Christmas Food Traditions
Going down memory lane ....
My two favorite Christmas food traditions -
Butter cake - we always had a brunch the Sunday before Christmas at Grandmom's. And she always served butter cake. Probably about 2500 calories but ohhhh soooo good. I just found out that my client, Oteri's Bakery in Olney, makes one. I am putting in my order for next week. How many calories is it when you eat the entire thing by yourself?
Egg Nog - my dad made the best! Don't know the recipe but I know there was quite a bit of alcohol in it. And NO virgin nog for the kids - we were allowed to have the real stuff with the adults!
One other memory - we always had Cherries Jubilee for dessert on Christmas Day. Of course, igniting it was half the fun and any "issues" with getting a flame were solved by pouring more booze on top! The next morning - my mother walked out to the kitchen and found my grandfather drinking the left over "juice"!
Merry Christmas everyone!
Our Christmas meal was spread out over the entire day, starting with a marzipan stollen and coffee or cocoa in the morning after presents were opened. Around 1:00, we had a crock of mom's French onion soup (that she learned in Madeleine Kamman's class) to tide us over until Whiskey Sours (affectionately renamed Shishkey Wowers for obvious reasons), Parmesan spinach balls and crab claws with mustard cream sauce emerged around 3:00. By six, the 24-pound bird was ready for tenting and carving. Half past six was the traditional hour of serving turkey, filling, gravy, white potato and sweet potato casseroles, homemade cranberry/orange relish, Cope's corn, petit peas with pearl onions, sweet cabbage slaw, crescent rolls with parsley butter and a relish tray dominated by black olives and gherkins. Add Champagne to the tryptophan and then add pecan pie, apple pie and Christmas cookies around 9:00 and its amazing that anyone was still awake.
Those days are long gone and the table now bears a simpler and lower calorie fare. A few dishes remain (along with the mandatory cookies) but memories of those feasts past are indelible.
And brandied peaches. How could I ever forget the brandied peaches? Especially Christmas of 1961 when dad oversauced the peaches and blew up the oven when the alcohol reached flash point. Yes, "KABOOM" blew off the door, left it hanging on one hinge with the insulation all over the kitchen floor. Fortunately, it was a double decker oven and the turkey upstairs was unharmed.
Mom controlled the saucing from then on and dad (an organic chemist), reminded annually of his folly, was held in reserve for turkey prep and carving only.
Very sweet. I grew up in a Jewish home as well, but since we invariably spent the Holiday vacation with my Gramma and Grampa in MN and she was such a grand cook, we had some holiday-centric foods and customs. One was cheese dreams, which were like mini-blintzes that she served with strawberry or blueberry/cinnamon compote that she "put up." This was a breakfast food, filled with lightly sweetened pot cheese; accompanied by a lox platter and the other usual suspects; bagels, capers, onions, cream cheese or vegetable cheese schmears, tomatoes. She was one kickass Midwestern baker, too, so a variety of cakes and bars were always on offer; especially rugelach, mandelbrot, and anything with caramel, chocolate and toasted nuts.
The other tradition, until it became noticeable and verboten by the self-help program he attended, was for Grampa to continually head out to the garage to "check the car" (?) while he got merrier and merrier and eventually went off to take a nap. I noticed Gramma was a whole lot more relaxed when the car no longer required an hourly visit to check it's condition. : )
Turkey, ham, all kinds of homemade candy and cookies, pies, cakes. I remember my grandmother's orange slice cake and my other grandmother's fruit cake. Oh and making gingerbread men with my grandmother. Then as I grew older learning how to make candy with my mother-in-law and her fruitcakes. They weighed about 7 lbs she put so much stuff in them. Red velvet cake- don't care for the cake, but love the cream cheese frosting. Having holiday buffet supper the night of the church Christmas play. Walking from a big decorated farm house up the road to a little country church to watch the play and then getting to sit on Santa Claus's lap. It seemed so magical.
Forgot about the oysters! My grandfather worked in the coal mines so he brought home several containers of shucked oysters from the company store. Ate fried oysters on Christmas Day. Then saved some oysters back for oyster stew a couple of days after Christmas. Also boxes of fruit- oranges, tangerines, grapefruit, pears. Ate so much citrus that around my mouth broke out from all the citrus fruit. The country ham we ate was our own- killed and sugar cured by my other grandfather.
Every Christmas meal was the same in our house. My grandparents lived on the same property as us, so each year it was my mother and father, my brother and my 2 grandparents. Each year my mother would go out and buy a monsterous sized turkey and a ham that alone would have been large enough to feed a small African nation. My grandfather would also do the same. So for the 6 of us we had 2 giant birds and half an oversized pig. Every year I would wonder if it really was necessary, but then I realised my grandfather just felt the need to contribute, regardless of whether it was needed or not.
So while the morning was spent arguing over cooking methods and times for the 2 ostrich sized birds (and where the hell we we going to fit them?) one would inevitably go into the Weber (my mothers turkey) and one would go into the oven (my grandfathers turkey). I don't think we ever ate before 8pm. Once it was decided the birds had been incinerated enough, my mother (who is a control and health freak) would microwave plain vegetables one at a time and obsess about heating up plates in the oven. I should probably mention here that we live in Australia and Christmas day is usually at least a balmy 30 degrees celsius - if not, hotter. Which means the house is sweltering and my mother is falling apart over her issues of food staying hot. While she microwaves a vegetable and leaves it on the benchtop to get cold as she microwaves another. But she insists that the food is cold due to cold plates. Go figure. By now I am trying to hurry things along and am gracefully allowed to stir gravy after having organised the table and tried to gather all the family at the table.
Eventually the food makes it to the table, everyone is seated and ravenous. Giant birds and hams are carved. Debate ensues about which one is superior, what could be done better for next year and my mother lists all the things that are wrong with the Christmas dinner, skillfully not pointing out her own culinary flaws and unnecessary hot plate obsession. Obviously there is a huge amount of poultry and pork left over and then we are forced to eat it until well beyond it is considered safe.
My grandfather passed away a few weeks ago and I am sad that he won't be there to present his giant turkey out of his own generosity. My mother is still fretting over how large a bird she will need to feed herself, my father and my brother. My father is wisely encouraging my mother to go away somewhere for Christmas.