Food is the heart of any gathering, and we got nostalgic around the food traditions that feed our families here at Salt Lake Magazine. So we decided to share our holiday food traditions.
Avrey Evans, Digital Editor
My family has never been big on ancestral traditions. We’re a group of white people whose great-great-grandparents came to Utah toting hand wagons and recipes for jello salad. But come Christmas day, the Evans go full-blown Scottish. Not in the cool, donning kilts and learning about Celtic mythology kind of way. Nope, we prefer to honor our Scottish ancestry by indulging in a pungent smoked Scottish fish called Finnan Haddie.
Also called Finna haddock, Finnan, Finny haddock, or Findrum speldings, the dish originated in Northeast Scottland in the 1800s. First, the fish is salted and dried overnight, then smoked over peat and wood for eight to nine hours the next day. The flavor is smoky and decadent, with a slightly rubbery texture (in the best way possible).
In our house, we let the experts handle the smoking process. My grandmother takes pride in scouring grocery stores for pounds of finnan haddie and gathering our entire family at hers to enjoy. The cooking process is simple—wrap the smoked fish in tin foil with butter (measured with your heart, of course), and throw it in the oven for about 25 minutes. Once the house smells like a fish market (which we’ve all come to enjoy!), eat right from the tinfoil, using bread to soak up every last drop.
It’s an odd tradition, but it’s ours. And it’s always enjoyable to watch one of the cousin’s newest love interests pretend like it’s exactly what they’d like to eat at 11 a.m. on Christmas Day.
Christie Porter, Managing Editor
Growing up, Christmas Eve dinner with my family was always a smorgasbord. I’m one of six children, and we’d each make a single dish request to build the Christmas Eve menu. Prime rib was a staple alongside homemade sushi rolls. When I was seven years old, the thing I wanted more than anything for Christmas Eve dinner was…Bagel Bites. For those who haven’t had the culinary pleasure of sampling Bagel Bites, they are pre-packaged, pre-cooked frozen mini bagels topped with something akin to tomato sauce, mozzarella, and cubed pepperoni. They have to be consumed piping hot, straight from the oven, before they turn to soggy, congealed discs, but the true appeal of Bagel Bites (at least for a 7-year-old) was the 90s commercial jingle (look it up, you won’t regret it). Regardless, my mother added them to the Christmas Eve menu, and they never left the Christmas Eve menu. Twenty-five years and a milk allergy later, they are still on the menu every Christmas Eve family dinner (even though I can’t eat them anymore). Thus ensuring I will never live down the request and elevating Bagel Bites on Christmas Eve from a fleeting childhood whim to a family holiday tradition.
Lydia Martinez, Food Writer
My biggest holiday food tradition doesn’t involve eating food. It is the fiercest gingerbread house-making competition. We break out the graham crackers and royal icing and have a full-on throwdown with the entire family getting involved. Each person is paired up with another family member. Names get picked out of a hat, so you never know who you’ll be paired with until the day of the party. The idea is to keep collaborators from cheating by coming up with ideas in advance. The rules are that you can’t use ingredients or candy that aren’t on the table for everyone to use. And you only have 2 hours to complete your gingerbread house. However, there may be a lot of hoarding, hiding, and under-the-table antics in my overly competitive family. The winner gets bragging rights for the next year and accusations of bribing the judges. I’m proud to say that I won at least twice. However, my cousin might claim otherwise.
My other holiday food tradition is building a giant grazing board for lunch on Christmas Day. I break out the platters, the cured meats, tinned fish, fresh fruit, and jams and do a giant spread for anyone who wants to stop by. It’s something I started about ten years ago. And it’s something that everyone looks forward to. People will hover around while I’m building it and try to sneak tastes while I shoo them away. Then we just stand around eating, talking, and building the perfect bite for several hours—the ideal way to avoid cooking on the holiday.
Jeremy Pugh, Executive Editor
One tradition I have came down through the ages from our former editor Glen Warchol who passed away in 2018. His last journalism billet was on the editorial staff here at Salt Lake magazine but his storied career included stops at The Salt Lake Tribune, The Desert News, The New Times and others. Many of us who knew and loved the man, carry on Glen’s Christmas Eve Rite. Every year, Glen would visit a random dive bar, wherever he was later in the night, near closing and buy a round of Miller High Life for whoever was on a stool moping at the bar. He’d shout “Champagne for Everyone! (The Champagne of Beers that is!)” I’ll be at Willie’s Lounge this year if anyone wants to join in.
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