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What’s your family’s favorite?

King Arthur Flour, Historic Deerfield team up to host holiday baking contest

  • Historic Deerfield docent demonstrates hearth cooking in a fire place in the Hall Tavern. Recorder file photo/Paul Franz

    Historic Deerfield docent demonstrates hearth cooking in a fire place in the Hall Tavern. Recorder file photo/Paul Franz

  • Traditional spices that would have been used in open hearth cooking during the 1700s are part of a display at Old Deerfield. Recorder/Trish Crapo

    Traditional spices that would have been used in open hearth cooking during the 1700s are part of a display at Old Deerfield. Recorder/Trish Crapo

  • Historic Deerfield docent demonstrates hearth cooking in a fire place in the Hall Tavern. Recorder file photo/Paul Franz
  • Traditional spices that would have been used in open hearth cooking during the 1700s are part of a display at Old Deerfield. Recorder/Trish Crapo

Food and the holidays go together. Americans entertain extensively in November and December, and food is an important part of that hospitality. Perhaps more crucially, food takes on a special role at holiday time because foods we traditionally make at this time of year enhance our rituals and our memories.

Historic Deerfield is celebrating the ways in which food connects us to the past with a month-long celebration of heritage baking in December. The festivities will be kicked off with the organization’s first-ever Heritage Baking Competition, co-organized by King Arthur Flour. The entry deadline is Friday .

Amateur cooks are invited to submit their favorite family baked holiday dessert recipe, along with a written story that explains what makes the recipe special and meaningful. Each recipe must include at least 1/2-cup of King Arthur Flour and must involve scratch baking (no mixes or packaged ingredients).

A panel from Historic Deerfield’s cooking program will select 15 finalists. These cooks will be invited to bring their baked selections to Historic Deerfield on Dec. 7, which is being called Heritage Baking Day.

Three winners will be selected — one for best story, one for most unique/creative recipe and one for best recipe.

Judging will be based on taste, creativity (of both recipe and story) and texture. Each winner will receive a $50 gift certificate to King Arthur Flour’s baker’s catalog.

The minute I learned about the contest, my mind was awash with ideas for entries. I could write about the shortbread squares my mother made every Christmas, dubbed “The Best Cookies” by my cookie-monster nephew.

I could write about making fruitcake every year with family members. Despite fruitcake’s reputation, it speaks of Christmas in a very specific way to me. Or, I could write about my grandmother’s popover recipe, describing the ways in which popovers resemble that grandmother: seemingly plain things that can pull off culinary magic.

I quickly realized that I am ineligible to compete; as a food writer I don’t fit into the “amateur cook” category. I can still take an interest in the event, however.

I asked Claire Carlson, education program coordinator at Historic Deerfield, about the impetus for the contest and for Heritage Baking Day.

She explained that Historic Deerfield has always used King Arthur Flour’s white whole-wheat flour in its open-hearth cooking demonstrations. “It’s the right consistency. It’s the best for historic recipes. It’s the closest you can get to the kind of wheat flour that was in use (when Deerfield was settled in the 17th century).”

Julie Christopher, King Arthur Flour’s marketing program manager, concurred. “It’s likely residents of Deerfield were King Arthur Flour customers since the founding of our company in 1790,” she told me. “It’s possible our product was used in the very buildings now being used to demonstrate historic living and historic cooking/baking at Deerfield.”

Christopher added, “The partnership with Historic Deerfield gives us a way to make real for people just how old the King Arthur Flour Co. is and how much a part of the fabric of life we have been in New England for centuries.

“We are especially interested to show people how much things have changed in the way we eat. Our own recipe development is very modern, although we do highlight on occasion ‘traditional,’ ‘classic,’ or historical items.

“With the experts at Historic Deerfield we are able to show some really authentic (and researched) examples of baking the way it was done back when our company was founded.”

King Arthur Flour sponsors 100 baking contests per year across the country. This particular contest is an outgrowth of what Carlson and her colleagues have discovered about people who attend Historic Deerfield’s open-hearth cooking demonstrations, which Carlson runs.

“Visitors come to the program with their own stories,” Carlson said. “Holidays bring up those stories.” She was quick to note that contest entries don’t have to be historic beyond a personal sense. “It doesn’t have to be from 1700. It can be from 1950.”

Like me, Carlson can’t enter the contest, but she happily shared her own family recipe and story. Her sweet bread “receipt” comes from her father, David Carlson, who still lives with Carlson’s mother, Mary, in the Amherst house in which she grew up.

Their daughter explained that David Carlson makes this “Swedish Bread” for every family holiday — Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter.

“It is a moist, fragrant, braided coffee bread rich with butter and sugar and flavoured with cardamom,” noted Carlson. “I can remember as a child watching my father take a small handful of cardamom pods, break them open, and put the small black seeds into a plastic baggie.

“He would take the round end of a tablespoon and crush the seeds, which let off a wonderful spicy, sweet smell.

“Powdered cardamom just wouldn’t do and, for the amount needed for the recipe, it was a waste of money to buy a jar of the powdered stuff because it would just go stale before he could use it up. Plus, it was expensive. That made it even more special.”

After describing her father’s preparation method for making two loaves, she said, “These were breads that were not part of the holiday meal, but left out on the round kitchen table with the other nibbly treats (called “dopp” in Swedish-American households).

“The coffee pot was always on and the common table was filled with breads, crackers, and cookies to nibble on while the holiday feast was prepared.”

Carlson makes this bread every year for her family; see the sidebar for her father’s recipe. She looks forward to that family holiday time — and to the holidays at Historic Deerfield.

“The street will be festive,” she predicted. “The doorways at Deerfield will be decorated with wreaths. The visitor center at Hall Tavern will have seasonal decorations. The town has a warm and inviting feeling in December.”

To learn more about King Arthur Flour Month at Historic Deerfield and to view the rules for the Heritage Baking Contest, visit http://www.historic-deerfield.org/event/kingarthurflourmonth.

David Carlson’s Swedish Bread

Ingredients:

1/2 cup sugar

1/4 teaspoon salt

7 or 8 cardamom seeds, crushed (or 1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom)

1 cup milk

1/3 cup butter or margarine

1 package yeast, dissolved in 1/4 cup warm water

4 cups King Arthur Flour

Instructions:

Place the sugar, salt, and cardamom in a large bowl. Place the milk and butter in a saucepan and heat them to lukewarm. Add them to the sugar mixture; then add the dissolved yeast.

Sift the flour into the liquid and knead and blend the dough until it is easy to handle.

Let the dough rise in a covered, buttered bowl near the stove. When it has doubled in bulk, punch it down, knead it briefly, and let it rise again.

Divide the dough into two braids. Place them in a buttered pan and let them rise once more. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Bake the braids for about 20 minutes. Serve them the next day as holiday “dopp.”

Writer and singer Tinky Weisblat lives in Hawley. She is the author of “The Pudding Hollow Cookbook” and “Pulling Taffy.” Learn more about her at www.TinkyCooks.com.

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