What exactly does “Christmas at Ruben’s” mean? Throw up some lights and hope people spend more money? Well my friends it means, Ol’ Ruben rolls up his sleeves and scours the world for his secret Foodie contacts and gathers all of the greatest holiday sweets he can get his little hands on.
Christmas is a time of year that we spend more time with our family and friends and a nearby table with sweets from “Back home” wherever that may be, is always a welcome addition to any gathering. Nothing brings people closer during the holidays that sharing “food memories” with the people we most care about.
Christmas always reminds me of my childhood, and memories of my family both here and in heaven. Nothing ties in more to memory than smells and tastes. A smell or taste can bring back a flood of memories and even influence our mood. Because the olfactory bulb is part of the brain’s limbic system, an area so closely associated with memory and feeling, it’s sometimes called the “emotional brain.” Smells and tastes can conjure up memories and powerful responses almost instantaneously. I spoke to Ruben about this and he agreed. “I can’t smell cinnamon without thinking of my grandmother’s kitchen filled with the aroma of atole de arroz” says Ruben.
So during this time of year Ruben tries to import things from all over the world that people enjoyed as children at Christmas time in their home countries. This makes Christmas very special at Ruben’s because no matter where you were born, you more than likely will find something from that country to enjoy during Christmas. It also allows one generation to share with younger generations their culture and foods they grew up with.
Although you will find many foods at Ruben’s during Christmas, from savory to sweet, the sweets are the ones that are most delectable. Christmas is a time of year when we forget about diets and try to enjoy the all of the wonderful treats that cultures all around the world have specifically invented to celebrate this joyous holiday season.
One of those inventions, for example, is Panettone; fruitcake’s Italian cousin. But unlike fruitcake, which was invented out of an abundance of cheap sugar no one new what to do with, Panettone was created from love! According to legend, in the 15th century a young man from Milan fell in love with the daughter of a baker named Toni. With love on his mind he baked a moist, light, fluffy, buttery sweet bread filled with raisins and candied fruit and presented it to the girl’s father in the hopes of winning him (and her) over — and of course, he called it Pan de
Well since the 15th century, Italians have moved out of Italy and taken over the kitchens of the entire planet! Hence, Panettone is now baked in almost every corner of the globe. It is now deeply embedded in the cultures of Peru, Argentina, and Brazil. As a matter of fact, the Peruvian Paneton D’Onofrio, in it’s traditional blue box, is one of Ruben’s best sellers. There are very many brands and varieties of Panettone in all of these countries. Ruben brings a little bit of every kind of Panettone; from the simplest commercially produced breads to the most decadent handmade butter and wild cherry incrusted masterpieces. Whatever your budget or pallet wants, you will find it this Christmas at Ruben’s. In fact, Ruben also brings a German version of sorts called Stollen or sometimes called Christstollen. Winter Texans especially enjoy this particular version since many of them come from German backgrounds. Although the big box stores have now caught on to the popularity of these baked goods that Ruben has been importing for over 17 years, Ruben has many treats that are only found in this little grocery store. One of them is arguably the most delicious of all the Panettones:
The Amarena Fabbri! This classic Italian bread features Fabbri’s 108-year-old recipe for whole semi-candied Amarena Cherries baked into a buttery, airy delicious cake. And if you are looking for a more traditional Panettone you will find over 8 verities of Maina Panettone, the best Panettone according to the Huffington Post.
Rivaling Panettone’s popularity at Ruben’s is the Spanish Turrón. This is my son Eric’s favorite! Turrón, or in Italian Torrone, is a traditional Spanish Christmas confection made from just 4 very simple ingredients: Marcona Almonds, Orange Blossom Honey, Cane Sugar & Egg Whites. But these four simple ingredients in the hands of expert chefs whose families have been making them for centuries become a confection rivaled by none. The Marcona Almonds are far sweeter, moister, and delicately soft, in contrast to the classic sweet variety. These Queens of the Almonds are slow roasted until they are almost weightless. The honey and sugar are then reduced using ancient traditional methods that date back to the 4th century. Finally the egg whites are used to marry the two and encase them in a thin communion wafer. Quite apropos I think. You will find over 100 varieties of Turron from Spain, Italy, and Argentina at Ruben’s starting in mid-November just in time for both Thanksgiving and Christmas.