Creme Patissiere Recipe

I’ve been watching a lot of cooking shows recently that have inspired me to try new things. The recipe for crème patissiere is called basic cream filling in The Fannie Farmer Cookbook. Though it’s most commonly used in pies, pastries, and cream puffs, I wanted to use this custard as a layer in a chocolate cake.

Mix together ½ cup of sugar, 3 tablespoons of flour, and 1/8 teaspoon of salt. Set aside.

Heat 1 cup of milk in a heavy saucepan over medium heat until it’s almost ready to boil. Remove from heat.

Stir the milk into the dry ingredients until well-blended.

Pour the mixture back into the saucepan. Using low heat, whisk constantly for 4 – 5 minutes when the custard turns smooth and thick.

Stir in 2 slightly beaten egg yolks and cook a couple more minutes.

Remove from heat. Let it cool, stirring occasionally, and then stir in 2 teaspoons vanilla.

Delicious! Smooth and creamy and thick. As I said, I used it as filling for a chocolate cake. It’s a good flavor but a thicker consistency than a layer of mousse. My husband loved it!

I will definitely make this again—the next time in as a layer in a pie.

-Sandra Merville Hart


Revised by Cunningham, Marion and Laber, Jeri. The Fannie Farmer Cookbook, Alfred A Knopf Inc., 1983.


Christmas During World War II

The United States was in a war-time economy during World War II. With many of our men serving our country in Europe and the South Pacific, our women went to work.

There were many items families did without in a wartime economy. Buying the special gift at Christmas was especially difficult.

Rubber was in demand so tires for cars were scarce. Common gifts for children like basketballs, volleyballs, and tennis shoes were unlikely to be under the tree.

Most Americans were limited to four gallons of gas a week, so they didn’t make unnecessary trips. If grandparents and other relatives did not live nearby, you might not see them often.

The local ration board had to issue a written certificate to buy a bicycle.

Metal was needed for tanks, airplanes, and battleships. Citizens couldn’t buy cars, pots and pans, strollers, toy trains, and alarm clocks.

Long distance phone calls were another limitation for Americans, who were encouraged to keep the phone lines open for the soldiers.

A common practice before the war was to purchase goods on account—charging them. During the war, bills were required to be paid within two months. If the bill wasn’t paid on time, the account was frozen.

Popular gifts during the war were ration stamps, which enabled folks to buy particular items. Hats, socks, mittens, and household goods were much-appreciated gifts. Book sales soared. Board games, perfume, and radios were other common presents at Christmas.

Of course, families missed their husbands, fathers, brothers, and uncles serving across the sea. All other hardships dimmed in comparison.

-Sandra Merville Hart


Waggoner, Susan. It’s A Wonderful Christmas, Stewart, Tabori & Chang, 2004.


The Story Behind “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day”







by Sandra Merville Hart

On July 9, 1861, the screams of his wife, Fanny, wakened Henry Wadsworth Longfellow from a nap to the horror of finding her dress ablaze. Instantly awake, he tried to smother the flames with a rug. When that didn’t work, he used his body. By the time the fire was out, Fanny’s burns were too severe to survive. She died the next day. Longfellow’s face was burned so badly that he was unable to attend the funeral with his five children.

That wasn’t Henry’s only turmoil as Civil War ravaged the country. In March of 1863, Henry’s oldest son, Charles (Charley) Appleton Longfellow, left his home in Cambridge, Massachusetts, bound for the Union army in Washington, DC. The eighteen-year-old didn’t ask his father’s permission to join.

Charley quickly earned the commission of 2nd Lieutenant in the 1st Massachusetts Cavalry.

Henry was dining at home when a telegram arrived on December 1, 1863. Charley had been shot in the shoulder in a skirmish in the Mine Run Campaign (Virginia) on November 27th.

