Heirloom Recipes

A taste of Columbia

Jeff Amberg

When gathered with dear friends and family Christmas Day, people naturally want to bring the very best to the table. Friends come from near and far to cherish good company and good food. Nothing quite sets the tone for celebration like pulling out the family recipes.

Traditional dishes may take a little more work, but the holiday magic would not be the same without that little something extra. Familiar sounds, smells, and faces warm this season and bring back memories of those who scribbled notes in the margins or left a splash of wine over their favorite pages. Anticipation and excitement for new memories yet to be made builds while gazing through this culinary window to the past. Whether kept in an old tin box filled with handwritten cards or a hand-me-down classic cookbook written by one of the greats, holiday recipes make an appearance once a year to remind us of our heritage and to build an enduring spirit for the New Year.



Coffee Cake

Submitted by Marie McCully from a handwritten recipe card. This coffee cake is shared at many gatherings, but is a Christmas morning staple.

1 cup butter

1 1/2 cups sugar, plus extra for sprinkling

1 cup sour cream

3 eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 teaspoon almond extract

2 cups flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

Cinnamon for sprinkling

Heat oven to 350 F. Combine all ingredients. Grease and flour a 9-inch-by-13-inch pan. Pour 1/2 of the batter into the pan. Sprinkle sugar and cinnamon over the batter. Pour the rest of the batter into the pan and sprinkle more cinnamon and sugar on top. Bake for 40 minutes.


Mary Lou Biscuits

Submitted by Helen Dennis. Although these are technically a breakfast food, I always served them at supper. The buttery biscuits are perfect for sopping up that last bit of gravy or cranberry sauce left at the end of the meal.

2 cups self-rising flour

1 1/2 sticks butter, melted

1/2 pint sour cream

Heat oven to 350 F. Combine all ingredients; spoon into mini muffin tins. Bake for 20 to 30 minutes. Serve warm.


Cranberry Bread

Submitted by Marshall Foster. This is one that my mother, Margaret Fant Lipscomb, used to make every Christmas; usually the loaf was gone by Christmas dinner where it was intended to be served!

2 cups flour, sifted

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1 cup sugar

1 beaten egg

2 tablespoons shortening, melted and cooled

1/2 cup orange juice

2 tablespoons water

1/2 cup chopped pecans

1 cup fresh cranberries, halved and lightly dusted with flour

Heat oven to 325 F. Sift all dry ingredients together. Beat eggs and add shortening, orange juice, and water. Combine dry and wet ingredients. Fold in nuts and cranberries. Bake in a greased loaf pan for 70 minutes. While still hot, remove from pan and brush with butter. Wrap the loaf in wax paper and place in the refrigerator for 3 hours. Remove paper and place loaf in a plastic bag until ready to serve.


Sausage and Grits Casserole

Submitted by Angie Mealing

1 pound ground spicy sausage, cooked and drained

3 cups cooked grits

1 1/2 cups whole milk

3 well-beaten eggs

3 tablespoons melted butter

10 ounces sharp white cheddar cheese, grated

Salt and pepper to taste

Heat oven to 350 F. Mix all ingredients together and pour into a greased casserole dish. Bake for 1 hour.

Grits and Greens

Originally published in Southern Living magazine, this recipe was shared by Karen Dukes.

3 1/4 cups whole milk

1 cup uncooked stone ground grits

2 tablespoons salted butter, divided

2 1/2 teaspoons salt, divided

1 pound fresh turnip greens

2 tablespoons olive oil

4 garlic cloves, minced

1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper

4 ounces Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, grated (about 1 cup)

1 cup chicken stock

1 teaspoon black pepper

In a double boiler, stir together milk and grits. Cook over medium high, whisking often until milk is completely absorbed and grits are thick and tender. Stir 1 tablespoon of butter and 1 1/2 teaspoon of salt into grits. Remove from heat. Heat oven to 400 F. Remove and discard stems from greens. Cut greens into 1-2 inch pieces. Heat oil and remaining tablespoon of butter in a skillet over medium heat. Once melted, add minced garlic and stir until garlic begins to sizzle. Do not let the garlic brown or burn. Add greens, red pepper, and remaining salt to the skillet. Toss and cook until the greens are just wilted. Pour greens and any liquid from the skillet into the grits. Stir cheese, stock, and pepper into the grits. Pour the mixture into a greased 9-inch-by-13-inch casserole dish. Bake for 30 minutes or until set and bubbling. Serve warm.


