Festive Flavors: Locals share holiday recipes

By Catherine Godbey | Living 50 Plus

The sound of carols filling stores and sight of wreaths on doors can mean one thing — the arrival of the winter holidays.

‘Tis the season for baking cookies, roasting meats and mulling apple ciders.

As family and friends gather for festive celebrations, home cooks will turn to their favorite time-tested recipes. From the “heart of the home” — the kitchen — they will whip up family favorites of apple ciders, cranberry conserves, dressings, empanadas and more.

“This is the gathering house. You see that sign up there, that says it all,” said 64-year-old Charlotte Wilson, of Decatur, pointing to a sign that reads “Kitchen. Good Food. Good Friends. Good Times.”

For holidays, Wilson bakes a Coca-Cola Cake passed down from her grandmother.

“She always made the Coca-Cola Cake for all our gatherings. It was so special because it was so moist and, more importantly, it was made from her with love. That’s how I make it, with love.”

Like Wilson, Dorothy Woodruff creates dishes for her family passed down through the generations.

“I learned to cook from my mother and if she ever learned from a recipe, I don’t remember it,” the 73-year-old Decatur woman said. “What I did to learn was I would watch my mother cook and eventually learned the recipes. We still have the same Christmas dinner that she served.”

That dinner includes chicken and dressing, ham, beef roast, turnip greens, macaroni and cheese, pinto beans, yams, chocolate cake, caramel cake, coconut cake, fried peach pies, tea cakes, cupcakes, ambrosia, fruit, peppermint candy, pecans and walnuts.

“It takes me about a week to get everything ready,” Woodruff said. “The funny thing is, I don’t like cooking, but when I’m cooking for my family, I will go all day long to make sure everything is just right.”

Here are some favorite holiday recipes provided by locals.

Coca-Cola Cake

From Charlotte Wilson

For the cake

2 cups flour

2 cups sugar

½ cup margarine

3 tablespoons cocoa

½ cup buttermilk

2 eggs, slightly beaten

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 cup cola

1½ cup miniature marshmallows

For the frosting

½ cup margarine

3 tablespoons cocoa

6 tablespoons cola

1 pound confectioners’ sugar

1 cup chopped pecans

For the cake, combine flour and sugar. Set aside. In medium saucepan, combine margarine, cola and cocoa. Heat to boiling and pour over flour and sugar mixture. Heat until well mixed. Add buttermilk, eggs, baking soda, vanilla and marshmallows. Beat well. Bake at 350 for 30 to 40 minutes in a 9-inch-by-13-inch pan.

For the frosting, combine margarine, cocoa, cola and bring to a boil. Put confectioners’ sugar in bowl and pour mixture over top. Add pecans. Frost cake while still hot.

Sweet Potato Pie

From Dorothy Woodruff

9 sweet potatoes

1 stick of butter

2 cups of sugar

1 tablespoon of brown sugar

½ teaspoon of salt

1 teaspoon nutmeg

1 egg (beat before adding)

1 cup of milk

2 tablespoons of cinnamon

1 teaspoon vanilla flavor

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Combine all of the ingredients together and place pie filling into unbacked deep dish pie shells. Bake pie for one hour.

Chicken & Dressing

From Dorothy Woodruff

6 cups of chicken broth

4 cups of crumbled cornbread

5 crumbled biscuits

1 stick of margarine (melted)

2 cups of celery, diced

2 onions, diced

2 tablespoons of sage

1 teaspoon of thyme

Black pepper to taste

Shredded boiled cooked chicken

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine the chicken broth, cornbread, biscuits, margarine, celery, onions, sage, thyme and black pepper. Add the chicken. Bake dressing for one hour.

Cranberry Apple Conserve

From Rick Paler

1½ cups water

3 cups turbinado sugar, such as Sugar in the Raw

1 3-inch cinnamon stick

¼ teaspoon ground allspice

3 12-ounce bags fresh cranberries

3 Gala or Pink Lady apples

2 tablespoons Calvados or brandy

Simmer water, sugar, cinnamon stick, allspice and half of cranberries in a four-to-five-quart heavy pot over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until cranberries just start to pop, about 5 minutes. Add half of remaining cranberries and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes. Peel and core the apples and dice them into 1/4-inch pieces. Add to cranberry mixture along with remaining cranberries then simmer, stirring occasionally for 5 minutes. Stir in Calvados and simmer 1 minute. Remove from heat and cool to warm or room temperature. Throw away the cinnamon stick.