Henry and his younger son, Ernest, left immediately for Washington, DC. On December 5th, Charley arrived there by train. The first surgeon alarmed Henry with news that the serious wound might bring paralysis. Later that evening, three other surgeons gave him better news—Charley’s recovery might take 6 months.

Grieving for his wife and worried for his son, Henry heard Christmas bells ringing on December 25, 1863. He picked up his pen  and wrote “Christmas Bells.”

Two stanzas from this poem written while our country was at war are rarely heard. These speak of the suffering in a nation divided:

        Then from each black, accursed mouth

       The cannon thundered in the South,

       And with the sound

      The carols drowned

      Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

      It was as if an earthquake rent

      The hearth-stones of a continent,

     And made forlorn

     The households born

     Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Families had been separated by war—some forever. Anguish overcomes Henry:

      And in despair I bowed my head;

     “There is no peace on earth,” I said;

     “For hate is strong,

    And mocks the song

    Of peace on earth, good-will to men!”

Faith and hope reach through the anguish in his soul as he hears a deeper message in the Christmas bells:

     Then pealed the bells more loud and deep;

     “God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;

     The Wrong shall fail,

    The Right prevail,

    With peace on earth, good-will to men.”

Charley survived yet his wound ended the war for him.

In February of 1865, Our Young Folks published Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem, “Christmas Bells.” John Baptiste Calkin set the poem to music in 1872, and “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day” became a beloved Christmas carol.


Ullman, Jr., Douglas. “A Christmas Carol’s Civil War Origin,” American Battlefield Trust, 2018/11/02

“I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day,” Wikipedia, 2018/11/02,

“The True Story of Pain and Hope Behind ‘I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day,’” The Gospel Coalition, 2018/11/02


First Christmas at Columbia Tusculum

Benjamin Stites discovered the future location of Columbia, Ohio, through an unfortunate event. He was on a trading expedition with other traders in Kentucky when some of their horses were stolen. They built a raft and pursued Native Americans across the Ohio River. Stites and his men followed them up the Little Miami River. He returned without the horses, but had found the location of a settlement he wanted to establish.

Stites returned to his Pennsylvania home and eventually purchased 20,000 acres on the Ohio River near the mouth of the Little Miami River.

Twenty-six people traveled the Ohio River in November of 1788. Stites’ group included women and children. At Limestone, Kentucky (modern-day Maysville,) they prepared lumber to build a fort. They resumed their journey, arriving near the mouth of the Little Miami River on November 18th.

Having heard rumors of Native Americans waiting for them, Stites’ party posted sentinels. After singing a hymn and praying, the settlers began building a blockhouse. Three more blockhouses were quickly constructed. Palisades formed a wall around them to create Fort Miami.

They named the settlement Columbia.

Native Americans were friendly at first and visited the blockhouses.

Christmas of 1788 was a warm, pleasant day. The pioneers set up tables outside and invited their Native American neighbors to eat with them. Their guests arrived with their guns, fearing a trap.

Judge Isaac Dunn of Lawrenceburg, Indiana, later recalled that Christmas when he was a boy of six. Potpies, cooked in two ten-gallon kettles, were the main dish.

The settlers had also invited soldiers. Their arrival nearly caused a disaster. The pioneers wanted to live in harmony with their new neighbors and convinced the Native Americans to stay.

A delicious dinner was eaten on the river bank, a day the settlers long remembered. Well-satisfied, the Native Americans left around sunset.

Unfortunately, peace didn’t last. But on that Christmas Day, peace reigned.

-Sandra Merville Hart


Berten, Jinny Powers. Cincinnati Christmas, Orange Frazer Press, 2011.

“History of Columbia Tusculum,” Columbia Tusculum, 2019/07/29

Suess, Jeff. “Christmas Celebrations in Cincinnati over the years,”, 2019/04/27

Christmas Lights

by Sandra Merville Hart

Before Christmas lights adorned Christmas trees, candles were lit on the branches to signify the light of Jesus. The family gathered in the parlor while fathers lit the candles. Because of the fire hazard, these were quickly extinguished.

