In the days leading up to Christmas I have spent a lot of time cooking and it started me thinking about all the family traditions we have for Christmas – especially the food we serve. Every family has their own traditions, but how often do we think about where they come from and how they change. Some of mine appear to be very old but others are quite new.
Breakfast on Christmas Day has always been the same – cold boiled ham and mustard, hard-boiled eggs and bread and butter. Not sure where the eggs came from (Easter?) but I think the origins of the ham go back a long way. The clue is in the fact that my husband’s family had brawn for this meal. It is mentioned in Jane Austen and is a variation on the old Boar’s Head that was part of the medieval Christmas feasts.
In our house Christmas dinner is served at about 1 o’clock. Turkey and all the trimmings – stuffing (different every year), sausages, bacon rolls. Roast potatoes and roast carrots and parsnips (the only time I ever seem to cook them), brussels sprouts (these have been cooked in a variety of ways over the years depending on how adventurous I feel – this year plain boiled), gravy and , of course, cranberry sauce.
This is followed by Christmas pudding, which was made in October – the first christmas job! But which year? The one we had this year was from 2010 – they improve with age! A sprig of holly in the top and flaming brandy poured over at the table. This is served with mince pies, brandy butter and , originally, white sauce. The white sauce is something that my mother always made, but is gradually disappearing – but we always tell the story of the year that she knocked the spoon and the sauce went all over the ceiling – there’s probably some up there still!
After wine with the main course, we might have some sweet wine with the pudding. I think that when I was young we had port with it, but now the port is served with the next course – the Stilton! This is also where the nuts appear and perhaps dried fruit – but definitely dates. This is about the point at which the cook (me) relaxes – everything else is a blur. Coffee , mints, more alcohol? With a bit of luck we have finished in time to watch the Queen. Then the best part of the day – everyone does the washing up – except for whoever did the cooking!
The rest of the day is spent, like most other families, slumped in front of the television or “playing” with presents, apart from the ceremony of regularly asking if anyone wants a piece of Christmas Cake and everyone else groaning. It has been known for the Christmas Cake to be cut on Christmas day, but most unusual.
Boxing Day is much more relaxed – the pressure is off. If the weather is good, there will be a walk and the meal consists of left-overs. Everything is put on the table and people help themselves. Cold meats. cheese, a bit of salad, re-heated roast potatoes (and the left-over sprouts, which remain left over), packets of crisps etc, and a nice white wine. The pudding is supplemented by a trifle (made lat morning or late on Christmas day to stop the cook getting bored!) However this year, due to a change of plan, instead of six for Boxing day there were only going to be three of us. I made a momentous decision – we would not have trifle! Whether it will be delayed until New Year or cancelled altogether is not yet decided.
But what about Christmas Eve? Is there a tradition for that? Yes, and I invented it myself.
When I got married and was called upon to “do” Christmas, I started planning the meals in the manner that it had always been done. Ham for breakfast, Turkey for lunch, mince pies and sausage rolls, Christmas cake and trifle. But what to do on Christmas Eve? There was nothing traditional! It had always consisted of people dashing about delivering presents, stuffing turkeys, decorating trees. I had no memory of what meal we ever had. So what would I do for this first Christmas? It had to be something easy – prepared in advance? And moveable – people would be travelling and might be early or late.
I started with the family arriving – mulled wine would be nice to offer guests, so that went on the menu. I thought ahead to what we would be eating on Christmas Day – ham and then turkey, and if there was any left over how would it fit into the Boxing day mix? Beef seemed to fit the bill and cold so there would no problem with timing, and it could be prepared in advance. Looking through some magazines I found a recipe for spiced salt beef. Ideal. Jacket potatoes with it and how about roast chestnuts? They could go in the oven with the potatoes. Something afterwards? We would be having pudding and trifle later in the holiday, perhaps something chocolate for those who don’t like christmas pudding or trifle. Chocolate Log! Very christmassy sprinkled with icing sugar. I soon found a recipe – it could even be made in advance and stored in the freezer!
It all went down well and we have had it every Christmas Eve since – I had invented a tradition!
So that’s about it. A few standard meals and a selection of leftovers to keep us going until New Year or beyond. New Years Eve is different, not subject to quite so many traditions – at least foodwise. A process of gradual change as new traditions enter and old ones bow out.
And has the Trifle been delayed – or has it reached the Tradition Terminus?
Must go now – I have a Turkey Curry to make. See you next year!