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Friday, Apr. 29, 2016

Gray Matters: Tastes of Christmas

Monday, December 22, 2008

The Blessed Christmas Season touches all of the senses, but today let's consider the sense of taste. Do you remember those tasty things when you were a child that could only mean Christmas? My mother didn't do a lot of baking so my rememberings are of goodies brought home from the store. Mixed hard candies loom large.

Ribbon candy was special. I loved the way it folded back on itself. Once inside my mouth, those folds made wee storage places out of which I could suck the tasty juices. I dimly recall some little pillow-shaped candies that had a mysterious filling inside.

Anyone remember what those were all about? Then there were always big bowls of mixed nuts in their shells and I loved those. I could sit for a long while sorting through the different varieties, cracking and picking, savoring and enjoying.

Sometime when I was a bit older, an aunt, my mother's sister, introduced us to a new and unforgettable treat. They were called Aplets. I wonder how she found out about them. I'm wondering, too, if any of you have enjoyed this special confection. I hadn't thought of them for years until they appeared in a catalog from which I sometimes order.

This led me to an internet search which brought some fascinating information. Aplets and Cotlets are made from jellied apple or apricot juice combined with walnuts. They replicate a popular Mid-East confection known as "Turkish Delight." It seems that early in the twentieth century two young Armenians fled Turkey where there was increasing danger for their minority group.

Armen Tertsagian and Mark Balaban met in Seattle and decided to go into business together. None of their enterprises was successful and they hated the gray damp climate. So in 1915 they headed east and discovered the village of Cashmere in the Wenatchee Valley in central Washington.

Here they were struck with its similarity to their homeland. The two bought an apple farm and were soon in business. Armenian relatives joined the family firm. One had been a chemist with a French perfume firm so he turned his skills toward improving the products. This amazing enterprise has remained in the family.

Greg Taylor, grandson of Tertsagian, is now the president and has been for 30 years. In addition to the apple and apricot treats the company now produces peach, strawberry, and orange, with walnuts; blueberry and raspberry with pecans; and pineapple with macadamia. Consider yourself lucky if a tin from central Washington shows up in your stocking!

Cookies were my specialty. For years, I made at least a dozen varieties, often in double batches. I wasn't good at rolling, cutting and decorative icing, but I employed almost every other technique. I had a Spritz press which was fun to use. Between my palms, I rolled spicy dough and cut it into quantities of "pepper nuts." There were pans of date bars, toffee squares and lemon squares.

Little balls of cookie dough were rolled into thumbprints and Russian tea cakes, all to be doused with powdered sugar. The list goes on and on, and my mouth is watering. Trays of cookies were often gifts from our house.

Too, I would catch up on our entertaining obligations with many a holiday evening with friends and relatives over cookies and coffee. It took all of the rest to satisfy my hungry crew.

Now join me in relishing the memories of your own special tastes of Christmas!