Comfort + Joy: Sharing Holiday Food at a Distance

Celebrating the Holidays will look a little different this year – Cinda Chavich shares her best tips for adding comfort + joy into your season using traditional recipes.

By Cinda Chavich | Photo by Jeffrey Bosdet

There’s no doubt holiday celebrations will be different this year. I’m feeling a bit melancholy, imagining the season without festive cocktail parties and big gatherings with family and friends around the table.

But there’s one way to bring a little holiday cheer to those you love — by sharing those traditional foods that always bring comfort and joy.

Every family has a specialty that comes out for the holidays — often something that’s been passed down by ancestors, a dish that reminds them of home. That’s precisely why these recipes, transported around the world by expats, have become holiday traditions, and why mothers still send boxes of baking to kids who are away at school.

Food is the tie that binds us — a familiar aroma or dish can evoke warm memories of childhood and other happy times. Food connects us across the miles and creates a chain, linking one generation to the next.

Holiday Sweet Breads

Baker Byron Fry is the local king of stollen and says he bakes more than 250 of these holiday fruit breads every year.

Fry has professional baking roots on both sides of the family but traces the stollen gene to his mother’s side and a Dutch grandfather.

“There are no recipes from that time, but my mom always talked about it,” says Fry, who is riffing on the family favourite with his own artisan skills — milling organic flour, raising his sweet bread with a special sourdough starter and baking the stollen in his wood-fired oven.

Organic raisins from California are soaked in copious amounts of rum, and even the marzipan rolled into the centre of each loaf, is made from scratch.

“We try to start in October,” he says, “using a bottle of rum to a box of raisins, peeling and grinding the almonds for the marzipan, and making the candied citrus peel.”

Stollen just gets better with age, so it’s the perfect bread for gifting. Fry says he brushes his stollen with clarified butter when it comes out of the oven, then dips both sides of the rich bread in more butter to seal the surface for aging.

My stollen recipe is a simplified version, but it’s also brushed with butter and dusted with sugar after baking. It ages well too and makes the perfect treat to deliver to friends to enjoy with their breakfast coffee.

Find Cinda’s Stollen Recipe here

While stollen is traditional in German communities, other countries are famous for holiday sweet breads too. Look for tall mushroom- shaped panettone, studded with various dried fruits, from the Italian Bakery or Fol Epi.

Delicious Deliveries

Beyond fruit breads and cookies, there are other holiday foods you can deliver to brighten someone’s season.

I’m thinking about comfort foods, from meaty pot pies to creamy and steamy puddings.

Tourtière is a Quebec holiday tradition, and these savoury pork pies are perfectly portable for sharing. Bake a batch of individual tourtières or one large pie and deliver with a jar of homemade pickles.

Try my family recipe, or look for these meat pies at bakeries and butchers around town. Patisserie Daniel is known for its attractive tourtière, and you’ll find individual meat pies at Fraser Orr’s Butcher & Deli or Carnivore Meats & More. At Fry’s Bakery, the seasonal hand pies always feature a French-Canadian tourtière filling too.

Traditional Steamed Puddings

Steamed carrot, apple, and raisin puddings, sealed in wide-mouth Mason jars, are a prairie tradition that always evokes wonderful memories for me, and you can make large or individual versions for giving. Once steamed in canning jars, these puddings can be refrigerated for a month and quickly reheated in the same jar to serve with warm caramel sauce.

A creamy pudding is a comforting dessert that crosses cultures, and the Malted Milk Pudding on the menu at Heartwood Kitchen in Ucluelet is the ultimate expression of that childhood memory. Chef Ian Riddick says it’s enriched with the malted grain beverage Ovaltine and recalls a youthful time when his Aussie roommates downed the milky mixture for breakfast.

Find a delicious recipe for milk pudding here

“It’s such a comforting, warm drink, we decided to put it into a pudding,” says Riddick of his silky dessert. “It evokes memories and fun times in my life.”

Baked in individual Mason jars, these easy puddings can be made in advance and travel well, a treat for all ages.

Pared Down Parties

It’s not going to be a big party season, but we can still be sociable, joining our friends for walks on the beach, with a thermos of hot mulled wine or a visit on a patio.

Take a page from the Newfoundland mummers’ tradition and visit neighbours to share a drink in the driveway or on the front porch (haul along your BYO mug and a nice little homemade nosh) — disguise is optional, but masks are part of the fun.

You might gather outside around a gas firepit or under a gazebo, fill the slow cooker with spiced cider or set up a hot chocolate bar, with extras like mini marshmallows, candy canes and something to spike it.

Gifts of party foods are fun too. I’m thinking of a bag of my seriously retro Nuts and Bolts snacks or a jar of homemade tomato basil jam with a box of Jenny Marie’s crackers and some yummy spreadable chèvre from Haltwhistle Cheese Company.

Find Cinda’s Nuts and Bolts recipe here

We’re not exactly in the trenches, but the sentiments of that wartime classic, “I’ll be Home for Christmas,” is playing in my head as I bake my tourtière and stollen to share on Christmas Eve. There are tins of my hazelnut and chocolate truffles and little figgy carrot puddings for two, to heat in the microwave and drizzle with caramel sauce.

It’s hard to imagine the holidays without family, but this year I’ll join my sister and my aunt to make my grandmother’s chesnitza, or Serbian Christmas bread, via video chat, and we’ll visit around a virtual table to create delicious new memories.

Good food brings us together, even when you’re sharing the fun from afar.