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Robert St. John

Restaurateur, author, enthusiastic traveler, & world-class eater.

Holiday Food Icons

December 13, 2010

While thinking about the upcoming holidays, my thoughts turned to food.

That should come as no surprise to people who know me, as my thoughts often turn to food. Just about everything in my life is associated with some type of cuisine. Granted, my everyday work life is filled with food, but just about everything else I do has an association with groceries: reading the paper— bagel, watching football— pizza, going to church— fried chicken.

While thinking of holidays and food, it struck me that Christmas might have ended up on the short end of the Yule log.

On New Years Eve we think of caviar and champagne. The iconic food associated with Valentine’s Day is chocolate. It’s everywhere in February, in large heart-shaped boxes, in red cellophane wrappers full of heart-shaped candy, and in heart-shaped boxes filled with heart-shaped candy wrapped in red cellophane.

Easter makes some think of candy, but I think of lamb and asparagus. On the Fourth of July we grill steaks and eat barbequed ribs with corn and potato salad.

Halloween is another candy holiday— though not just chocolate— all candy. Thanksgiving is turkey day, though sweet potatoes are plentiful, and pumpkin pie is in season.

Christmas has crappy food icons. If there were one iconic Christmas food, it would probably be fruitcake. Your honor, I rest my case.

Fruitcake, it’s the butt of every Christmas food joke. I once worked for a company that gave out fruitcakes to its employees in lieu of Christmas bonuses. In addition to my regular job responsibilities, I was also in charge of emptying trashcans, which were always heavier around Christmas because they were filled with everyone’s Christmas bonus.

I love Christmas, but I hate fruitcake. There’s nothing anyone can do to make fruitcake taste good. My rule of thumb is that any prepared food that was popular during Colonial times is not going to taste good in the 21st Century.

There are other foods that are associated with Christmas, but they might be worse than fruitcake. Mincemeat, are you kidding me? I’ve eaten it once, and that was the last time I will ever have to go through that agony again. If I were stranded on a desert island, I would eat sand before I would eat mincemeat pie. Meat, suet, and raisins, no thank you.

There’s always figgy pudding. In my 49 years, I have never seen a figgy pudding. I like figs, and I like pudding, but those are two bedfellows that should never meat.

Sugarplums are kind of sweet, but has anyone seen one since Charles Dickens died? Eggnog? Can’t stand it. Goose? Too oily. Yorkshire pudding? See the Dickens rule for sugarplums.

My mother used to tell stories about oranges at Christmas. “When I was a child,” she would say, “sometimes all we would get in our stockings were oranges.” My brother and I occasionally got oranges in our stockings, but we just threw them at each other while we opened real presents.

I am taking nominations for The Official Christmas Food of the 21st Century. Go to and click on the Facebook link. Submit your Christmas food suggestion and we’ll tabulate the results for a future column. Fruitcake and figgy pudding need not apply.

Sweet Potato Stuffed Oranges

2 cups Sweet potatoes, cooked, peeled and mashed*
1/2 cup Brown Sugar
2 Eggs, beaten
1/4 cup Heavy cream
1/4 Butter, softened
1/2 tsp Cinnamon
1/4 tsp Nutmeg
2 tsp Orange Zest
5 Large oranges, cut in half and scooped out

1 Tbl Fresh chives, thinly sliced
1/2 cup Toasted Almond Slices

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Combine hot sweet potatoes, sugar, brown sugar, eggs, cream, butter, cinnamon, nutmeg and orange zest in a bowl; mix thoroughly. Place the hollowed out orange halves on a lined baking sheet. Fill each half with the sweet potato mixture.

Bake for 20-25 minutes. Just before serving, sprinkle each serving with the sliced chives and toasted almonds

Yield: 8-10 servings

* To cook the sweet potatoes; Preheat oven to 375. Place the whole potatoes on a baking sheet and roast for 20-30 minutes. Turn each potato over once midway through the cooking time. Allow the potatoes to cool slightly so that they are easier to handles when peeling. Simply place the peeled sweet potatoes into a stainless steel mixing bowl, and using a stiff wire whisk, or potato masher, mash the potatoes.

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