Millions of Americans have gained a few pounds since Thanksgiving. They’ll add on a few more on Christmas and New Year’s Day.
It’s not the turkey or the ham. It’s not the mashed potatoes and gravy or cornbread dressing, and it’s not the green bean or sweet tater casseroles. It’s those Christmas sweets that become the ghosts of Christmas past as we begin a new year.
In my house, it’s an accepted fact that you’re not allowed to eat pumpkin pie after Christmas Day. My wife may fix several scrumptious pies starting the week before Thanksgiving and a couple more up to Christmas Day. A pumpkin pie lasts only a day or two at my house.
After Christmas Day, though, pumpkins apparently turn into carriages, and Cinderfellahs like me are not allowed a homemade desert except when the sun, moon, stars and planets are aligned and all is right in the cosmos.
That does happen every few months, by the way, which is why I can expect some banana pudding, blackberry cobbler or peach pound cake between now and next Thanksgiving. That’s okay. As I’ve said before, I can get by without sweets. Lord forbid I should be denied the turkey, ham, steak, seafood, pizza, fried chicken or barbecue! I can live without the sweets but not meats.
Excessive amounts of sugar have an immediate effect on me. I really like a pecan pie, for example, but if I eat more than two bites of this super-sweet temptation, I get the heebie-jeebies. It’s like my body goes into toxic shock, and I feel an overwhelming desire to wash it down with a pork chop or hot wing.
Yeah, I know pecan (pronounced pea-can, not puh-con) is a Southern thing, and as a good Southerner I should proudly consume several slices whenever possible. I can’t handle it, though.
My mama used to make a Christmas sweet called “divinity.” These devilish chunks of white confection make pecan pie taste bland. As I remember it, the recipe takes eleventy cups of sugar, 10 gallons of corn syrup, 40 egg whites, an entire bottle of vanilla extract and an orchard’s worth of pecan pieces. As kids, my older brother could eat this stuff by the pound. If I ate one bite, I suddenly had the energy and desire to run laps around Georgia.
She also made something she called pecan fingers, or wedding cookies. I figured she called them wedding cookies because she also made them for weddings, including mine. These crispy delicacies were made from all-purpose flour, butter, vanilla, pecan pieces and powdered sugar. They were great with milk, which in my day was whole milk, sometimes straight-from-the-dairy. She usually made these cookies in large batches the day before a wedding or on Christmas Eve. Except the ones she took to church, they were gone in an instant, including the ones left for Santa.
I knew inherently there was no Santa, and a fictional character wouldn’t mind my eating his cookies after everyone had gone to bed.
I never weighed much in those days, so it didn’t matter if I overindulged in pecan fingers. We didn’t get a lot of candy in our stockings, just one large peppermint stick and maybe a few Hershey’s Kisses. Our stockings were mostly stuffed with navel oranges, grapefruit, tangerines and nuts — pecans, walnuts and Brazil nuts.
I’d put most of these treats in the pockets of one of Daddy’s old Marine Corps field jackets that I wore whenever I ventured into the woods behind our house, which I did every day for hours at a time throughout Christmas vacation. Sometimes, I went hunting, but most of the time I never even loaded my single-barrel 20-guage shotgun.
I followed rabbit trails — literally — as I munched on fresh fruit and nuts, and wished I’d grabbed a slice of Mama’s pumpkin pie. She kept making them through the New Year.
With memories of her pecan fingers still fresh on my tongue, I thought about how good a ham and turkey sandwich would be when I got back to the house.