Family Traditions


Steve Freese
President and CEO

As we wrap up this year, which was full of new challenges and uncertainty, our thoughts and prayers are with all families who are navigating the holidays and coping with the loss of a loved one. Regardless of whether a death is due to the pandemic, or other illness or accident, their seat at the table is just as empty and the pain runs just as deep. This holiday season is also difficult for the many people who experienced the loss of a job or income due to the pandemic response. One year ago, we certainly didn’t see this coming.

This year my family is working together to embrace the many family traditions that we never thought would be at risk. We typically start the day after Thanksgiving, when we gather at my sister’s house for an all-day session of making mom’s special pecan rolls, which we hold for Christmas morning to enjoy with our coffee and tea. This year, mom is quarantined in the nursing home, and my sister and her family were also quarantined, recovering from COVID-19, but we kept the tradition alive, virtually. I did the preparations myself, and my sister and mom monitored my every move via Skype. How they taste will be one of our Christmas morning surprises, but I think it will go well!

For the next tradition, we had to make another change. The Christmas tree usually stands prominently in the living room, but that space now doubles as my office, as we continue to operate under guidance to work from home as much as possible. We made it work, but the house is extra crowded this year.

Like many families, we are still figuring out how best to celebrate the upcoming holidays, without risking the health and safety of our loved ones, especially those who are older or who have underlying health conditions. In any case, we will practice social distancing, and will deliver our traditional Christmas Eve dinner to the door of any family member who is not able to be there in person this year.

Luckily, the main course in our traditional Christmas Eve dinner is homemade spaghetti and meatballs, which travels well in a to-go container. My mom’s twin sister blessed us with the original recipe years ago, and it is delicious. Our meal also includes a fresh lettuce salad, and mom’s green beans, both made with onions and bacon. Mom is an Oklahoma native, and like any traditional southern cook, she adds onions and bacon to almost everything she makes. We also have garlic toast, strawberry salad, and prune cake, which has been a tradition in our family for more than 100 years.

I look forward to the comforts brought on by the sights, smells, and tastes of all of our Christmas traditions, and the memories they bring. I hope you have traditions like these of your own to help celebrate Christmas or Hannukah, but if you don’t, or you want to try something new, I am including several of our recipes here.

From our house to yours, we wish you a very happy holiday season. Please join us in looking forward to the new year, which we can only hope will bring back the comforts of the way things used to be.

All recipes are from my mom, Rowetta (Johnson) Freese; her twin sister, Rowena (Johnson) Boyer; and my grandmother, Marie Freese.

Spaghetti & Meatballs

4 lbs ground beef
1 large onion, diced
1-1/2 cups ketchup
3 eggs
1/2 sleeve saltine crackers, crushed into crumbs
2 quarts tomatoes, mashed
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup dried sweet basil
Salt and pepper, to taste

Mix ground beef, onion, ketchup, eggs, and crackers together. Roll into balls and dip/roll in flour. Brown meatballs in frying pan and place on platter. Pour grease into bowl and set aside.

Using the same pan as meat was browned in, cook tomatoes with sugar and dried sweet basil; add salt and pepper to taste. Add meatballs and let simmer on a low stove or in a crock-pot on LOW setting. Let it simmer during the day to bring out the taste (5 hours). Serve on spaghetti noodles and with garlic toast.

Strawberry Salad

2 small pkgs strawberry Jell-O
2 cups hot water
2 pkgs frozen strawberries
Dream Whip (Cool Whip)

Mix first three ingredients and pour into a serving bowl; refrigerate. When Jell-O is set, cover with Dream Whip. Serve.

Green Beans

1/4 lb bacon, cut in small pieces
1/2 onion, diced
1 quart canned green beans

On the Stove Top:
In a pan on the stovetop, cook bacon, onions, and green beans until bacon is fully cooked. Serve.

In a Crockpot/Slow Cooker:
Add raw bacon, diced onion, and green beans. Cook on LOW most of the day. Serve.

Prune Cake

2 cups flour, sifted
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp allspice
1/2 cup shortening
1-1/2 cups sugar
3 large eggs
1 cup buttermilk
1 cup cooked prunes
1 cup black walnuts, chopped

Grease and flour two 9-inch round cake pans; set aside. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Mix flour, baking powder, salt, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, and allspice; sift these ingredients together. In a separate bowl, cream shortening with sugar until fluffy, then beat in eggs thoroughly. Add flour mixture, alternating with buttermilk to the wet ingredients.

Cut prunes and cook them with a little water on the stovetop until very soft. Mash them with a potato masher. Add mashed prunes and chopped walnuts to the cake batter. Split the batter into the two prepared cake pans.

Bake both cakes for 25–30 minutes. Cool completely, then ice with your favorite chocolate icing.

Lettuce Salad

1/2 cup bacon
1 cup sugar
2/3 cup vinegar
2 cups water
1 head of lettuce, shredded
1/2 medium onion, diced

Microwave bacon until cooked and chop into small pieces. In a bowl, mix sugar, vinegar, and water until sugar is dissolved. In a large bowl, add shredded lettuce, cooked bacon, and diced onion. Just before serving the salad, add the vinegar/sugar mixture to lettuce mixture and stir to combine.