I have written now about my mother-in-law, and a couple of the cookie-related traditions in my husband’s side of the family.
Along with those, I am including some of the traditions of my own family…
For dinner on Christmas day, for instance, we have Roast Beef and Yorkshire Pudding. (Yes, I’ll post a recipe for that – but closer to Christmas). My family is primarily English and Scottish (Mom’s side) and English and a little bit of German (Dad’s side). So there’s a whole lot of English going on….
Anyway, as I remember, years and years ago we sometimes had turkey on Christmas, but then at some point it became just the Roast Beef and Yorkshire Pudding meal, which suited me just fine, as I really, really like Yorkshire Pudding. Yorkshire Pudding is a basic egg batter (think Popovers, only bigger and more impressive) poured into a hot baking dish that already has hot drippings from the already-cooked Roast Beef. The hot pan goes back into the oven and (if all goes well), the pudding cooks and the sides rise up and sometimes the middle rises up and it’s just a gorgeous yellow and brown work of art when it’s done. You rush it to the table (before, souffle-like, it collapses back on itself) and cut it up into sections and pour gravy on it. And serve it, of course, with the rest of the meal, which has already been arranged on the table and, like the assembled family, has waited patiently for the Yorkshire Pudding to make its entrance. (The Roast Beef is the leading man, the Yorkshire Pudding is the diva…)
But anyway – that is one of the traditions.
Another tradition – I’m jumping back a holiday now – on Thanksgiving morning, is the official slicing of the bread for the stuffing….this has often been my “job” within my mother’s kitchen. BUT – before that, my other traditional job – The climbing up onto the counter and getting down of the official Stuffing Bowl. Yes. There is a huge stoneware (I think) bowl, yellow with a couple of stripes, way up on top of the cupboards in my parents’ kitchen. There are other equally old, beautiful and dusty bowls nested inside this biggest bowl of them all…My job, for years, has been to climb up onto a chair, then onto the counter, perching there precariously (with an occasional teeter just to make my mother a bit crazier). I next remove some of the bowls in the Stuffing Bowl and hand these down to my father, who has been urged, by my mother, to stand there in case I fall. (His job is probably to catch the Stuffing Bowl as I hit the floor.) Anyway, I hand the smaller bowls to Dad, until all of them are out. He puts them on the counter. Then I get the Stuffing Bowl. God help me if I drop it. (Well – it’s to be my inheritance, so if I drop it, there’s only the brown-bowl-I-learned-to-make-bread-in that’s left for me…) I hand the Stuffing Bowl to Dad, who places it on the kitchen table, and then hands back up the rest of the bowls, until such time as the Stuffing Bowl is returned to its lofty throne.
The Stuffing Bowl is washed out (dust is not an ingredient in stuffing in our family) and dried, and then I slice the loaves of stuffing bread into cubes and fill the bowl with them. Meanwhile there is a turkey neck, a stalk of celery, and an onion simmering in a small pot of water. Mom sautees some diced onion and celery (not the same ones as are in the pot) in some butter until softened. Then the onion and celery and butter mixture are added to the bread cubes…and a good shake or two from the box of Bell’s Poultry Seasoning is added…some salt and pepper…and then the turkey-neck stock is poured on (without the neck or soggy onion or soggy celery stalk), and the cubes of bread are gently tossed in the bowl to incorporate the liquid. Don’t want too much liquid – it will be soggy. When it’s just right (it’s a judgement call – I have no ratio of bread to liquid…I think it depends on the relative humidity in the kitchen and my mother’s mood, frankly) the bowl of stuffing is set aside and the naked turkey is summoned from where it’s been hiding in the kitchen sink.
The turkey goes in the Big Pan, and then, while I hold the legs (don’t let it get away!) my otherwise kind and caring mother jams the stuffing into the body cavity until the turkey expands to three times the size it originally was. (Yes! Just like the Grinch’s heart!) The legs are tied together with twine to prevent the stuffing from escaping. Oh – almost forgot – some of the stuffing is set aside to be combined with browned sausage meat, and this mixture goes in the smaller cavity where the neck used to be attached. That gets anchored shut with little skewer things.
And then the turkey is rubbed all over with softened butter (like this massage can possibly make up for the earlier indignities it suffered at my mother’s hands. Okay, and mine.) and popped into the oven.
While all this is going on my sister comes over to the house and hangs out with us, drinking coffee and contributing the requisite smart-ass daughter remarks that we both tend to offer up during these mother/daughter/daughter times…and my mother reacts with faux exasperation at the audacity of our remarks and jests…and pretends to wonder where we could have learned to talk like that.
Side note – one of my favorite things that my mother says, particularly in response to something one of us has said that she finds totally without justification, is: (with great emotion) “You have the unmitigated gall to” ……(whatever it is this time.) Hee hee hee.
Well anyway, that little stuffing-making tradition is one that will take place at my house this year. With a few differences…Mom will bring the stuffing bowl up with her that morning, so there will be no climbing of furniture and counters….and it’s my kitchen, so in theory I get to be in charge….