Curried Deviled Eggs and Shrimp Casserole

Submitted by Pat McLaren

8 eggs, hard boiled and peeled

1/3 cup of mayonnaise

1/4 cup dried mustard

1/2 teaspoon curry powder

1/2 teaspoon paprika

2 tablespoons butter

2 tablespoons flour

1 can of cream of shrimp soup

1/2 can of milk (using soup can)

1/2 cup sharp cheddar cheese, shredded

1 1/2 pound cooked and peeled shrimp


Heat oven to 350 F. Slice eggs in half, lengthwise. Remove yolk and place in a small bowl. Mix yolks with mayonnaise, dried mustard, curry powder, and paprika. Stuff eggs with yolk mixture. Arrange eggs in the bottom of a 9-inch-by-13-inch buttered baking dish.

In a saucepan heat flour and butter over medium heat to make a roux. Slowly add soup and milk, stirring constantly. Cook until thick. Add cheese and stir until melted. Fold shrimp into the mixture. Pour over eggs and sprinkle with toasted breadcrumbs. Bake for 30 minutes or until golden and bubbly.



Cheese Straw Crackers

Submitted by Terry Harrison. The annual Boykin Harrison Christmas Eve Dinner has spanned four generations. These cheese straws are a favorite appetizer at the gathering.

2 sticks margarine, room temperature

2 cups sharp cheddar cheese, shredded

3/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

2 cups self-rising flour

2 cups rice cereal

Preheat oven to 350 F. In a mixer, cream margarine, cheese, and cayenne pepper. Add flour until just combined. Fold rice cereal into the mixture. Roll the dough into balls, and place on a parchment lined baking sheet. Flatten each ball with a fork. Bake for 15 minutes until light brown on the bottom. Remove from the baking sheet immediately and cool on a wire rack. Store in a sealed container.


Roasted Pecans

From the kitchen of the late Betty Vardell

4 cups pecan halves

1 stick butter, melted

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

Heat oven to 375 F. Place pecan halves on a cookie sheet. Pour butter over pecans. Roast for 5 minutes, stir, and then roast another 5 minutes. Remove from oven and sprinkle with salt. Drain on brown paper. Store in a tin box lined with foil until ready to serve.


Olive Cheese Balls

Submitted by Cantey Foxworth

1 stick butter

1 cup all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon paprika

1 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1/2 pound extra sharp cheddar cheese, finely shredded

50 Spanish olives

Heat oven to 350 F. Mix all ingredients together with hands until soft. Roll into individual balls large enough to cover one Spanish olive. Drain and blot olives before wrapping them with cheese. Put balls on foil covered cookie sheet. Bake 20 minutes. Makes approximately 50 cheese balls.



Christmas Day Eggnog

From the kitchen of the late Betty Vardell

1 cup sugar, divided

6 eggs, yolks and whites separated

1/2 cup rum

1 pint whiskey

1 pint cream

1 pint whole milk

Whip together 1/2 cup sugar and egg yolks. Gradually and slowly add rum, whiskey, cream, and milk. In a separate bowl, whip remaining 1/2 cup sugar and egg whites until stiff. Delicately place egg white mixture on top of the nog. Sprinkle with nutmeg.



Cranberry Relish

Submitted by Lee Heath. This recipe makes 5 cups of relish and is especially delicious with meat at Christmas or as an attractive holiday gift from the kitchen.

1 pound fresh or frozen cranberries (4 cups)

2 cups dried apricots, chopped

1 cup seedless golden raisins, chopped

1 tablespoon grated orange rind

1/4 teaspoon ginger

2 1/2 cups water

1 cup sugar

Bring all ingredients except sugar to a boil over high heat, then reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes or until cranberries have popped and are tender. Remove from heat and stir in 1 cup sugar. Let the relish cool, and refrigerate in covered container until ready to serve.


Spiced Grapes

From the kitchen of the late Jim Lovelace

5 pounds sugar

10 pounds scuppernong grapes

1 pint vinegar

1 1/2 tablespoons cinnamon

1 tablespoon mace

1 1/2 tablespoon ground cloves

1 1/2 tablespoon ground allspice

Wash and pulp fruit. Boil skins in 1/2 cup of water. Cook pulp until tender. Squeeze the pulp through a sieve. Add pulp and other ingredients to skins and cook all together, stirring slowly and consistently to prevent scorch. Cook until thick, like jam. Store in jars until ready to serve.


Artichoke Chow Chow Recipe

Submitted by Francis Robinson. This recipe came to my family from Daisy McGregor Hunter, who made it for the Trinity Bazaar in the late 1940s and 50s. I began making it in the 1970s.