Conserve can be made a week ahead and cooled completely, uncovered, then chilled, covered. Bring to room temperature or warm, if desired.

Sweet Potato and Turnip Gratin

From Rick Paler

2 to 3 pounds white turnips, peeled and sliced ¼-inch thick

2 to 3 pounds sweet potatoes, peeled and sliced ¼-inch thick

1 stick unsalted butter

3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh tarragon leaves

1 tablespoon of fresh thyme leaves


Freshly ground black pepper

Freshly grated nutmeg

1½ cups grated imported Parmesan cheese

1 cup bread crumbs, Panko or day-old French bread

2 cups heavy cream

Preheat oven to 350. Butter a 3-quart casserole. To blanch the turnips, bring a large pot of water to boil. Add sliced turnips and cook 5 minutes. Remove and drain thoroughly in a strainer. Gently combine the turnips and sweet potatoes. Place a layer of vegetables in the casserole and dot with half the butter. Sprinkle generously with tarragon, thyme, nutmeg, salt and pepper. Cover with 1/3 of the Parmesan. Make two more layers. Top with bread crumbs and pour the cream around the sides. Dot with remaining butter and Parmesan. Bake until vegetables are soft, but not mushy, around 1 to 1½ hours.

The gratin can be made ahead several days or frozen for up to 3 months. Let defrost in the refrigerator and reheat for 30 to 45 minutes in the over or reheat in the microwave.

Spicy Mexican Pork Roast

From Ana Leon

For roast

6½ pounds pork leg or butt roast

1 pack bacon, diced

12 dried plums

12 peeled and cut almonds

Salt to taste

For adobo

8 guajillo chiles

3 garlic cloves

½ white onion

6 black peppercorns

3 whole cloves

½ cup orange juice

3 tablespoons white vinegar

½ tablespoon dried oregano

Salt to taste

Preheat oven to 350. Remove seeds and stems from guajillo chiles and boil over medium high heat until tender. Remove from stove and let cool slightly. Pat salt onto the roast and make 1-inch cuts in the roast all over. Fill the cuts with diced bacon, dried plums and almonds. Place in oven safe roast or baking pan. Strain the guajillo chiles and add to blender or food processor. Blend to make the adobo. Cover the roast with adobo and massage it into the roast. Cover with aluminum foil and bake 3 hours. Carefully remove from the oven and slice.

Sweet Mexican Empanadas

From Maria Lomeli

4 cups all-purpose flour

2 cups Crisco vegetable shortening

¼ cup sugar

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

½ tablespoon baking powder

Pinch of salt

½ cup cinnamon tea

La Lechera Dulce de Leche or jelly of your choice for the filling

Cinnamon and sugar for dusting

Preheat oven to 350 and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. In small pot, bring 1-2 cups of water to a boil. Add cinnamon sticks and simmer for 5-10 minutes. Remove from heat and slightly cool. In large mixing bowl, sift together flour, salt, sugar and baking powder. Slowly add in the vegetable shortening and mix with hands. You should be left with a sandy texture. Slowly add in the cinnamon tea and vanilla extract, mixing with your hands until you achieve a doughy consistency. Add more cinnamon tea if needed. Remove dough from bowl and knead on a lightly floured surface for about 2 minutes or until dough is soft and no longer sticks to your hands. Return to bowl and cover with plastic wrap for 30 minutes at room temperature. Uncover and remove from the bowl onto a lightly floured surface. Using a rolling pin, roll out to a 1/8-1/4-inch thickness. Using a round cookie cutter or special empanada mold, cut out even circles and repeat until little to no dough is left. Make sure to flour the cookie cutter or empanada mold to prevent sticking. Do not use cooking spray.

If using an empanada mold: Place a dough circle in the middle of the mold, then place a tablespoonful of dulce de leche or jelly in the middle of the circle. Carefully shut the mold and gently press the ends together. Remove from mold and place on parchment paper.

If not using an empanada mold: Place a tablespoonful of dulce de leche or jelly in the middle of the circle. Carefully fold the circle in half and press the edges with a fork to create a seal. Gently pick up and place on parchment paper.

Bake for 25 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from oven and cool slightly. While still warm, dust the empanadas with cinnamon and sugar on all sides. Enjoy with your favorite warm holiday drink.