10 Christmas Recipes Illinois Natives Can't Live Without

10 Christmas Recipes Illinois Natives Can't Live Without

Honestly, food has become pretty synonymous with the holidays. Think about it – we have Christmas cookies, the Christmas ham, and depending on where you’re from, maybe even a little bit of Christmas pudding.

That got us thinking… are there any recipes that are rooted here in Illinois? Maybe even recipes that are tried-and-true for the Christmas season? We think so! Christmas in Illinois is all about meaty entrees, sweet breads and candies, and corn – popcorn, corn syrup… you get the idea.

This will be a fun one, so be sure to share on Facebook and let us know what your must-have Christmas recipes are!

1. Divinity

For many Decatur natives, divinity is a must-have treat around Christmastime. Divinity is similar to a meringue, and it is made from egg whites, corn syrup, water, and sugar.

This recipe is perfect to make during the dry winter months because humidity is said to be the enemy of these nougat-like confections.

Many divinity recipes include vanilla extract for flavor and chopped nuts for texture.

Divinity Recipe

Photo Credit: House of Nash Eats; photo has been cropped

Blogger Amy from House of Nash Eats has a great article on how to make divinity. Her recipe includes:

  • 2 ½ cups sugar
  • ½ cup water
  • ½ cup light corn syrup
  • Pinch of salt
  • 2 egg whites at room temperature
  • 1 cup chopped pecans
  • 1 tsp vanilla

The process involves a candy thermometer because it’s important that you bring the mixture up to just the right temperature. Visit House of Nash Eats’s blog to read the rest of the instructions.

2. Popcorn Balls

You can’t have Illinois with corn. In fact, popcorn has been labeled the official state snack food of Illinois.

For many families, popcorn balls are a common Christmas gift that grandparents send off with the grandkids. Be sure to comment down below if this is a family tradition for you!

Popcorn Balls

Photo credit: Karo Syrup

Here’s a popular recipe:

  • 2 cups white sugar
  • 1 cup light corn syrup
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • ¼ cup water
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp distilled white vinegar (optional)
  • 5 quarts popped popcorn (about 1/2 cup unpopped)

Combine sugar, corn syrup, butter, and water in a saucepan over medium heat. Insert a candy thermometer and stir until the mixture reaches 300º F, or the hard-crack stage. Remove from heat and stir in vanilla and vinegar.

Pour mixture slowly over popped popcorn, stirring constantly. Let sit for 5 minutes, then shape into popcorn balls.

3. Italian Beef

For those of us born and raised in Illinois, Italian Beef is the go-to recipe when there’s a lot of company and it’s not the main cookin’ day.

It only takes a few ingredients, and it does all its magic in the crockpot so you can visit with family and decorate sugar cookies.

Italian Beef

All you need is a 5-pound rump roast, 2 packets of Italian salad dressing mix, 1 jar of pepperoncini, and 2 cups of beef broth. Put all of that in the crockpot for 8-10 hours on low, and then shred the meat for sandwiches. If you want to be fancy about it, you can sear the roast in a pan on all sides before putting it in the crockpot.

This is seriously the tastiest – and easiest – dinner to make that requires little to no effort. That’s why we Illinois natives love it, am I right?

4. Buckeyes

OK, so officially, buckeyes originated in Ohio and were named after the Ohio buckeye tree. However, these are still a definite Illinois staple when it comes to holiday treats.

These confections are peanut butter fudge partially dipped in chocolate.


Photo credit: Dianne from AllRecipes

To make these, all you need are 5 simple ingredients:

  • 2 cups creamy peanut butter
  • ½ cup salted, softened butter
  • 1 ¼ tsp vanilla extract
  • 3 ¼ cups powdered sugar
  • 12 oz semisweet chocolate chips

Combine the peanut butter and butter in a bowl and beat until well-combined. Stir in vanilla extract. Gradually add powdered sugar until completely combined.

Scoop into small balls and roll with the palms of your hand until smooth. Place on wax-paper lined cookie sheet and freeze for 20 minutes.

While peanut butter balls are chilling, prepare your melted chocolate. Place in microwave on low heat setting and microwave in 30-second increments. Stir completely after each 30-second interval to encourage all the chips to melt. (You can also do this over a double boiler, but a lot of people prefer the simplicity of the microwave method.)

Remove the peanut butter balls from the freezer, spear the top of each peanut butter ball with a toothpick, and dip each buckeye ball into the melted chocolate.

Return to cookie sheet and remove toothpick. Use your fingertips to smooth over the toothpick mark. Allow the chocolate to harden before eating and enjoying.

5. Classic Prime Rib

Yes, us midwesterners love our meat. And prime rib is a classic midwestern Christmas staple. (Although I’m sure this is hotly debated among those who prefer the Christmas ham. And vegans.)

Prime Rib

Photo credit: Jennifer Kiko

Here’s how to make it:

  • 6-9 pound prime rib roast (bone-in for more flavor if possible)
  • Fresh cloves of garlic (2 cloves for mild flavor, 4 cloves for extra garlicky flavor)
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 450º F. Push the garlic cloves into the natural seams of the beef. Tie the roast in between the bones using butcher’s twine. Season all over with salt and pepper – probably more than you’d think.

