Sunday, December 29, 2013

Holiday Berry Trifle

Day 54

I love Christmas for all of the obvious reasons, of course, but not only for those reasons. I love this time of year for the way it warms my heart, for the way it makes me see the world in a gentler light, and for the way it causes me even more nostalgia than usual. I’m sure I’m not alone in saying that there’s a certain feeling at Christmas time that cannot be duplicated; I suppose it’s best described as an intoxicating mélange of peace, contentment, and anticipation. Naturally, it should come as no surprise that such a spiritually meaningful time of the year as the celebration of Jesus’ birth evokes similarly deep and positive emotions. Even still, I am sometimes surprised by their intensity and by the deluge of memories that consume my mind and heart in December.

Copyright, Doug Kapustin Photography, 2013
One such memory is that of my childhood Christmas Eve celebrations. Until I was 17 years old, my father’s side of the family spent Christmas Eve in my grandmother’s log cabin—a quaint house, built in the Scandinavian-style by my grandfather in the early 1940s. I remember many things about Christmas Eve at Grandma’s; too many to enumerate here, certainly. For example, she always invited two of her best friends, Mrs. Clement and Ms. Stutz, along with their families or guests. My cousins—Hunter, Cassye, and Rose—would be there too, with their parents. And Maggie, our youngest cousin who wasn’t born until I was 16, joined us years later, much to our delight. 

The evening was spent listening to stories, usually told by my father who was and still is an impressive storyteller. There was homemade green sherbet punch, finger-foods in the 1950s housewife-style presentation, and delightful company. Because our household of three was not usually very festive—my parents’ tending to be mostly quiet and introspective, even during the holidays—I anticipated this evening with my entire being. I was giddy with excitement every year on the day before Christmas Eve and even more on the day itself. 

I remember that my mother and I would go early to Grandma’s house to help her with some of the food preparations. My job was to cut-away the edges from the white loaf bread, then to make mini-pieces of bread from each slice, some triangular, some round, and some square. For the round ones, I was given a mini-biscuit cutter; those were my favorite to make because of all of the leftover bread I could bag for Grandma to use the next week to make her bread pudding with damson preserves and cream glaze. I’ll have to share that recipe in a future blog, for sure. 

My mother would spread some of my grandmother’s famous chicken salad on each piece of square bread and pimento cheese on the triangles to make finger sandwiches. I was positively delighted whenever one would be less than perfect so that I could eat the mistake. In addition, Grandma mixed cream cheese with a small bit of mayonnaise and chives, then dropped red or green food coloring, alternately, into the mixture to make festive round cream cheese finger sandwiches. These little holiday wonders were my favorite, and I clearly remember finding far more “mistake sandwiches” than there really were. 

Even as a child, I loved standing back and surveying a perfectly presented table for company. Once finished, Grandma’s labor of love had resulted in spinach dip in a sweetbread bowl, round cream cheese and chive finger sandwiches, square chicken-salad finger sandwiches, triangular pimento-cheese finger sandwiches, mini-country ham biscuits, fudge, peanut butter balls, butter mints, carrots and celery with dip, port-wine cheese with German-style sliced meats, spicy sausage balls, and homemade lime punch. She filled the table with so much food that there was barely room for plates and napkins. It was heavenly, and the absolute best part of Christmas for me. Honestly, I looked forward to this table more than any gift I ever received as a child. 

One year, I clearly remember Mrs. Clement bringing her favorite English berry trifle to add to the feast. As a student of history and a lover of British culture, she never failed to impress me with some interesting addition to Grandma’s table each year. I always felt so continental and sophisticated when I ate whatever she brought since it was very different from the traditional fare we usually enjoyed. Another bonus was the interesting cultural story Mrs. Clement would share each year about whatever she brought. The idea that a world of different foods and cultures was out there for the taking was so incredible to me. Not much has changed; I’m still enchanted by the customs of different places.

Pardon me here for my long-winded lead to the point of today’s blog entry, but my trip down memory lane was begging to be shared, and it’s because of the memory that I chose to make today’s Holiday Berry Trifle, in honor of my favorite woman, my dearly- departed grandmother, Dorothy, and her outstanding food, her loving heart, and her interesting friend who made it first for me. Alas, thank you Grandma, for being such a positive role model in every way, for giving me a love of attractive food presentations, and for making me strive to follow in your culinary footsteps. I wish you were here to spend Christmas with us; it’s simply not the same without you. 

Holiday Berry Trifle
2 pints of strawberries, cut in bite-size chunks
1 pint of blueberries
1 9x5 loaf pound cake*, cut in cubes
1/3 cup sweet Sherry
½ pint heavy whipping cream
3 tbs. powdered sugar
2 pkgs. (3.5 oz. each) Cook and Serve vanilla custard
½ of 8 oz. container Cool Whip, thawed
Cinnamon sugar

Cook custard according to package directions. Set aside to cool completely. 

In a trifle dish, place ½ of pound cake sprinkled with all of Sherry. Sprinkle all of blueberries on cake. 

Combine Cool Whip with cooled custard by folding it in gently until completely incorporated. Spread ½ of custard mixture over berries and pound cake. Add a layer of most of strawberries, then a layer of remaining custard, and finally another pound cake layer without Sherry, saving a few pieces of pound cake and strawberries for garnish as you layer. 

Whip heavy cream to soft peaks. Beat in powdered sugar until stiff. Spread over strawberries. Garnish with additional crumbled pound cake, sprinkled cinnamon sugar, and remaining strawberries.**

* Note 1: I usually make my own pound cake (see recipe for Cream Cheese Pound Cake, Day 3 of my blog, using loaf pans instead of Bundt) but store-bought pound cake works fine too. 

** Note 2: the layering order is really up to you, as long as you start with Sherry-soaked pound cake and end with heavy whipped cream and garnish. 

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