After Thomas Edison invented the light bulb, Edward Hibberd Johnson had an idea. In 1882, Johnson displayed his Christmas tree by his New York City parlor window where it was plainly visible from the street. He strung 80 light bulbs together (red, blue, and white) and arranged them around the tree which stood on a revolving pedestal. The power for the lights and pedestal came from a generator.

To ensure his lights received the public’s notice, Johnson contacted reporters. The brilliance of the lights stunned them. Folks on the street stopped to gaze in wonder. However fascinated people were, decorating with lights wasn’t feasible for most.

President Grover Cleveland helped popularize Christmas lights when he had the White House tree decorated with them in 1895.

Electricity wasn’t widely available for many years—and the lights were expensive. In 1903, a set (20 plain, 4 red, and 4 frosted bulbs) cost $12 when the average hourly wage was 22 cents!

The price dropped to $1.75 for a sixteen-foot string by 1914.

Today, Christmas lights adorn our trees and our homes. Many of us still take our families out to see special light displays during the holidays.

And we have Edward Hibbert Johnson to thank for this beautiful idea.


Chan, Melissa. “Here’s How Christmas Lights Came to Be,” Time for Kids, 2019/08/15

Malanowski, Jamie. “Untangling the History of Christmas Lights,”, 2019/08/15

Waggoner, Susan. It’s A Wonderful Christmas, Stewart, Tabori & Chang, 2004.


A Simple Christmas Wish by Melody Carlson

Rachel Milligan is spending the week with her lovable niece, Holly, when tragedy strikes. An airplane crash takes the lives of Holly’s parents shortly before Christmas.

Now the only family they have left is each other. Rachel resolves to be the best parent she can be to her brother’s only child.

Yet the will reveals some surprises. What can they do to stop it?

Lovable characters (and one you may love to hate,) and an adorable little girl who tugged at my heart made this a page turner for me.

I love stories set during the Christmas season. This heartwarming story did not disappoint me. Recommend.

-Sandra Merville Hart

First Children’s Christmas Party at the White House

President John Adams and First Lady Abigail Adams didn’t have the warmest of homes–even if it was at the White House.

Their Pennsylvania Avenue home, built near a swamp, was drafty and cold. Large fires crackled and snapped in thirteen fireplaces to ward off the chill.

In 1800, as Christmas approached the President and First Lady decided to host a children’s Christmas party. Their four-year-old granddaughter, Susanna Boylston Adams, lived with them and they wanted to honor her.

Greenery was hung in the East Room to decorate for the occasion. Government officials and their children were invited to the party.

A small orchestra provided music. Guests munched on cakes and drank punch.

They sang Christmas carols and played games. The party was a great success … with one exception.

One of the children accidentally broke a gift of Susanna’s—a doll dish. Susanna grabbed her friend’s doll and bit off its nose in retaliation.

The President stepped in before the situation got too out of hand.

Christmas parties soon became a tradition at the White House. Occasionally these were children’s parties in those historic early presidencies. Other parties were elegant affairs for adults.

-Sandra Merville Hart


“Background: Winter Holidays at the White House,” White House Historical Association, 2019/11/03

Christmas in America in the 1700’s and 1800’s, World Book, Inc., 2007.

“Christmas Traditions at the White House Fact Sheet,” White House Historical Association, 2019/11/03



The Christmas Tree

by Sandra Merville Hart

The tradition of Christmas trees began centuries ago. Citizens of Alsace, France, bought trees to set up, unornamented, in their homes in 1510.

In Germany and Austria, traditions in the 1700s were to hang evergreen tips upside down. Often decorated with apples and nuts, these Christmas trees also earned the name ‘sugartrees.’

German settlers in Pennsylvania had community Christmas trees by 1747, yet most Americans still considered them pagan symbols in the 1840s.

The White House’s first Christmas tree was with President Franklin Pierce in 1853, around the time Christmas trees began to be sold in the United States.

