Kim Luke writes a column "The Manicured Farmer" for the industry publication "Christmas Trees" The World's Leading Magazine for Christmas Tree Growers. This is her most recent column.
Being a part of a family’s holiday tradition is no small thing. It is a big thing, and one of the most endearing privileges of owning a Christmas Tree Farm. Those families who come out to the rolling hills of Fort Osage Christmas are taking an afternoon to build memories that will last a lifetime. Families pile out of the car decked out in Santa hats, family dog and the quest to find that perfect symbol of the holidays. The visitors may be creating a new tradition, or fulfilling their time honored yearly custom. Everything that we do on our farm, is to add to that experience. We try very hard to do our part to make their experience rich and memorable. The holidays are about coming home and celebrating around that perfect Christmas tree. Holidays are all about creating that warm and nurturing feeling with a pretty tree, a cozy fire and the smells of holiday recipe favorites.
What is it about the tea? At first it was only a thought, born from an earlier idea of serving a hot drink filled with the scent of the holidays. Over 30 years ago, the “vintage” blend of wholesome ingredients was served when hostesses of yesteryear relied on splashed upon recipe cards instead of roaming through Pinterest to find menus, recipes and ideas. Even then I gritted my teeth if the recipe required too many hoops to jump through before completion. Of course I could never put my finger on the exact recipe again, so concocted one of my own. Years ago I held an open house at holiday time for clients and the holiday tea would be served with great care. One never knows the turnout for a gather like that, so I always ruled on the side of surplus. For that one occasion each year, I made the tea in an oversized batch to serve to the crowd I hoped would partake, and although my annual events were met with success, I always made way too much.
I would add the citrus, cinnamon and secret ingredients for a day or two proceeding the event, filling my home with the heavenly smells associated with all things festive. The longer the brew the better, and my children would sample for me often. When the event was over, I would have tea for two weeks! But that is where my story lies. The weeks leading up to Christmas always had a large container of my leftover tea, and without trying, a family tradition was born. This was years before we knew that we would be owners of a Christmas tree farm. The benefactors of the spicy splendor became my family, and I made the tea for about a decade or more.
When we moved to the country, I no longer held the event, so the tea was not part of our holiday. We had much to learn in owning and operating a choose and harvest tree farm, and many of our long standing traditions changed. On crisp and cold winter days, our Christmas tree shopping customers devoured hot cocoa and we could barely keep enough cups on hand. I had pondered the idea of serving the holiday tea, but ideas take planning, action and execution . . . something I didn’t feel I could do during our busy season. It kept nagging at me, knowing how the fit would be perfect like a hand in a glove. My family brought it up often too, how they missed it and how it would be perfect to serve in our gift shop. So one year we did it. I found my recipe and we offered a choice between a complimentary cup of hot cocoa or spiced tea. Doesn’t that sound lovely? Wait….hold on, not so fast!
In order to supersize my tea servings I had to recalculate the recipe. This presented a host of issues when it came to cinnamon sticks and other secret ingredients. The next challenge was how to serve it. The sweet and spicy tea did not serve well dispensed from urns like our hot water for cocoa. Spices settled at the bottom, and stirring often helped, but it was not ideal. Soon our serving area was sticky from drops of spilled tea, and on one very busy afternoon, I nearly walked out of my shoes as they stuck to the floor. The holiday hot tea idea was fast becoming a nightmare, one that I wish would go away.
Our customers really enjoyed having a choice of two hot drinks. The tea quickly built an enthusiastic following and they came to expect it. I had so many requests to buy the tea, that along with needing an answer to the serving challenges I knew more work had to be done. I would have to convert the wet tea recipe to a dry mix. This would give me the option to serve a few tablespoons of dry mix and fill with water. Did I mention we will only have running water for the first time in the 2017 season, so urns filled with sticky, gooey spice sediment would be a thing of the past. A dry mix could also be packaged for sale.
Like a mad scientist, I would have to weigh, measure, add, divide, multiply, convert and experiment. I had to have the exact mix of all the spices in each cup. Anything less would be a disapointment to those who already loved my secret recipe. My husband would come into the kitchen and barely be able to see me through the cloud of tea dust I was experimenting with.
Finally, I felt the recipe was perfect. I make about ten 3lb cannisters of the dry mix to serve by adding hot water in our gift shop. The first year, I packaged up units myself for individual sale, but now we have a family production line for the making of individual units for sale. Our son came up with the name “Christmas Cheer.” When patrons come through the door we greet them with these words, “Would you care for some complimentary hot cocoa or a cup of “Christmas Cheer”? The tea has become a favorite of our tree farm, and patrons tell us they look forward to it all year. Many families buy several boxes and enjoy it throughout the season. Our family staff sips it all day, and our hard working tree handlers appreciate a few hot cups to take off the edge of winter.
Everyone loves coming home. Throughout life “home” is found in our hearts instead of across the thresholds of our front doors. Our heart can store home life from the past, in the present and even our future. It stores the sights and smells, the memories and the joy. It is the traditions we preserve that allow us to experience “home” again and again. Traditions are the oxygen that provide life to our memories, never discount their importance. The tea was that tradition for our family, and now it has become the same for other families.