Chopped Pickle Ingredients

5 quarts of artichokes

1 dozen bell peppers, red and green

1 dozen small cucumbers

6 medium onions

1 small cabbage

1 dozen green tomatoes

1 large head of celery

1 cauliflower

Sauce Ingredients

1 gallon white vinegar

2 cups flour

2 small hot green peppers, finely chopped

3 “blobs” Tabasco

7 cups sugar

4 tablespoons turmeric

6 tablespoons mustard seed

6 tablespoons dry mustard

1/2 teaspoon mace

Cut up the pickle ingredients and soak in 2 cups of salt and ice overnight. The next day will be pickling day. Combine flour, mustard, mace, and turmeric with a small amount of vinegar until the paste is smooth. Add the mixture to the large pickling pot that holds the rest of the vinegar. Add heat and remaining sauce ingredients and bring to a slow rolling boil. Add all of the vegetables and turn off the stove. Use hot jars from the dishwasher and sealing lids from a boiling pan of water. Put rings on the jars loosely and tighten just after the jars seal. Should yield about 28 pints of pickle.



Eye of Round Roast

Submitted by Terry Harrison. There are many different ways to cook an eye of round roast. In this recipe you will be cooking on a lower temperature with the roast wrapped in tin foil. While the roast is cooking, you are also capturing the au jus (gravy), which can be served over the roast, long grain rice, or mashed potatoes.

1 large whole eye of round roast (5 to 7 pounds), excess fat trimmed

2 teaspoons salt

1 3/4 teaspoons garlic salt

2 teaspoons black pepper

One piece of tin foil that measures at least three times the length of the roast

Heat oven to 325 F. Be sure that there are no holes in the tin foil. Place roast in the middle of the tin foil. Liberally, cover the entire roast with salt, garlic salt, and black pepper.

The key is to ensure that all of the meat is covered with the seasonings. If the roast is larger, you will need to add additional seasoning. Extra seasonings will fall into the tin foil as you go through this process, and you should leave this in the tin foil. It will provide extra flavor for the au jus. Fold tin foil over the roast and secure. Press all around the foil to ensure that none of the juice from cooking will leak.

Place the roast in a roasting or baking dish roomy enough for the roast. Bake for 2 1/2 to 3 hours depending on the thickness of the roast. Remove the roast from the oven. Allow the roast to rest for 15 minutes. To serve, carefully remove the roast from the tin foil and save the au jus. Slice the roast,  place on a serving dish, and pour a bit of the au jus over the meat to keep it moist.



Spinach Gratin

Submitted by Muffie Vardell Wells

4 tablespoons butter, unsalted

2 1/2 cups yellow onions, chopped

1/4 cup all-purpose flour

1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

1 cup heavy cream

2 cups whole milk

3 pounds frozen chopped spinach, defrosted

1 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese

1 tablespoon kosher salt, or to taste

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

1 1/2 cups Gruyere cheese, grated

Preheat oven 425 F. Melt butter in a heavy-bottomed saute pan over medium heat. Add onions until translucent, about 15 minutes. Add flour and nutmeg and cook, stirring every 2 minutes. Add cream and milk and cook until thickened. Squeeze as much liquid as possible from the spinach and add the spinach to the sauce. Add 1/2 cup parmesan and Gruyere cheese and mix well. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Transfer spinach to a baking dish and sprinkle remaining parmesan and Gruyere on the top. Bake for 20 minutes or until hot and bubbly. Serve immediately.

Haricots Verts in Mustard Sauce

Submitted by Muffie Vardell Wells

12 ounces haricots verts

2 tablespoons butter, unsalted

2 tablespoons shallots, minced

1/2 cup chicken stock

3 tablespoons of heavy whipping cream

2 tablespoons of whole grain mustard

Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

Boil water in a 5-quart pot. Add haricots verts to boiling water. Cook for 3 to 5 minutes. Rinse under cold water and pat dry. In a skillet over medium heat, melt butter and add minced shallots. Stir in stock, cream, and mustard. Stir until the mixture has thickened, approximately 5 minutes. Toss sauce with beans. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve immediately. Serves 4 to 6.


Grandma’s Marinated Carrots

Submitted by Jenni Wilson

5 cups sliced carrots

1 can of tomato soup

1/2 cup salad oil

1 cup sugar

3/4 cups white vinegar

1 teaspoon mustard

1 teaspoon Worchester sauce

1 teaspoon salt

1 medium sweet onion, sliced

1 small green pepper, diced

Boil or steam carrots until just tender. Heat soup, oil, sugar, vinegar, mustard, Worchester sauce, and salt in a pot over medium heat until combined. Mix carrots, onions, and peppers in a large bowl and pour the soup mixture over the vegetables. Cover and marinate in the refrigerator for at least 12 hours. Drain and serve.


Petite Butter Beans

Submitted by Terry Harrison. In addition to the cheese straw crackers, these beans are also served at the annual Boykin Harrison Christmas Eve Dinner.

1 pound petite butter beans

3 slices of bacon, cut into 1-inch pieces

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon black pepper

Place all of the above into a 3-quart or larger pot. Cover with water at least two inches over the beans. Stir to combine. Bring to a boil on high. Reduce to medium and cook for 1 hour. Check every 15 minutes to ensure that the water remains over the beans. Butter beans can be served by themselves or over long grain rice. Chow chow or chutney is also wonderful with butter beans.

