Thursday, December 2, 2010

Christmas Dinner Then and Now

1980 12 25 Christmas dinner at the Petroffs

Christmas dinner at my parents’ house, 1980

When I was a child, our Christmas dinner was almost exactly the same as our Thanksgiving dinner. We opened with celery sticks stuffed with cream cheese and olives (a favorite of my mother’s) and shrimp cocktail (a relic of mess hall Thanksgivings), and then enjoyed roast turkey and stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy, and a plethora of vegetables: sweet potatoes, squash, turnip, cranberry sauce, and some more everyday vegetable for the kids who were picky eaters. Creamed onions often made an appearance. Dessert was pie, and lots of it – apple, pumpkin, and mince were the three constants, with a couple of other varieties usually added. The one food, other than cookies (to be discussed later this month) which was special for Christmas was stuffed dates, the nearest to sugarplums we could devise. My father and I would make them by inserting half a walnut into a date and then rolling it in confectioners’ sugar.

Did we eat these foods because the magazines in the supermarket told us we should? Or were they really part of our heritage? As we were New Englanders of primarily English and Scotch-Irish stock, I think it was the latter. For the most part, our holiday dinners were a slightly stripped-down version of the dinner my great-great-grandfather described having for Thanksgiving in 1879: “…turkey, chicken, baked chicken pie, plumb pudding, pumpkin pie.” The plum pudding tradition seems to have died out, although one of my father’s aunts (the other side of the family) made one at least once that I can remember. The mince pie hangs on in New England, or at least in Maine, and also in Old England, although they make them much smaller there.

My Christmas table this year, as for most of the past 38 Christmases, will be quite different from my childhood feasts. Hors d’oeuvres may vary from year to year, but the entrée is always a pork roast stuffed with apples and prunes. roast pork When it’s available, we may also have medisterpølse, a Danish sausage flavored with allspice. I will need a meat-grinder and sausage-stuffer for my mixer before I can tackle making my own.


I have pretty much given up on the traditional red cabbage, since I’m the only one who will eat it and the smallest cabbage available still makes way too much for one person. Dessert will be ris à l’amande – rice cooked in milk, flavored with almond, and mixed with whipped cream. Some people use a cherry sauce with it, but we prefer raspberry.ricepudding

There will be a whole blanched almond hidden in the pudding, and whoever finds the nut in his or her portion has to keep it hidden until all are finished eating, and then claim the prize.

All this is eaten on Christmas Eve. For the first twelve years of our marriage we did various things on Christmas Day; sometimes going to a relative’s house for a turkey dinner, and once I did a roast beef and Yorkshire pudding dinner in our tiny house. Our Christmas Day became even more of a festival when Sisterfilms was born that day in 1984. Our Christmas dinner still varies – often it’s been a simple chicken and rice casserole, last year it was more of a brunch with aebleskiver. There was a aebleskiver

brief flirtation with ice cream cakes from Dairy Queen, but for some time now Sisterfilms’ birthday cake has been a bûche de noël; now she mostly makes it herself. I’ll be sure to take a picture this Christmas.buche

So, this Yankee has joined the Scandinavians, very grateful that the Danes don’t eat lutefisk. lutefisk


Kristin said...

interesting transition. the pictures look delicious.

DianaR said...

I loved all the pictures you included! I'm quite hungry now though ;-)

Jan said...

And I always wondered what lutefisk looked like!

Sisterfilms said...

I can't believe you don't have a picture of my cake! I take one every year! The ice cream cake died out because I finally got to the age where I noticed how other people felt about eating ice cream, store bought cake at the end of December :/

Thanks for sharing the Christmas memories. As usual, I learn something new every time! Creamed onions?!

Auntie Knickers said...

I, too, can't believe I don't have a picture of the cake. I'm guessing it was on your father's camera and hence on his computer.