Even though it’s nearly Spring, something the other day happened to remind me of Christmas. Actually, it was the bag of red, green, and silver foil wrapped Hershey’s Kisses I found that were plainly left over from Christmas. I tend to buy the holiday wrapped candy a week or so after the holiday at half price. A Hershey’s Kiss wrapped in green foil is still a Hershey’s Kiss, after all.
This discovery reminded me of some of the more memorable holiday foods I’ve come into contact with over the years. The holidays are typically a time of indulgence, of course, and I’ve done my share of indulging, I admit. Interestingly, the things that stand out most in my memory are not the really wonderful things I’ve had, but the less wonderful, or even very awful ones.
When I was small, my grandmother used to send us boxes of baked goods every Christmas. There are only two things that she sent that really made an impression on me, and again, it’s because they were both fairly horrible, in retrospect. At the time I thought they were pretty good. The first was a variation on Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, and the second was Twinkies. I think my grandmother knew how much I liked junky foods like those, and in an effort to save money (always a top priority for her) she decided to make them for me, rather than buy them.
The Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup things were chocolate covered peanut butter balls. If you don’t know this, peanut butter gets grainy when it’s refrigerated. I don’t mind that texture, but chocolate gets waxy when it’s refrigerated, and I do mind that. Also, my grandmother always put raisins in her peanut butter balls. I don’t like raisins plain to start with, but I sure don’t like them in things. So to sully perfectly good peanut butter and chocolate with raisins is just downright wrong in my book, and then to refrigerate it on top of that renders the whole product totally inedible. Since she was sending the stuff out of the kindness of her heart, I didn’t very well feel like I could complain (not that I’m not complaining now, but I would never have hurt her feelings by saying anything to her).
The Twinkies were just kind of weird. I really have no idea what she used for “creme” filling, only that it wasn’t white frosting (which is pretty much what Twinkie filling is—white frosting, probably made with pure lard and sugar, likely with some titanium dioxide tossed in for good measure and whitening and brightening purposes). She made a simple sponge cake, and then cut it into rectangles, which she layered together with this “creme”. I remember eating them, and liking them fairly well, but today I have to agree with my aunt. At the time she remarked “Who would bother to make a Twinkie?” (and the question wasn’t posed as to why you wouldn’t simply go buy them, but more why anyone would want to have anything to do with a Twinkie in any form at all).
Since then I have actually seen "Twinkie" pans for sale through the Williams-Sonoma catalog. Clearly there are people who feel that homemade Twinkies are a good idea. It takes all kinds, I guess.
My husband’s grandmother was also a seasonal baker. She made mostly cookies—chocolate chip, Mexican wedding cakes, and the like—and fudge. He said they were great when he was a kid, but last batch that was inflicted on me was pretty terrible. The cookies were either hard as rocks or flavorless, or both, and the fudge was like eating chocolate plastic. He agreed that it was all horrible, and we sewed all of it at intervals along the Taconic State Parkway as we drove home. I’m not sure if her offerings were always so terrible, or if they just deteriorated as she aged. It’s not the sort of thing I can gauge because I never tasted anything until it had gone past awful, and he might be remembering the flavor in the forgiving glow of childhood nostalgia. She has now grown too old for holiday baking, for which we are all somewhat guiltily grateful.
I think the person who provided the most repulsive holiday “treat” was Aunt Stevie. Aunt Stevie was married to Uncle Mike (before he died, of course), and was my husband’s great aunt. Aunt Stevie lived in Sacramento or something, and every Christmas she would send a “tower o’ treats” thing to my husband’s grandparents “for everyone to share.” This was a very kind gesture, but the tower consisted of Aplets and Cotlets. Aplets and Cotlets are the most horrid candy every made (I use the term “candy” loosely, since I’m not sure they're not actually made of melted-down rubber bands). Interestingly, I recently found out that they're made not far from where I now live. That doesn’t improve their flavor or texture, but now I’m grossed out by something made locally. I feel I’m contributing to saving the environment, somehow.
During one holiday celebration, my husband’s grandmother (nickname Grammy), kept insisting that we take some with us. My mother-in-law, sister-in-law and I protested that we didn’t want to deprive them of Aunt Stevie’s gift. Grammy kept saying that Stevie had sent them “for the family to share.” Finally, in an effort to get out of there before St. Patrick’s Day, I grabbed the smallest box and said “OK, thanks--well, we’ll be on our way.” On the way out the door, my mother-in-law asked me low in my ear which box I’d taken. “The smallest one,” I hissed back. Needless to say the box was promptly consigned to the trash compactor (still in its cellophane wrapper) the minute we arrived back at my in-laws’ house.
My husband says my in-laws used to get a fruitcake from his grandparents every year that was fairly nasty. But fruitcake is so clichéd that it doesn’t even get a mention in annals of Nasty Holiday Treat Gifts. My preference is for unusual disgusting holiday treats. If I have to eat something yucky and pretend i like it, at least I want it to be something yucky and interesting.