin pies at Thanksgiving, certainly, but who wants to leave out pecan?
And on Fourth of July the picnic crowd will barely be satisfied with just one oozing pie of fresh picked blackberries.
And then there’s every day. Tradition has given humble desserts a place at the table.(The Mennonite Seven Sweets and Seven Sours were not just for holidays!) My mother fed a family of seven children with them. They featured fruit, whole grains, eggs, or dairy. Oatmeal cookies with nuts and raisins…. tapioca with egg and milk…strawberries with bread crumbs and milk…baked custards…canned peaches…apple crisp…blackberry cobbler. Dessert—nothing decadent, just good food rounding out the meal.
Last night our dinner was delicious but light–chicken, oven-roasted carrots and potatoes, and kale fresh from the garden. A dessert was not only justified, but needed, to fill it out. In a double boiler I put a half cup of rice, 2 ½ cups hot milk, cinnamon and nutmeg, a handful of raisins, and less than ¼ cup of sugar. I stirred as it cooked, watching it turn creamy and spicy and utterly delectable. The smell was heavenly.
While I was at it, I cooked up a dozen apples that I found in the crisper, too. This dessert is lovely with yogurt or cottage cheese.
Holidays bring about some outrageous desserts with barely a scrap of nutrition to recommend them. But this is their time–if ever–to be served with flair and shared with friends and family. It is a way to celebrate hospitality, creativity, tradition, and festivity.
As in all of life, moderation is the key. Portions can be small. My family calls it “slivering,” when I shave off a slice. They are quick to point out, when I indulge in “serial slivering,” that I am at risk for eating way too much! They are right. But…
It’s just desserts. Merry Making and Baking to all!
Susan Yoder Ackerman is a writer and gardener in Newport News, Virginia. Both her writing and her gardening are enhanced by tending a century-old family farmhouse and eight grandchildren that come and go. You can email Susan at [email protected]