It is not possible to talk about Christmas food in my family without mentioning the infamous “Day Dad cooked Christmas Dinner.” I was about 5 or 6 so my memories of this only come from the repeated telling of the story and some parts of it I don’t actually know – did we eat it?!
Mum had come down with the Hong Kong flu on Christmas Eve or perhaps on Christmas morning itself, but whenever it started she was bedridden on Christmas Day and feeling awful. My dad can cook so the obvious answer was for Dad to cook the Christmas dinner. I do not know if it was a goose or a turkey or how the rest of the dinner came out. What I do know is that at some point someone became aware that the giblets had not been removed from the bird – perhaps the smell of the plastic bag melting was the clue? For me the story is incomplete, but I tell it to my children every year anyway.
The other story I always tell as we sit around the table, is of Christmas dinner at my grandmother’s house. My grannie died before our youngest sons were born and our eldest was only a baby, but she was a wonderful lady and I hope they feel a connection to her through my memories.
Dinner was always roast turkey (maybe goose when I was very young), roast potatoes, Yorkshire puddings, brussels sprouts, white sauce, cranberry sauce, stuffing, gravy and bacon wrapped chipollatas. This was always followed by Christmas pudding and custard or cream and trifle or individual jellies for those who did not like the pud. My own Christmas dinners are the same except for the chipollatas (can’t get those here) and the vegetables vary by what we have growing at the time. The story of my grannie is less about what she cooked, but more about how she served it. She would offer a second helping of turkey and when the unwitting diner assented she would pressure them to have seconds of everything until their plate was piled almost as high as the first time! “More turkey, John” “More for you Derek” she would say, and dad and Uncle Derek would be suckered in. Once the plates were passed there was always an excuse for each added morsel – “can’t have turkey without stuffing,” “there are only a couple of sprouts left,” “don’t want to waste the white sauce,” and so on. Everyone would laugh, but no one was safe! The same ritual was repeated with desert and no matter how full we were, no one could resist a tiny portion of pudding and a splash of custard – which together always managed to fill a bowl.
A few hours later the table would be re-set for tea. A Suffolk ham, rusks, celery sticks, pickled onions, green tomato chutney, sausage rolls, mince pies…