A Serving of Nostalgia

Family Food Traditions Fill the Holiday Table

By Liza Hawkins | Photography by Turner Photography Studio | Posted on 12.03.15 – Dining, Food & Drink, Recipes

It’s the time of year when family holiday food traditions are at the forefront. The joy of the season can be tasted in Grandma’s special sweet potato casserole or a mug of mulled apple cider that’s been steeping on the stovetop all day. Simple things, like friends and relatives coming together over a table piled with delicious sights and scents, create lasting memories by carrying on old traditions or allowing for new ones to be created.

Just ask Meg and Matt Marsden. Both avid home cooks, they attribute their love of foodstuff to growing up in families who spent lots of time together in the kitchen. Their mothers have always enjoyed cooking, and as kids, Meg and Matt often helped.  “My mom is an amazing cook and always cooked at home. She lived in Taiwan for a while before I was born and made fantastic Chinese dinners when we were little,” says Matt. “I remember going to the Asian market with her to shop, and as kids we all helped her cook.”

Matt’s dad introduced him to a wide array of foods at a young age. This helped him develop a seasoned, diverse palate, “When I was little I asked for prime rib and escargot for my birthday dinners.” And this set the stage for the couple’s three kids to form adventurous palates, too.

Meg says, “My mom has always cooked; her cooking is rich in tradition balanced with her own flare and new recipes. I like to think I’m a blend of my mom and my grandmother, referencing memories and following my heart.”

Louise Frederick was born in 1878, in Austria-Hungary. She moved to Baltimore in 1904, after which her son married Meg’s grandmother, Hilda Rose. Louise taught Hilda how to make traditional German recipes over the years, including meatballs with sauerkraut. They became a staple in their household during the holidays and all winter long. As Meg says, “It makes amazing, effortless leftovers and feeds a crowd.”

Like many recipes passed down through the generations, Louise and Hilda never measured a thing; it was all made from memory. Luckily, Meg’s mother had the foresight to have her mom write down the recipe before she passed away. “My mom helped her cook the meatballs with sauerkraut, measuring it all out so we could continue to share the recipe,” Meg explains. “I couldn’t have been more nervous the first time I made this recipe; I followed the recipe to a T. I’m proud to say that I don’t need the recipe anymore. I reference it more because it’s in my grandmother’s handwriting and it feels like she’s in the kitchen with me.”

Meg has changed a few ingredients here and there over the years, like using tomato sauce (which didn’t really exist when her grandmother made them) and mixing ground veal with the traditional ground pork. Otherwise the recipe remains pretty much the same.

Meatballs and Sauerkraut

  • 1 pound ground pork
  • 1 pound ground beef
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • ½ teaspoon garlic powder
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • ½ cup long-grain white rice (uncooked)
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Mix all ingredients together gently. Do not over mix the meat. Gently form into meatballs (about 3 ounces each).


  • 1 large bag of Silver Floss Sauerkraut
  • 15 oz tomato sauce
  • ½ large onion, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Water, as needed

Place sauerkraut, onion, tomato sauce, sugar and salt and pepper into a Dutch oven or slow cooker. Gently place meatballs on top of sauerkraut and cover with water. Simmer 4 hours or until meatballs are cooked through and rice is tender. Serve over mashed potatoes.

Serving Caesar salad at holiday family gatherings in the Marsden household began about 20 years ago. Matt’s father, Bruce, spent years searching for the perfect recipe—ordering salad everywhere he went—until finally settling on a standard for the Marsden Caesar salad recipe, including a variation that incorporates pepper vodka. “My sisters and I all began to make Dad’s Caesar salad in our own homes, remaining relatively true to the standard recipe on which he settled,” Matt shares. “And, as a rite of passage, we’ve all received a large, wooden salad bowl as a gift from Dad, specifically for making the salad.”

The original recipe calls for raw eggs, which Matt’s father still uses. Matt decided to omit the raw egg when Meg was first pregnant and never went back. The salad is part of every holiday meal and large family gathering, even when Matt’s grandmother, Lillian, makes a garden salad with her homemade vinaigrette.

Caesar Salad

  • 1 clove of garlic
  • 1 anchovy filet
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
  • Juice of ½ lemon
  • ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • Pepper to taste
  • 1 head of Romaine lettuce, washed
    and torn into bite-sized pieces
  • Croutons
  • Freshly grated Parmesan cheese

In a wooden salad bowl, use a fork to mash together the salt, garlic and anchovy. The salt, as an abrasive, makes a smooth paste. Add the mustard, Worcestershire sauce and lemon juice and mix thoroughly. Slowly add the olive oil and mix until emulsified. Toss lettuce, croutons, and cheese with the dressing and serve.

Food and Family

Michael Cleary started working in restaurants when he was 15. He became a full-time “kitchen rat” after taking a break from college, learning as much as he could from the various chefs he worked under. “The more I learned, the more I wanted to cook at home and for my friends, trying out new ideas and recipes,” says Michael. “I have ventured into many different regional cuisines as a way to broaden my palate.” With life in a commercial kitchen long behind him now, Michael spends his days teaching social studies at Frederick High School.

