The Scents of Christmas — Jill James

More than the excitement of presents, more than the sound of carols, even more than the visual impact of snapshots, it is the smells and scents that take us back in an instant to a specific time and place. And nowhere are scent memories more prevalent than the holidays.

tangerines-736920-mThe pungent-sweet scent of tangerines transport me instantly to the Christmases of my childhood in the ’60s in Baltimore, Maryland. Back before I moved to California, land of sunshine and year-round fruit, I lived in Baltimore in the 1960s. Land of ice and snow and no global reach of food that we don’t even think twice about today. No pomegranates from Brazil and tomatoes from Venezuela.  Once summer died there were no more oranges and tangerines until next summer. But, every Christmas one magically appeared in my Christmas stocking, along with a handful of walnuts.

I don’t know where my mom got them and why I didn’t see them until Christmas Day, that is part of the magic of Christmas past. But even today, I’ll stop in the grocery store and inhale the scent of a box of Clementine’s or Cuties and think of snow, and cold, and the big, round lump in the toe of a red Christmas stocking. The thrill of the taste of sunshine in the dead of winter. The slowness of eating one section at a time to make the happiness last. Letting the juice linger on my tongue for as long as it lasted.

Second to tangerines was the smell of my mother baking Christmas cookies. She was an amazing cook. She could take odds and ends in the refrigerator and turn it into a meal. She cooked from scratch and unfortunately did not pass down the cooking skills to me. She couldn’t bake a cake or pie to save her life, but she could make awesome cookies.

Here is a recipe that has been handed down in my family since at least 1900.

butter cookiesGrandma Svehla’s Bohemian Butter Cookies
(Mom never wanted me to share the family recipe, but I believe great food should be shared.)

1 pound of butter
1 1/4 cup of sugar
1 egg
2 teaspoons of vanilla extract (lemon or almond are nice too.)
4 cups of flour
1 teaspoon of baking powder

Mix butter and sugar until creamed together. Add egg and vanilla and mix.
Slowly add flour and baking powder. Mix completely. Refrigerate for an hour.

Drop by spoonfull on to greased cookie sheet. Mash with wet fork for pattern on top. Sprinkle with colored sugar. (for ADD kids or those who can’t have Red 40, just use regular sugar.)

Bake 7-9 minutes at 350 degrees. Makes about six dozen cookies.

*These are very rich. I usually eat 2 or 3 with my morning tea or coffee.

Happy Holidays and happy holiday memories from:
Jill James,
writer of contemporary and paranormal romance

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6 thoughts on “The Scents of Christmas — Jill James

  1. Wonderful post, Jill. I can smell the tangerines now. My Mom used to give us oranges and peppermint sticks in our Christmas stockings. She’d have us roll them to break down the pulp, then cut out a hole in the top. The hole? Why… it was to insert our peppermint stick. Delicious.Thanks for the memories.


  2. Everyone else had fancy cookies for Christmas. We had ugly brown ones but they are so delicious. Still are! It’s not Christmas without them. Very old recipe, called for handfuls of flour and so many walnut-sized butter globs of butter. My mom was very careful and turned into actual measurements and of course today we refrigerate the dough and skip putting it in the spring house.

    Never had an orange in my stocking, but i was threatened if I wasn’t good, I’d get coal in it. What was coal? By the time my mom explained the shiny black rock – I wanted it! I was so bad that year!


    • E., so true that cookies don’t have to be fancy to taste good. My mom couldn’t bake a pie to save her life. LOL She would get the apples all cinnamon-y and just fold the crust all around the pile and call it an apple popover. Still tasted just as delicious.


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