Once again, we are starting to stir things up for Christmas. What comes to your mind when you reflect on preparing for Christmas? As a child, a big part of getting ready for Christmas for me was dreaming. Yes, dreaming, of what the tree would look like, what part would I have in the church program on Christmas Eve, and what gifts were going to be under the tree.
This year, more than ever, I have started reflecting on the signs of Christmas in my childhood home. It usually started with my mother placing an Advent wreath on our dining room buffet. Next came music – usually Christmas records that had familiar carols and beautiful choirs. There were hymns, too, that took us right from the kitchen to snow-capped steeples. When Silent Night was sung, thoughts about the beauty and warmth of a candlelight service on Christmas Eve came to mind.
Christmas will be different this year due to COVID, however, there is not a limit on the memories that you can recall in a room. There is no social distancing involved in basking in the glowing embers of earlier Christmas celebrations. You can recall memories without a mask when you are sitting alone in the glow of the Christmas tree.
So, come along with me as I recall a Merry Christmas wish from one of Miss Elaine Larson’s Home Ec. Foods Class 204 on the campus of Minot State several years ago. I first must tell you that this memory is possible because of our daughter, Lydia. Several years ago, we attended the auction sale of Dr. Gordon Olson and his wife Carley. Lydia was determined to purchase a large apple box of recipes that had been clipped from newspapers, books, handwritten gems and so forth. Upon arriving home, she immediately went to sorting and she had stacks of recipes! She neatly labeled each pile. For example, Dr. Olson liked to hunt so there was a game recipe collection. There were also many recipes connected to Minot State, and that is where we are going today.
So, put on your red and green not only for Christmas, but for Minot State too! Back in the day, Miss Elaine Larson taught Home Ec 204 which was a foods class. Her classroom was located on the second floor of Old Main on the west end. It was a lovely room with six stoves, a vintage Jacobean styled dining room set that featured two buffets, a china cupboard, and a vast dining table that you could say always glowed. Spectacularly so! It was a cozy setting and perfectly maintained. You could open a cupboard door by any one of the stoves, and there you would find a satisfactory assortment of cookware. It should be noted that all stations included a double boiler – after all, Miss Larson ran a classroom that taught many values including the many facets of using a double boiler to reach perfection with sauces and melting duties of a respected cook!
In Lydia’s well-sorted collection, I came across the Merry Christmas recipe book. The cover is of red construction paper and features a lovely Christmas bell complete with holly. Miss Larson had written in fine penmanship the names of the students in the foods class. They included the following ladies: Kelly Bower, Pamela Brown, Phyllis Currier, Julie Eckmann, Janet Enander, Aaron Harrison, Arliss Nelson, Kerstin Olson, Cynthia Platte, Sherri Richardson, Bernice Wells and Deborah Wynn.
These lucky souls, along with Miss Larson, had the task of baking all the cookies for the annual College Christmas Tea. The entire campus was invited, and it was a well-attended event. It was one of the holiday’s anticipated luxuries. The tea was held in the classroom complete with a head serving table that featured white linen and Christmas centerpiece. Scattered around the room were other little tables dressed in white tablecloths and centerpieces that coordinated with the head table. This tea was done right, and I am sure several pinky fingers were in position during the sipping of tea. Invitations were sent out and each student was required to make not only attractive, but tasty cookies. There were spritz cookies, some that resembled red and white candy canes, and little pearly moons that orbited the conversation when eaten. Each guest was presented a pamphlet of cookies recipes served at the tea. It should also be noted that cookie trays did feature lace doilies, and not one person felt this gesture to be stuffy!
Miss Larson spent 34 years at Minot State. She was known as the “Cookie Lady” on campus. When the Home Economics program was eliminated, Elaine went on to earn her PhD which served her well in other capacities at Minot State. I recently visited with Elaine and it was enjoyable to relive this part of history at MSU. She stated that once the cookie baking was in full swing, the sweet smells flooded all three floors of Old Main.
Christmas is a time for baking and for thinking of friends and kindred who would enjoy a Christmas tin filled with homemade goodies. These are things we can still do this year. When I think of Christmas baking, caramel comes to mind. While paging through the vintage Minot State Cookie book, the Caramel Pecan Squares caught my eye. The Caramel recipe is one that we have enjoyed for many years, and it was given to me by my former Home Ec teacher in Underwood, Faye Miller.
Christmas is a time for praying. We pray that we may see the end of the COVID pandemic with the completion and distribution of a vaccine. In this Advent season, may you find the meaning of Christmas deeper, your faith stronger, and your hope brighter as you prepare for Christmas 2020.
Caramel Pecan Squares
3/4 cup margarine
1/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups flour
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup margarine
2 eggs, beaten
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup chopped pecans
Cream margarine and sugar until light and fluffy. Blend in vanilla. Add flour and mix well. Press dough onto bottom of a greased 15 1/2 x 10 1/2 jelly roll pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 10 minutes.
Melt caramels with water and margarine in double boiler over low heat; stirring occasionally until smooth. In another bowl, combine eggs, sugar, vanilla and salt. Gradually add caramel sauce; mix well, stir in pecans; pour over crust. Continue baking for 20 minutes. Cool and cut into squares.
2 cups sugar
1 cup butter
2 cup cream (reserve 1 cup)
1 1/2 cups white syrup
In a heavy deep kettle melt butter, add syrup then sugar. Slowly add cream and stir constantly. Bring to rolling boil and slowly stir in additional cup of cream. Put in candy thermometer and cook until firm ball stage 245 degrees. Have a lightly buttered 9 x 13 pan ready. When completely cool, place in refrigerator for 15 minutes before cutting and wrapping in wax paper. If you prefer a harder caramel, cook until 260 degrees.
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