Even so, only twenty percent of American families had Christmas trees in 1900. Twenty years later, it was a tradition in most American homes. The popularity of the trees brought shortages, leading to Christmas tree farms.

Artificial trees, available from the 1880s, were often used by poorer families.

After World War II, the demand for Christmas trees by nostalgic British soldiers exceeded the supply of evergreens. The Addis Brush Company of America, who had manufactured artificial brush trees since the 1930s, sold thousands of trees in Great Britain.

Addis then manufactured a Silver Pine tree, made of aluminum, in the 1950s. It was sold with a Christmas tree color wheel that illuminated the tree in different colors as it revolved.

Another fad began in the 1960s—flocked Christmas trees, where spray is added to resemble snowy branches.

Whether your preference is for real or artificial trees, Christmas trees remain a beautiful holiday tradition.

Sources Editors. “History of Christmas Trees,”, 2019/08/15

“History of Christmas Trees,” National Christmas Tree Association, 2019/08/15

Waggoner, Susan. It’s A Wonderful Christmas, Stewart, Tabori & Chang, 2004.

Western Christmas Wishes

Two novellas included in Western Christmas Wishes

 His Christmas Family by Brenda Minton

Laurel Adams didn’t really want to return to her childhood home in Hope, Oklahoma. Her grandmother was ill and needed help—that’s why she went home.

Cameron Hunt rented a guesthouse from Gladys and had reasons to prefer his own company. Yet with Gladys in the hospital, he figured he’d have to show Lauren the ropes and help her with Rose, the teenager who stayed with Gladys under foster care.

There are some surprises awaiting these two as Christmas approaches.

Not only did the struggles of the main characters tug at my heart, but also the secondary characters battled major obstacles.

An enjoyable holiday romance.

A Merry Wyoming Christmas by Jill Kemerer

Michael Carr, in between job assignments, returns to his family’s ranch for the Christmas holidays. A rift between him and his brother guarantees that he won’t linger too long after the holiday.

Leann Bowden looks forward to a new start in Wyoming with her two-year-old daughter, Sunni. Leann arrives at Sunrise Bend a few weeks before her new job starts to get them settled. It didn’t matter that Christmas was coming—there was nothing tying her to St. Louis.

There’s something about Michael that draws Leann to his quiet strength. Yet, if he doesn’t plan on staying, she can’t give into her feelings. She’s already been through one man leaving her and her daughter … she can’t go through it again.

Believable characters, an adorable little girl who tugged at my heart, and a sweet romance made this an enjoyable read!

-Sandra Merville Hart

Colonial Virginia Christmas Feast

Christmas morning began with a bang in colonial Virginia. Literally. Men fired their muskets. Firecrackers popped and cannons roared in celebration of the day. If none of these noisemakers were at hand, men beat on pots and pans to join the merrymakers.

After church services, the colonists enjoyed a large dinner that might include up to eight courses.

George and Martha Washington, wealthy landowners before the Revolutionary War, served lavish feasts for their guests. Meats included crab, oysters, codfish, turtle soup, Yorkshire pudding, ham, venison, boiled mutton, and turkey with stuffing. Served with these were relishes, vegetables, biscuits, and cornbread.

Then, if the diner had any room for dessert, there were possibly a dozen choices. Tarts, puddings, pies, fruit, cakes, ice cream, and dishes of candy, nuts, and raisins were among the selections.

January 6th was known as Twelfth Night, and was typically marked with a celebration that marked the official end of the Christmas season.

Most of the colonists were from England or had English roots so it isn’t surprising that they enjoyed wassail (spiced wine or ale punch with apples), mince pies, plum puddings, and fruit cake.

Washington had an eggnog recipe that he made for his guests. They loved the potent drink.

Music, dancing, and visiting with friends might last for another week after the feast.

-Sandra Merville Hart


Christmas in America in the 1700’s and 1800’s, World Book, Inc., 2007.