Why Southerners Are Leaving Santa a Slice of Christmas Pie This Year (Not Cookies!)
This holiday tradition deserves a comeback. (Santa said so.)
'Tis the night before Christmas. It’s a familiar scene: The stockings sit hung by the chimney with care, children anxiously await the arrival of Jolly Old Saint Nick, and there’s always one task left to complete. Before letting any sugar plums dance in our heads, we perch a plate of milk and cookies on whatever surface deemed most conspicuous, lest the jolly man miss his treat.
The tradition is a given, just like decorating the tree and attending Christmas Eve service. But this year, we’re tweaking Santa’s signature snack and swapping in a traditional Southern holiday delicacy. Instead of homemade chocolate chip cookies or Oreos, Santa is getting an old-fashioned pie. Or, perhaps, two.
There’s no Christmas pie more notorious (or divisive) than classic mincemeat pie. Back when tobacco and textiles ruled the South, mincemeat pie was welcomed with enthusiasm at Christmas dinner, and many would leave it out for Santa, too, along with a small glass of sherry (or milk, if you please) and some carrots for Rudolph. The boozy, heavily spiced, fruit-and-meat filling strikes a strategic balance of sugar and alcohol that was first devised to preserve meat without smoking or salting, though meatless “mince” pies were equally popular. Despite remaining a regular on holiday tables in countries abroad, it's fallen quite out of fashion in the South, making our plight to bring it back a matter of historic preservation. Our Green Tomato Mincemeat Pie skips the meat and instead serves up a spiced mixture of apples, green tomatoes, dried cranberries, bourbon, and pecans.
Prefer something that reads a little less, well, meaty? One of our all-time favorite pies was formerly a Southern tradition not only at Thanksgiving, but Christmas too. Due to pecans being delightfully in season and readily available to most Southerners, pecan pie was a Christmas mainstay before decadent cakes and cheery cookies took over holiday celebrations.
Before the 1900s, custard-based pecan pie recipes were favored over the syrup-based pecan pies we usually make today. (Those didn’t soar in popularity until the 1930s when promotional recipes for pecan pie appeared on the labels of Karo syrup bottles. Setting out Christmas cookies didn’t become a widespread custom until the 1930s, either.)
Luckily, Southern Living knows a thing or two about pie and keeps both recipes in stock. Serve Santa our custard-based Pecan Chewy Pie for a dose of authenticity, or our syrup-based German Chocolate-Pecan Pie for a decadent twist.
WATCH: How to Make Chocolate-Bourbon Pecan Pie
Southerners are all about tradition. This year, whip up Christmas cookies for your bake sales, potlucks, and parties; but make sure to save a slice of homemade holiday pie for Santa.