Christmas - 'tis a strange event to be writing about at the end of April but that’s the a-z for you. When I first hosted a living history group down here on earth, for the U3A, I set Xmas for us to write about one month.
We were to all intents and purposes the same kind of age - retired! - except of course we were not. Our childhoods ranged from the 30s depression to the early 60s - everyone’s description of their Christmas fare was so different. I talk only of the food today because that is what my a-z is about. But even amongst us 'welcome home darling' babies there was a vast difference. Traditional Christmases for one was a strangeness to another.
So mine consisted of far too much to eat, but we ate it all. Looking back I am not sure how any of us did. We would regularly sit down 13-15 people over a three day period. My father, working in a bank was given a free turkey each year from one of the clients, that was Christmas Day meat, I wasn’t and still am not keen on Turkey. My treat was on Boxing Day when we had one of our chickens roasted. Not the tasteless meat that passes for chicken these days but a robust tasting older bird who was certainly free range.
All the trimmings would include various jellies such as redcurrant or gooseberry (cranberry jelly came later) then there was onion sauce, bread sauce, roast potatoes, boiled potatoes, carrots, Brussels sprouts parsnips and swede. Topped with lovely thick gravy.
Followed by Christmas pudding complete with silver threepenny bits inside. There was the choice of sweet white sauce or custard. That was the basic meal.
Before the day started, before the guest arrived, us kids had our stockings to unpack, they were actually my father’s socks. The highlight for me was the banana, mandarin and the coin tucked into the toe. Along with chalks, pencils, handkerchiefs and colouring book.
We began the serious eating with drinks and nibbles as everyone arrived. These nibbles consisted of mince pies, sausage rolls and small neatly trimmed sandwiches. Afterwards, listening to the Queen's Speech, there were chocolates, sweets, bowls of fruit( oranges, mandarins, grapes, boxes of dates,bananas - Christmas was the time for citrus and oranges and mandarins are still the best eaten at this time of the year)and real nuts with a nut cracker.
Afternoon tea, Mum would produce the Christmas cake; rich fruit cake covered in marzipan and royal icing decorated with snowmen, reindeer and Santa clause. The only time we didn’t need to eat bread before the goodies:)
Supper would be tinned ham, tongue, tomatoes, cucumber, radishes, lettuce, potato salad, coleslaw, beetroot in vinegar, cheese and biscuits. Left over pudding and sauce, fruit salad, Christmas cake, and a pudding of some kind usually a trifle.
IF anyone was peckish between all these foods they were free to pick at the bowls!!!
This was a real potlatch occasion. Feasting after the year of rationing. Coupons, tins and boxes of chocolates saved for the day. No wonder part of the tradition was a brisk walk after lunch!
For Mum and then us, as my sister and I grew older, it was three days of vegetable preparation, of replenishing the bowls, making more mince pies and sausage rolls.
When I was young, it was normally cold at this time of the year and snow wasn’t uncommon. We lived in unheated, uninsulated houses and relied on coal fires for warmth. It is hard to imagine any family being able to consume so much food, at one time after the austerity diet the rest of the year, without being ill. We were never ill, our bodies could burn up food as efficiently as any top notch boiler.
As I grew up, this consumption went down each year as many of the company aged, and the kids grew up to be fashionably thin. I wandered away sometimes at this time. Firstly to Zimbabwe, when it was still Rhodesia, I had a job out there for a month, where in temperatures that could never burn excesses up, we sat down to the ‘traditional’ fare. I had two Christmases that year as my family postponed theirs until I returned in the New Year:)
I also had to endure, yes endure, two Christmases in Australia for a couple of years as the folk I stayed with had to have Christmas Lunch with in- laws and then came back for a repeat performance at home, at dinner time. I remember standing in a bowl of iced water in a bikini with a fan blowing on me and a wet sarong trying to keep hands cold enough to make the pastry. ‘Tis not easy under a tin roof!
Traditional in those temperatures is a craziness beyond belief, two such, suicidal!
I think the best Christmas I had away from home was in Bangkok. Stuck there awaiting tickets and running out of money my friend and I treated ourselves to a small cooked chicken, some tomatoes, a mango and a small pineapple all washed down with cold chocolate milk.
After Dad died the family decided to switch to goose as our main bird, much more satisfactory, and goose remained on the menu until quite recently when I had to reluctantly cease after my gall bladder was removed. We switched for a few years to venison and ostrich but the last couple of years have settled on roast lamb. The trimmings are almost non existent now. Mince pies and sausage rolls are all that remain. The normal amount of veg and barely a pudding or cake in sight. The fruit is still there grapes, oranges, mandarins. The box of dates and figs have gone , sweets have vanished except for a little chocolate. Whole nuts are no longer kind to our teeth.
Where did we pack in all that food?
How did we stay so slim?
We still eat too much, too much of the wrong food. Such as mince pies which only appear at Christmas, in our house. We maybe over indulge in chocolate. I eat far too many oranges. There is no endless cooking as there was in the past, I roast the leg on Christmas Eve and then we have it cold with bubble and squeak until it runs out. There are only two of us now so this keeps me from hours in the kitchen for nearly a week - bliss.
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