Place the roast on a rack set in a roasting pan. Roast for 15 minutes, then reduce temperature to 250º F and continue cooking until the roast is 10 degrees below your desired temperature. For example, a medium rare roast should be removed at 120-125º F, because it will continue to cook while it’s resting and will reach 130-135º F during that time.

Rest the roast for at least 30 minutes before carving.

You can also make a sauce using the bits from the roasting pan by placing it on the stove over medium-high heat. Here’s how: Add 1 cup red wine and scrape up the brown bits at the bottom of the pan. Strain that liquid into a saucepan and add 2 cups beef broth. When the liquid starts to shimmer, whisk in a cornstarch slurry (2 T cornstarch mixed with 2 T warm water) to thicken. Add salt and pepper as needed, and serve with sliced prime rib.

6. Monkey Bread

Monkey Bread

Monkey bread photo credit: Pillsbury

Monkey bread is an American classic, and while it originated in Southern California and perhaps was popularized by the Reagan family Christmas dinner, it has become a popular breakfast dish in the Midwest.

This Christmas staple is a sweet, pull-apart bread. It looks like coffee cake’s cousin, and it’s rolled in cinnamon sugar or brown sugar.

Making monkey bread from scratch involves making the dough from scratch. Which is nice. If you have the time.

But the fast and easy way to make monkey bread involves 2 cans of Pillsbury biscuits, sugar, cinnamon, walnuts, raisins, brown sugar, and butter. I mean, how could you go wrong?

Follow along using Pillsbury’s recipe here.

7. Wild Game Recipes

Illinois is arguably one of the best states to hunt in. And that means that for a lot of us, a holiday celebration just isn’t the same without some wild game.

Wild Game

Photo credit: Department of Natural Resources, Illinois

OutdoorIllinois published some great recipes featuring duck, bluegill, wild turkey, and venison. Yes, the publication may be a decade old, but these recipes are timeless!

If you happen to get a good catch this year, try out one of these delicious-looking recipes. Let us know in the comments – do you have hunters in your family, and if so, what’s your favorite way to prepare your wild game?

8. Peanut Brittle

No one truly knows how peanut brittle originated. Some believe that it originated in the south during the Civil War, while others believe a Southern woman made it by accident while trying to make taffy.

Either way, peanut brittle is definitely a Christmas recipe that we Illinois natives can’t live without. This is usually a staple snack, and it makes for a great gift that doesn’t break the bank. Plus, it’s made with love!

Peanut Brittle

Here’s a tried-and-true recipe for peanut brittle:

  1. 1 cup white sugar
  2. ½ cup light corn syrup
  3. ¼ tsp salt
  4. ¼ cup water
  5. 1 cup peanuts
  6. 2 T softened butter
  7. 1 tsp baking soda

Grease a large cookie sheet.

In a large saucepan over medium heat, bring sugar, corn syrup, salt, and water to a boil. Stir continuously until sugar has dissolved. Stir in peanuts. Insert a candy thermometer, and stir until temperature reaches 300º F. You can test that the mixture is done by dropping a small piece into cold water. If it separates into hard and brittle threads, it’s ready to be removed from the heat.

Once removed from the heat, immediately stir in butter and baking soda, and pour onto a cookie sheet. Using 2 forks, lift and pull the mixture into a rectangle that fills the cookie sheet. Let it cool, and then snap into pieces.

9. Cranberry Nut Bread

You can never have too much fresh bread during the holiday season. It’s been a long tradition in Decatur – and all over the Midwest for that matter – to give fresh holiday bread as a Christmas gift.

Traditionally, the bread is classic white bread filled with dried fruits and nuts. You can start with the white bread base and improvise according to your tastes (or what’s in your pantry at the time…).

Cranberry Nut Bread

The following recipe is for cranberry nut bread, submitted by ANDROMEDA050456 on AllRecipes, and is an example of how this kind of bread would be made:

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 1 egg
  • 3/4 cup orange juice
  • 1 tablespoon grated orange zest
  • 1 1/2 cups fresh or frozen cranberries
  • 1/2 cup chopped walnuts

Preheat oven to 350º F, and lightly grease an 8x4 inch loaf pan.

In a medium bowl, mix together the flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, and baking soda. Cut in the butter until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs.

In a small bowl, beat the egg, orange juice, and orange zest. Blend into the dry mixture. Stir in the cranberries and walnuts. Transfer to the loaf pan.

Bake in the preheated oven 65 to 70 minutes, or until a wooden toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool in pan 10 minutes; remove to wire rack and cool completely before serving.

10. Hershey’s Fudge

It’s not just any fudge we like to make here in central Illinois – it’s Hershey’s fudge.

This creamy fudge recipe is a staple at many homes, and it only involves 6 ingredients, though don’t let that fool you – this recipe takes some skill to pull off. Calling all grandmothers!

Hershey's Fudge

Photo credit: Hershey's

  • 3 cups sugar
  • ⅔ cup Hershey’s cocoa
  • ⅛ tsp salt
  • 1 ½ cups milk
  • ¼ cup butter
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

Hershey says on their site that this is one of their most requested recipes, but also one of their most difficult to master. You have to follow the directions to the T or you might end up with soft fudge or perhaps even worse – hard and sugary fudge. You know, the kind that has the granules of sugar in it that never quite dissolved.

You can print this coveted recipe from Hershey’s website.

Be sure to tell us in the comments or on Facebook – what dish is a holiday staple in your family?

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