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Remembering the holiday table
The older I get, the more time I spend remembering Christmas past. According to my two wonderful children, I must be very old because all I remember of Christmas past is what I ate.
This morning I realized they are right. I could barely remember any presents I received when I was young, which was two weeks before the first global warming period that knocked out the dinosaurs.
I was looking at some old photos and found a snapshot of myself in front of a Christmas tree decked out in a cape and mask. I was the skinniest kid on earth, although I was remarkably cool looking in the cape.
What I remember from Christmas past with my family is being skinny and eating whatever I could stuff into my scrawny frame, which was considerable. We lived on a farm on top of a hill and Christmas was a feast. I remember going to my grandmother’s house and eating white, pink and green divinity, homemade almond roca, peanut brittle, fudge and pies.
I would get almost too full for dinner from all the candy, but at that age, I could go run around the house and be hungry again. Those were the days.
I don’t know what happened to the skinny kid. Maybe global warming has more side effects than we know.
One of my favorite memories is from a not-so-distant Christmas past. My wife, Ginny, had a tradition in her family on Christmas Eve: Swedish meatballs served over homemade noodles, asparagus in brown butter and for dessert, plum pudding with hard sauce.
When we were first married I thought her family meal sounded nuts. Christmas eve meant stuffing myself with turkey, ham, mashed potatoes, gravy on everything and pie, but being an understanding new husband I whined and caved in to her wishes.
Ginny spent all day making her Swedish meatballs and the noodles. It was the best meal I’ve ever eaten. But the dessert topped it all.
She had this special recipe passed down from her mother and grandmother for plum pudding with hard sauce. I’d never heard of it. She started preparing it right after Thanksgiving. She bought some suet from the butcher and got an MJB coffee can. Somehow this concoction sat around for weeks fermenting or doing something. I was afraid to ask.
After the Swedish meatballs and asparagus, Ginny brought out this dark, slightly sweet-smelling mound. I admit I was a little suspicious. Ginny believed in remembering the past through recipes passed down from her mother. I liked the idea, but I believed in the subtle craft of consuming as much as I could on the holidays. I had a few things to learn.
Ginny brought out the pudding mounded on a Christmas dish and poured the hard sauce over it, which was bright white. She lit the red candles on the table and turned the lights out. She drizzled some warm rum on the dessert and lit it. The kids were very young and they thought it was the coolest fire they had ever seen.
It was delicious. I have never quite had a dessert with such complex flavors. It was old fashioned, but very elegant at the same time.
The recipe is lost, but I will never forget the blue flame and the first time I tasted plum pudding as it was meant to be made and served.
Ginny was right. Recipes handed down are a very good way to remember Christmas past.