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During the holidays, we turn to the worn, stained pages of our grandmothers' cookbooks in order to honor our roots.

These dishes also remind us of when we were children ourselves and the wonder of Christmas shone as brightly as the star at the top of the tree.

This Christmas, we have gathered culinary stories from our readers and woven them together into a tasty tapestry of holidays past.

"My parents met in England during WWII and moved to Canada, where my sister and I were born. So our family Christmas traditions were English, including fruitcake and the crackers and paper hats at the dinner table on Christmas. My mom used to make a fruitcake (or Christmas cake, as she called it) until we moved to California in 1966. She would cover the top with a thick layer of marzipan, then hard white icing. On top would go an ornamental snow scene, like little birds and berries and holly leaves.

"About two years before my mom died, I spent an afternoon in the kitchen with her making all her signature Christmas treats. I was most interested in the fruitcake. She showed me how to line the pan for the fruit cake with a cut-up grocery bag, held in place with clothes pins, and then line it again with all the butter wrappers she had saved through the year.

"It's been many years that my mom has been gone, but I think she would love that this year, her great grandchildren helped me make the Christmas cake. The old table is just the right size for them to stand and chop the fruit and stir and blend. They can cut the grocery bag and clothes-pin it into place. We listen to hip-hop, Katy Perry and Lady Gaga and admire each others' dance moves as we bake and talk and sing.

"This all happens around this ugly, bent, fruitcake pan. ... And I love it! I'll never let anything happen to it." <em>— Kathy Dudgeon of Santa Rosa</em>

"My mom's ceramic pie plate is a creamy yellow with a raised pattern on the side. She grew up in Sacramento, and it was her mom's. That was what birthday cheesecake, pumpkin pie and mincemeat pie was made in. When I see it, I wish that mom was here and that she was making something in it. I think about making mincemeat pie, but I don't know anybody who would eat it. It's very cloying, very sweet, and it's got a very rich, deep flavor." <em>— Susan Dunphy Mall of Windsor</em>

"I love antiques, like the electric mixer that my parents received as a wedding gift in 1949. The beaters are bent a little bit, so it doesn't work. I quit using it six or seven years ago, but I can't throw it away.

"I have an old recipe for cookies that my mother developed. They are gingersnap cookies that I make all the time. Whether it's the holidays or not, people really love them." <em>— Nona Walton of Novato</em>

"We always use my mother's green Pyrex bowl to mix any dough or batter. It only comes out at the holidays, and it provides the tangible connection to her that I need at this time of year. It was a wedding gift she received in 1942 from my dad's shipmates on the USS Missouri.

"On Christmas Eve, we pick apart a dozen crabs for our seafood pasta meal, and the green bowl is the vessel to hold all the fabulous crabmeat. And I use the green bowl to serve the pasta and sauce on the table on Christmas Day.

"Black-eyed peas get soaked in the green bowl, all day on New Year's Eve, and they get finished off that evening with a ham bone and some pepper. After Jan. 6, the bowl goes back in the china cabinet and does not come out again for 10 months."<em> — Marie Ganister of Windsor</em>

"Our hands-down favorite Christmas treats were (are!) the pecan cookies my mother made using nuts we'd gathered from a neighborhood pecan tree. ... Round and dusted with powdered sugar, we called them snowballs. Growing up in Louisiana, they were the only snowballs I ever saw until my teens. And now they are my children's favorite Christmas cookie." <em>— Cindy Daniel of Healdsburg</em>

"My daughter's paternal grandmother, who was born and raised in Germany, gave me her family's stollen recipe, which we have made for more than 40 years at Christmas. I still have her original typewritten recipe in her German-style English and handwritten notes. She died a few years ago, but her stollen lives on. Now, I've taught my daughter how to make it, and we give it to friends on Christmas." <em>— Kate Jones of Healdsburg</em>

"I was raised in North Dakota, a first generation American of Ukrainian descent, and the special dishes my mother made always pop into my mind during the holidays. We always had holubtsi (cabbage leaves stuffed with rice, bacon bits and chopped dill weed, baked in a light tomato sauce); pyroki (rolled dough pieces filled with sauerkraut or potatoes or dry cottage cheese) topped with crisp fried bacon bits. The meat course was either ham or roast goose, which we raised. The gravy was made from dried mushrooms which we had foraged in the fall. We also had homemade kielbasa, as we raised our own beef and pork. Dessert was a multitude of cookies: chocolate pinwheels, honey jumbles, white fruitcake, divinity, fudge. My mom was a magician in the kitchen!" <em>— Rose Kostiuk Nowak of Petaluma</em>

"When my dad was growing up in Nebraska, his grandparents started a tradition of serving oyster stew on Christmas Eve, but he never really liked it. After my parents got divorced, my dad decided to revive it as clam chowder, as a way to go back to his roots. On the years that I don't go back to Denver, I make the clam chowder, too, and we call each other. I typically use the recipe from Carrie Brown's 'The Jimtown Store Cookbook.' As long as it has bacon and clams and potato and lots of cream, we're happy." <em>— Tyffani Peters of Windsor</em>


This cookie recipe is from Nona Walton of Novato.

<strong>Ginger Snaps</strong>

<em> Makes about 4 dozen cookies</em>

1 1/2 cup margarine (not reduced fat type)

2 cups sugar

1/2 cup molasses

2 eggs, beaten

4 1/2 cups flour

1/4 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons baking soda

2 teaspoons baking powder

2 teaspoons cinnamon

2 teaspoons ground cloves

2 teaspoons ground ginger

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Cream margarine and sugar. Add beaten eggs and molasses and mix. Mix dry ingredients together and add to wet ingredients. Mix well.

Wet your hands so dough doesn't stick. Roll dough into small balls (about 1, rounded tablespoon) and roll in additional sugar. Place on cookie sheet and bake at 375 degrees for 12 minutes.

<em>You can reach Staff Writer Diane Peterson at 521-5287 or diane.peterson@pressdemocrat.com</em>

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