Holiday Traditions – with Food!

Chef at work shelling peas

images-1One of the best things about the holiday season is being able to celebrate beloved traditions, again and again every year. Whether yours involve decorating the tree with your family, opening presents on Christmas Eve, caroling with friends…..the list goes on! Everyone has a favorite tradition that brings a smile to their face as they recall memories made in holidays past. One thing we all have in common, whether we celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah or Kwanza, is food! Good food has a way to bring people together. A perfect example are Coho’s holiday dinners! We love to host a meal on Christmas Day and New Year’s Day both. Join us for a gourmet meal, no cooking or cleaning required! Just bring your appetites and loved ones!

As I was thinking about food and the holidays, I decided to ask around a bit to see what kinds of food-related traditions the locals like to revive every year.

Heather MacIntyre recently relocated to the island, just like me. She’s from back east and is hurting over missing the holidays with her family this year, but she finds comfort in remembering their traditions. “On Thanksgiving, my family all gathers at my aunt’s house in Berry, Vermont. Everyone is almost always there, and it’s wonderful to count on one day out of the year where you will see all of your family and be loved unequivocally. My favorite food that we always have is my aunt’s famous sweet potato casserole, and although I couldn’t tell you what’s in it, it’s heavenly! With a little butter and brown sugar, it melts in your mouth! It’s not so much the food that makes our Thanksgiving traditional, but the continual presence of those we hold so dear and love so much.”

Our own Chef Molly at the inns recalls some of the delicious Italian foods that she grew up with. “My grandma would usually make a giant pot of polenta, and another giant pot of chicken thighs in tomato sauce for Christmas Eve. She would also always buy nougat candies that were from Italy!”

Anna Maria and Dave, your innkeepers, used to gather with Dave’s family on Christmas Eve for a traditional Slovac meal called the “Velija,” an epic 12-course! affair that was eventually pared down to six over the years by Dave’s parents. The meal signifies the sweetness and sourness of life together. Anna Maria participated in the Velija for almost two decades before they relocated to the islands. They used to replicate it here before they opened Coho!

Traditional Kolachi bread
Traditional Kolachi bread

The first course was a pickled herring served in a glass cup, over a bed of iceberg lettuce. Traditionally, the Slovenians would eat carp or another whitefish. A mushroom and barley soup came next, symbolizing the bitterness of slavery. The main course was potato and cheese peroghies and sauerkraut, served with a side of sour cream. The meal ended with steamed prunes with lemon. These were always the least favorite of the courses! The reward for downing the prunes was the kolachi, a walnut rolled bread, and Christmas cookies that everyone had baked beforehand.

As for me, I was lucky enough to grow up with a grandmother and aunt who loved to create whole holiday meals from scratch, everything from turkey, to green bean casserole, and scrumptious pies. In recent years, my aunt has taken to making a cherry pie just for me, because I love it so much! But I have to say that my absolute favorite food-related holiday tradition is something we haven’t done in a few years, since my grandmother is getting on in years. We used to do it together all the time. We would make divinity, a traditional Southern candy made with corn syrup. I have to represent my southern roots here!

Divinity is a great candy to make around the holidays, as it requires a low-humidity environment!
Divinity candy, decorated for Christmas!

The ironic thing about divinity is that it’s difficult to make most of the year in Florida, as it requires a very dry climate, and well, we’re pretty darn humid in the sunshine state most of the time. A lot of sugar is used in making it, so it acts like a sponge to the air surrounding it. If the humidity is over 50%, it will turn out a gooey mess. So my grandmother and I would make it around Christmas time, as we were likely to have the lowest humidity that time of year. Sometimes it would work and sometimes it wouldn’t, but I cherish those hours in the kitchen with Grandma June. My memories of anything specific are pretty fuzzy, but I do remember how much fun it was to talk to her and help her make the candy. I was always in awe of how confident she was in the kitchen; how she always knew exactly how to create something amazing out of a random pile of ingredients.

So this holiday season, we encourage you to gather your loved ones, whether they be family or friends, near or far, many or few, and share a meal together. There’s nothing more important than the sense of being together this time of year, and we don’t think there’s a much better way to do that than by eating!



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