His earliest memories of roasted Brussels sprouts with bacon hearken to the days when he’d cook for Thanksgiving with his mom and grandmother in Bermuda, where he spent the bulk of his childhood. Michael’s grandmother came up with the original recipe, and over the years he’s changed it here and there by adding ingredients like bacon, maple syrup and balsamic vinegar. “My favorite part of the holidays is—and I know this sounds cliché—spending time with my family and enjoying the good food that comes with the season.”

Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Bacon and Maple Syrup

  • 1½ pounds Brussels sprouts, stems removed
    and outer leaves cut off, then halved
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • 1-2 teaspoons honey or maple syrup
  • 4-5 slices of bacon, cut into small pieces

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Cook bacon and set aside. Line a baking sheet with foil. In a large bowl, toss the sprouts with 2 tablespoons of olive oil, plus salt and pepper. (For extra indulgence, coat sprouts with some of the bacon drippings.) Spread sprouts on the baking sheet and roast for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Once the sprouts are tender and caramelized, place in a bowl and add the remaining olive oil, honey/syrup and balsamic vinegar. Toss to coat, adjust seasoning, top with the bacon and serve.

Sando Bernstein started cooking with her mom when she was tall enough to reach the counter—by standing on a chair. Since those early days, cooking has held precious memories. It’s her creative outlet, and how she expresses love and appreciation. “But most importantly,” says Sando, “I love cooking because of how it makes people feel. It fosters memorable experiences by gathering people and making them smile. What’s not to love?”

Sando originally found the recipe for apple, sausage and sage stuffing while flipping through a magazine in her mother’s kitchen back in high school. “I wanted so badly to contribute to the family Thanksgiving meal,” she remembers.

A great meal is one thing that brings Sando’s large, bi-coastal family together. They enjoy visiting, reminiscing and practicing an abundance of gratitude. And whether she’s hosting or traveling for the holidays, this stuffing recipe is always her go-to. Over the years the original apple, sausage and sage stuffing recipe has been transformed by Sando’s addition of new spices and shortcuts to amplify flavor and save time.

Sando grew up in Downtown Frederick, and has fond memories of her childhood. “Family food traditions are so strong in my memory bank,” she says. “Holiday food is the ultimate comfort food to me. Certain aromas can stop me in my tracks and transport me. There’s something to be said for that kind of creative magic.”

Apple, Sausage and Sage Stuffing

  • 16-ounce bag stuffing cubes
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus more
    for greasing the pan and topping
  • 1 pound fresh Italian sausage, casing removed
  • 2 tablespoons dried sage
  • 2 teaspoon nutmeg
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • ½ teaspoon white pepper
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 cooking apples (such as Gravenstein or
    Golden Delicious), peeled, cored and chopped
  • 1 to 2 ribs celery with leaves, chopped
  • 3 cups chicken broth
  • ¼ cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
  • 2 eggs, beaten

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Pour stuffing cubes into a large mixing bowl and set aside. Melt 2 tablespoons of butter in pan and begin to brown sausage over medium-high heat. As sausage browns, break into small pieces. Cook about 5 minutes or until most of the sausage has turned brown. Pour sausage (including drippings) over dry stuffing cubes in mixing bowl.

Return pan to stove and melt the remaining butter. Add apples, celery and onions to the pan. Season with sage, nutmeg and salt and pepper. Cook until the vegetables become translucent and fruit softens. Add parsley and combine well. Pour in chicken broth and bring to a boil. Carefully pour this mixture over sausage and dried stuffing cubes in mixing bowl. Combine carefully until everything is evenly coated. Fold in beaten egg to bind the mixture. Stir well. Pour mixture into a greased casserole dish. Bake for 35-40 minutes or until the crust is crunchy and golden brown. Top with additional parsley, if desired.

Diana Gould was in middle school when her mom went back to work. Diana was given her choice of chores to manage, and she chose cooking dinner. Her love of cooking started then, and eventually grew into baking, too. These days it’s all about things that are simple and nutritious—bonus points if it can be made in the slow cooker—and the obvious question: “Will my kids eat it?”

For as long as Diana remembers, her aunt always made pecan pie at Thanksgiving. “My aunt found the recipe in her local newspaper,” Diana says. In high school, Diana started making the pecan pie to bring to their extended family for Thanksgiving dinner—never varying from her aunt’s recipe. Later the family decided the pie was so good it needed to be added to the Christmas menu, too. When Diana was growing up, the family usually went to her aunt’s house in Chesapeake, Va., for the holidays. Now, with four kids, it’s easier to stay at home.

“But, I would probably make pecan pie [even] if we did decide to travel,” clarifies Diana, “The family would mutiny if I didn’t.”

Pecan Pie

  • 1 10-inch unbaked pie shell
  • 2 cups pecan halves
  • 7 eggs, slightly beaten
  • 1½ cups sugar
  • 1½ cups dark corn syrup
  • 7 tablespoons melted butter
  • 1½ teaspoons vanilla
  • ¼ teaspoon salt

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. In pie shell, arrange nuts in a layer. Combine remaining ingredients in bowl and blend well; pour mixture over nuts. Bake in a Pyrex pie plate for 1 hour, 15 minutes, or until filling is set and crust is golden brown. Let cool an hour before serving.