Sautéed Tomatoes and Shallots

Submitted by Karen Dukes

1 tablespoon olive oil

6 shallots, quartered

3 pints grape tomatoes

3/4 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon pepper, to taste

1/2 cup dry white wine

2 tablespoons of capers

Heat oil in a large skillet over medium high heat. Add shallots and cook, stirring occasionally, until they begin to soften, 4-5 minutes. Add tomatoes, salt, and pepper. Cook and stir until a few of the tomatoes begin to burst, about 3 minutes. Add wine and cook until nearly evaporated, 4 to 5 minutes. Add capers and serve.

Christmas Eve

Onion Soup Gratinee

Submitted by Karen Dukes. This simple and hearty soup, rich with burnished onions and sweet port, is topped with tangy Gruyere cheese. To borrow a custom from Bordeaux, we spill a little red wine into the bottom of our nearly empty soup bowl. This tradition, known as Chabrot, dictates a quick swirl of wine in the tail-end of the hot broth and then a hearty gulp right from the bowl – for good cheer and luck!

1/4 cup and 1 tablespoon olive oil

4 medium yellow onions, peeled, halved through the stem end, sliced 1/4-inch thick

1 tablespoon butter, unsalted

1 garlic clove, peeled and thinly sliced

4 sprigs of thyme

1 bay leaf

1 tablespoon salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground white pepper

3/4 cup dry white wine

2 quarts chicken stock

1/2 cup port

6 slices of country bread, about 1 inch thick toasted

2 cups Gruyere cheese, coarsely grated

In a 5-quart Dutch oven or other large heavy pot, heat 1/4 cup of olive oil over medium flame. Add the onions, stirring frequently to prevent burning. Saute until they reach a golden color, approximately 30 minutes. Add the butter, garlic, thyme, bay leaf, salt, and pepper and cook for 10 minutes. Raise the heat to high, add the white wine, bring to a boil, and reduce the wine by half, about 3 to 5 minutes. Add the chicken stock and simmer for 45 minutes. Preheat the broiler.

Remove the thyme sprigs and bay leaf, and swirl the port into the finished soup. Ladle the soup into six ovenproof bowls. Fit the toasted bread into the bowls on top of the liquid, and sprinkle 1/3 cup of Gruyere onto each slice. Place under the broiler for 3 minutes or until the cheese melts to a crispy brown. Allow the soup to cool slightly, about 3 minutes, before serving.



Bourbon Balls

Submitted by Nancy Seay. This is an old Williamsburg recipe and is part of a cookbook handwritten by Nancy’s mother, Luan Vinson. This recipe makes about 35 bourbon balls. Brandy or rum can be used as a substitute for bourbon.

2 1/2 cups vanilla wafer crumbs

2 tablespoons cocoa

1 1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar, divided

1 cup pecans, finely chopped

2 tablespoons white corn syrup

1/4 cup bourbon

Thoroughly mix all ingredients except corn syrup and bourbon. Stir corn syrup and bourbon into the dry ingredients. Press mixture into 1-inch balls and roll in remaining 1/2 cup of powdered sugar. Store in tightly covered container for at least 12 hours before serving. Will keep for 4 to 5 weeks.


Chess Pie

Submitted by Mary Covington. My grandmother’s famous chess pie is always eaten during Christmas, Thanksgiving, or any special occasion. The pie comes from my grandmother’s family and was pulled from a Junior League cookbook in Memphis, Tennessee, by her mother when my grandmother was young.

1 cup brown sugar

1/2 cup white sugar

1 teaspoon flour

1 teaspoon vanilla

1/2 cup melted butter

2 tablespoons milk

2 eggs

1 pie crust

Heat the oven to 350 F. Mix brown sugar, white sugar, and flour until smooth. Beat in eggs one at a time. Add milk and vanilla. Stir melted butter into the mixture until all ingredients are smooth. Pour this filling into an unbaked pie shell and bake for 40 minutes. Allow 1 hour for the pie to cool and set before serving.


Big Maggie’s Ginger Snaps

Submitted by Helen Dennis. This recipe was passed through my father’s side of the family and regularly makes an appearance on the plate of cookies for Santa on Christmas Eve.

1 1/2 cups butter

2 cups sugar

2 eggs

1/2 cup molasses

4 cups flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

2 teaspoons cinnamon

2 teaspoons cloves

2 teaspoons ginger

Heat oven to 375 F. In a stand mixer, cream together butter and sugar. Beat in eggs and molasses. Whisk dry ingredients together. Mix in with butter mixture. Roll into 1-inch balls. Optional: Roll in turbinado sugar. Cookies expand when baked, so set them 3 inches apart on a baking sheet. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes. Let stand for 1 minute. Remove from pan and cool on a wire rack.