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The importance of produce in holiday food traditions

The winter holiday season has numerous festive holiday food traditions, many steeped in the religious and cultural histories of the season.

Some may be familiar, such as the fruitcake, some may not be. Produce plays a prominent role in many of these holiday food traditions, so let’s take a look at some of these traditions from around the world.


The diaspora has led to a varied and unique food tradition amongst the Jewish faith. Hanukkah celebrates the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem by the Hasmoneans in 165 BCE. In America, Hanukkah was not widely celebrated until the 20th century, in fact, many of the holiday food traditions began worldwide in the early 14th century. Fried foods, symbolizing the lighting on the Menorah, were adopted as the principle Hanukkah food, with cheese becoming a central part of the festivity due to a story passed down through the generations. This story centers around a young widow, Judith, in a town held by the Babylonians who was able to infiltrate the enemy army, feeding their leader with a very salty cheese. In an attempt to satiate his thirst brought on by the salty cheese, the leader consumed too much wine and fell into a stupor. Judith sized the opportunity and slayed the general, causing panic amongst his troops which the led to the hasty retreat.  A few traditions are:

  • Sephardim typically prepare rustic doughnuts or fried doughs.
  • Ashkenazim began the tradition of blintzes and latkes (pancakes), originally made with fresh cheese curds. There is also an almost forgotten dish of grated black radishes sautéed in schmaltz, or rendered chicken fat.




While the gist of the holiday is the same everywhere, what is eaten is far from the same. Let’s take a look at some traditional Holiday foods that involve produce around the world.


Mincemeat is an ancient holiday tradition that came about as way to stretch the holiday meat in Medieval Europe, using sweet dried fruits as a filler. The spices being brought back by the Crusaders were actually used as a preservative. The spices that are used (cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg) are symbolic of the Three Wise Men. While meat is no longer used, the tradition remains. The Christmas pudding, a.k.a. Plum Pudding, is perhaps the best known holiday treat. Made with copious amounts of dried fruits, this is, perhaps, the dish most associated with Christmas in England.




Chiles en nogada is a traditional dish consisting of a stuffed Poblano pepper topped with a walnut sauce and garnished with pomegranate seeds. The colors are not only redolent of the Mexican flag, but also reflect the colors of the holiday season.

One of the lesser known holiday food traditions involves radishes. In the 18th century in Oaxaca, people began carving Christmas figurines out of radishes, and in 1897 this tradition became a festival now known as Noche de la fiesta de Los Rábanos, or the Night of the Radishes Festival. Romeritos with Mole is perhaps the least known of all Mexican holiday items, this is a pan fried batter made with egg whites and dried shrimp and is eaten during the days leading up to Christmas known as the Posadas.


Christmas is celebrated with a sweet soup made out of chestnuts and cocoa.


A Nordic riff on the Sweet Potato casserole, Porkkanalaatiko is a spiced, roasted carrot casserole that is typically served on holiday menus.


The traditional potato casserole known as Janssons Frestelse, or Janssons Temptation, is also made with onions and herring


Because Christmas occurs during the summer in the Land Down Under, the holiday table is often festooned with bright tropical flavors. The most well-known of these dishes is the meringue dessert Pavlova, and it’s garnished with Passion Fruit and fresh berries.


It wouldn’t be a Christmas meal without the traditional mushroom soup.

Did you know?

There are currently 350,000,000 Christmas Trees being grown on farms in America today?



Content provided by Daniel Snowden, the Director of Culinary Development for FreshPoint Central Florida. He has been in the produce industry years almost 20 years, and loves getting geeky about food. Follow FreshPoint Central Florida on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Follow FreshPoint, Inc. on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn… and follow The Produce Hunter as she finds the best of the Santa Monica Farmers Market every week on Instagram.


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