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CEREAL SEASON: GHOSTS OF CHRISTMAS PAST

Salty, gooey, crispy, sweet, retro holiday treats — all made with breakfast cereal!



By CINDA CHAVICH


Do breakfast cereal sales skyrocket in December?

I honestly never buy the stuff until Christmas rolls around. Then the boxes of Cheerios, Shreddies, Crispix and Rice Krispies crowd into my pantry, lined up like so many tin soldiers awaiting their seasonal orders.

These supermarket brands have been around as long as I have (and longer), the breakfast standards of childhood, that found their way into recipes for sweet and savoury snacks.

And, like White Christmas reruns and shopping mall Santas, they’re part of the Canadian holiday zeitgeist, the nostalgic ghosts of Christmases past that we come to expect, and crave, at this time of the year.

For us, it’s the Christmas tradition of Nuts and Bolts, a spiced party mix of those Cheerios, Shreddies and Crispix, with salty pretzels and peanuts, that’s hauled out with drinks when guests arrive.



Alongside you might find tender little Cocktail Crisps, a true Canadian combo of McLaren’s potted old cheddar and crisp rice cereal, perfect to pass with the cheese straws and martinis.

And then there are the sweet, chewy Snow Balls rolled in coconut, an almost healthy answer to the usual slate of buttery shortbread cookies, made with chopped dates, nuts and crisp rice cereal.

Or, if you’re really feeling frugal, there’s the prairie Puffed Wheat Squares recipe made with cocoa, brown sugar, syrup and butter — possibly the only good way to consume this Styrofoam-like puffed grain, but definitely a reason to look for in the oddball cereal at the supermarket.


A NATIONAL OBSESSION

Though I once thought Nuts and Bolts was just part of my own family’s quirky Christmas traditions, apparently the quest for nostalgic holiday food made with cereal is rather universal.

A shortage of Bugles — a cone-shaped snack food that’s apparently essential to many family recipes for Nuts and Bolts, and no longer sold in Canada — was the topic of recent national business story on CBC radio. One person interviewed for the piece reported asking his snowbird parents to bring a supply of Bugles back from the US to Canada in their luggage, while others are substituting the Japanese-made Tongari Corn snacks, sold in Asian groceries, to create their beloved holiday party mix.

The CBC story concluded that the snack food market is shifting to healthier, less processed foods, that private supermarket brands are now dominating the snack food aisle, and distribution is costly in our sprawling country, leading to the shortage of some popular products.

But boxed breakfast cereal is here to stay, a $20 billion industry in the US, dominated by the ubiquitous Cheerios. The oat-based cereal was introduced in 1941, with 139 million boxes sold in 2022, many likely destined for holiday parties.

So, if you’re craving a cereal fix or looking for a way to use up a box of something on the shelf, here are some Christmas classics — proof that even the simple things can bring comfort and joy!


RECIPES:


NUTS AND BOLTS

I know, it’s a bit tacky but it’s a retro thing. And it’s an absolute must in my Christmas party repertoire, just one of those childhood addictions that may only be trotted out once a year. From The Girl Can’t Cook, by Cinda Chavich.



1 cup non-hydrogenated margarine

3 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce

12 cups Cheerios cereal

2 cups Shreddies cereal

3 cups Crispix or Rice Chex cereal

3 cups roasted peanuts (skinless)

4 cups straight pretzels (skinny ones), broken into 1-inch (2.5-cm) pieces

1 tablespoon celery salt

2 teaspoon onion salt

1 teaspoon granulated garlic


Get out the biggest roasting pan you have (you might need two).

In a small saucepan, melt the margarine and whisk in the Worcestershire. Set aside. Combine the cereals, peanuts and pretzel bits in a pan, and toss. Drizzle the margarine mixture evenly over top, mixing gently with a wooden spoon to coat everything, then sprinkle on the celery salt, onion salt and garlic powder and toss to season everything evenly. Taste—if you think you need more flavoring, add it now.

Place the pan(s) in a 200ºF (95ºC) oven and bake for 1 1/2 hours, stirring occasionally. Cool and store in large containers (or freeze).

Then drag this addictive mix out when you’re ready to pass the Sidecars and artichoke dip at the family Christmas party, or whenever you’re feeling festive. Weird traditions die hard. Makes tons.



COCKTAIL CRISPS

Not sure about the exact provenance of these delicate crackers (made with a Canadian cheese product that was first introduced in the late 1800s), but this recipe is from The Best of Bridge website (bestofbridge.com).


1 cup butter

8 oz. tub Imperial cheese (sharp cold pack cheddar cheese)

dash of salt

1/4 teaspoon. cayenne pepper or Tabasco

1/4 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

1 1/2 cups flour

4 cups Rice Krispies


Cream butter and cheese together well, until fluffy, using an electric mixture. Add seasonings. Beat in flour, half a cup at a time, then add Rice Krispies and mix well.

Shape into balls (about 1 tablespoon each) and place on a heavy baking sheet, lined with parchment, at least 1 inch apart.

Press each ball with a fork in a crosshatch pattern to flatten slightly.

Bake at 350F (180C) for 15-20 minutes, until lightly browned and firm.

Makes about 3 dozen delicate crisps.




DATE NUT SNOWBALLS

This is one of those easy, old-fashioned, no-bake Christmas treats. Make some with your kids, or for the kid in you. Recipe from The Guy Can’t Cook by Cinda Chavich.


1⁄2 cup (125 mL) unsalted butter 1 cup (250 mL) packed brown sugar

11⁄2 cups (375 mL) chopped dates 1 egg, beaten 2 1⁄2 cups (625 mL) crispy rice cereal

6 cup (175 mL) chopped walnuts or pecans

1⁄2 tsp (2 mL) pure vanilla extract pinch of salt shredded coconut or icing sugar



In a saucepan, combine the butter, sugar, dates, and egg. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly until the mixture boils and thickens, about 6 minutes.

Cool to lukewarm and stir in the rice cereal, nuts, vanilla, and salt. Mix well and roll into small balls about the size of a walnut. (If your hands are wet the mixture won’t stick.) Roll the balls in coconut or icing sugar to coat. Set aside to cool. Store in a cookie tin. Makes 24 balls.



PUFFED WHEAT SQUARES (AKA PUFF WHEAT CAKE)

Quick and super simple — just boil, mix, press into a pan, cool and cut into squares. This old-school chocolatey treat traces its roots to a candy store in Red Deer, Alberta (circa. 1915), and you’ll still find it at bake sales and gas stations across the Canadian prairies!

1/4 cup butter

1/2 cup Roger's Golden syrup or corn syrup

1 cup packed brown sugar

1/4 cup cocoa

pinch salt

1 teaspoon. vanilla

8 cups puffed wheat cereal



In a small saucepan, combine butter, corn syrup, brown sugar, cocoa and salt. Bring to a boil over medium heat and stir until smooth. Turn off the heat and stir in the vanilla.

Place the puffed wheat into a large, heatproof bowl (metal works well) and pour the hot chocolate syrup over top, stirring to ensure the cereal is completely coated.

Press the mixture into a 9 x 13-inch baking pan and refrigerate or leave at room temperature until set, then cut into squares. Makes about 20 squares.


Copyright Cinda Chavich 2022


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