When my only sister Kate hosted a bridal shower for me 26 years ago this weekend, she asked each guest to bring an ornament to adorn the happy couple’s first and future Christmas trees. I received a good 50 (yes, I have that many cousins!) bulbs, bells and baubles that afternoon. And even as I routinely forget why I’ve walked into a particular room these days, I can still tie a name and a face to each and every ornament.

My mom presented me with a set of glass nesting bells. My mother-in-law gave me a blue bulb with silver stripes that was her mother’s. My aunt gave me a tiny copper tea kettle dangling from a silk ribbon because she knew we’d planned a wedding trip to England. A socially conscious roommate who’d just been elected to the Massachusetts House of Representative gave me a translucent orb with a floating red ribbon, the proceeds of her purchase going to AIDS research.

A collection of stamps and cookie cutters used to make handmade Christmas ornaments. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

But my hands-down favorite tree decoration, then and now, is the salt dough ornament Kate gave me. Every January I carefully wrap it in tissue paper and place it in a waterproof box. I gingerly open it in mid-December as I know the “best by” date on any dough decoration has long past. An elementary school teacher by profession, she used a cookie cutter in the shape of a wreath to fashion the dough, hand-painted the leaves and berries, and wrote the words “1st Christmas, Andy and Chrissy, 1994” in the center. It makes me smile every time I hang it in a place of honor high on the tree.

“Chrissy” is a name I accept only from my siblings and their offspring (eight by last count) who typically add “Crazy” and “Auntie” as their preferred prefixes. I’m crazy because I’d get in the treehouse with them when they were little and I play Truth or Dare with them now that they’re teens. I’m “crazy” because I make them put their cell phones in a basket by the door when I host Burns family holiday parties. I’m “crazy” because when they ask me if we can serve “Turducken,” I say “Yes, as long as all three are local birds!” I’m “crazy” because I give them gifts like beeswax wrappers to replace their plastic wrap, aprons made from cast-off dress shirts, and Christmas crackers stuffed with prizes that advance sustainable living practices.

This year they are going to call me “crazy” because I will give them personalized salt dough ornaments they don’t know they want, along with the $25 they think they do want. The cash will be gone in a week. The ornaments made from ingredients and time I already have on hand because I am not traveling to see them, will give them smiles and warm thoughts of Auntie Chrissy for years to come. Who’s crazy now?

CHRISTINE BURNS RUDALEVIGE is a food writer, recipe developer and tester, and cooking teacher in Brunswick, and the author of “Green Plate Special,” a cookbook from Islandport based on these columns. She can be contacted at cburns1227@gmail.com


Columnist Christine Burns Rudalevige uses cookie cutters to cut Christmas decorations out of salt dough. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

Stamped Salt Dough Ornaments
I don’t have a steady enough hand to paint my ornaments, but I do have many rubber stamps and ink pads left over from my scrapbooking days that I use to decorate the dough before I slide them into the oven to dry. You can use a fine-tipped marker to write on the back of dried ornaments that double as gift tags. To save energy, you can dry these in a pre-heating or cooking oven.

Makes 40-50 (2-inch) ornaments

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 ½ cups kosher salt

1 cup warm water

Cookie cutters


Holiday rubber stamps

Ink pads

Twine or ribbon

Combine the flour, salt and water in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook. Run the machine on low until the dough starts to form a ball. Increase the speed to medium and knead the dough for 2 minutes. Divide the dough into 2 and shape each into a rectangle.

Place each rectangle between two 11- by 17-inch pieces of parchment paper and roll the dough to 1/8 of an inch thick. Use cookie cutters to make shapes. Peel excess dough from around the cutouts. Stamp the ornaments with inked stamps. Use the end of a metal straw to make a hole in each ornament.

Transfer the ornaments and the parchment to a baking tray. Slide the tray into a 200-degree oven to dry for 1 hour.

After the ornaments have cooled, thread a piece of twine or ribbon through hole and tie the ends together.

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