Holiday Heritage: Sweet Family Traditions by Mary Stein Hurst

Holiday Heritage: Sweet Family Traditions
By Mary Stein Hurst

Sam Duncan and Danielle Garrison have the holiday baking under control. They’ve had years of experience — thanks to their mothers.

Sam, 8, says he’s been doing it about five years.

“I was doing it when I was 3, right mom?” he asked his mother, Heather, at their Lake Alfred home.

“Well, I know you were eating them when you were 3,” she says. “You were maybe 5 when you started helping.”

The artist and assistant manager at Pier 1, and her husband, Lake Alfred City Commissioner John Duncan, have two other children, Bailey, 12, and Catherine, 10.

The Duncan family bakes and decorates sugar cookies every year together, just as Heather and her brother had done with their mom when they were children.

Heather’s brother is married but doesn’t have children so the quarter-inch thick, soft sugar cookies don’t get made at his house anymore.

“But sometimes we send him some,” Heather Duncan says.

The cookies are soft thanks to using milk in the recipe, she says.

And she keeps it simple. Three cookie shapes – Christmas trees iced green, bells iced blue and stars iced in yellow. It’s the sprinkles and other decorations that make the cookies unique to each child.

Heather’s mother got the sugar cookie recipe from her husband’s mother.

“If they wanted cookies, they just went to grandma’s to get them,” Heather Duncan says. “It was my paternal grandmother that did all the baking.”

Heather Duncan says while the sugar cookies are a tradition, they also make rosettes, caramel bars and buckeyes, which are chocolate covered peanut butter balls.

This Thanksgiving, when her parents visited from Arkansas, they began learning a new Norwegian tradition – making lefse, a thin potato pancake topped with cinnamon sugar.

Of German descent, Daphne Garrison says her mother grew up in a family of 19. Each year, the Christmas cookie competition was fierce among the sisters in the family raised on an Indiana farm.

“I remember my mother and sisters would bring their Christmas cookies in shirt boxes and put them on top of all the freezers they had,” she says.

“Everybody wanted to be judged as having baked the best cookies,” Garrison adds.

Having relocated from Chicago to Winter Haven as a State Farm Insurance multicultural specialist, she brought her Midwest traditions with her.

“We don’t have family in Florida so I wanted to instill family traditions in my children,” she says.

Garrison’s daughter, Danielle, knew where the recipes are kept and has a new favorite cookie cookbook from Betty Crocker.

“This is the second Betty Crocker Cookie Book I’ve bought,” Daphne Garrison says. “But we don’t just bake at Christmas. We do it practically every week.”

While she says her oldest son is too “cool” to be seen baking right now,  he enjoys it.

“I have a rack in the kitchen with tall to small aprons so everybody can help,” she says.

Because they bake so often, the Garrison’s Christmas baking is limited to Russian Tea Cakes, “pillow” cookies (Spritz cookies) and a Midwest carrot cake without the Southern-style cream cheese frosting. Instead, the basic spice cake recipe is topped with sifted confectioner’s sugar.