EVERY autumn I start researching new Christmas recipes and new decorations for my home. At least four magazines are bought, stuffed with the latest decorating trends and modern spins on the stuffing or the veggies or even the turkey itself. Some years I will buy a book offering additional ideas on cocktails and canapés, as well as how to do Christmas Eve and Day better. And since I discovered Pinterest, well, my saved files of Nollaig 19, Nollaig 20 and Nollaig 2021 are huge!
But sitting here in Christmas week I have the same realisation I have every year. I might pick up one or two new recipes, or rather tweaks to recipes, but I will be cooking exactly the same meals I have cooked since my first cooked Christmas dinner fadó fadó. And those meals very closely resemble the dinners made by my Nana and my Mammy.
The Christmas cake, made some time from mid-October to mid-November will be exactly the same Delia Smith recipe written in 1975 by the young cook and adopted into our homes. It is the same because it is exactly what Christmas cake should be: dark, fruity, with a hint of whiskey (or sometimes brandy). Although I do add cherries. I love the burst of sweetness when I bite the occasional boozy cherry, and I really miss it if it is not there.
The traditional pudding will be served with cream, sweetened, and with a drop of brandy. The cold cream against the hot pudding, a few hours after dinner, is as wonderful as it has always been. And I will look at the eaters just as Mammy and Nana did: “How is it?” Hopefully I will get a smile or a thumbs-up this year too.
The ham, in the big pot with cider, onions and carrots, to be glazed later on Christmas Eve with English mustard and brown sugar and cloves, is exactly the same as the hams that made me want to wriggle with joy when it was the meal to mark Santa’s imminent arrival. And the ham does the hard work of being the backbone of meals and toasties for the week ahead.
The stuffing – prepared on Christmas Eve, ready for the oven to pop beside, under or over the turkey, wherever it will fit – is for my sons the most important part of the meal. I do have an unlikely secret ingredient which I do not share, which was given to me by my father. And it works.
The turkey, prepared lovingly every year by my husband, does have a Jamie-influenced basting butter all over it. Brought by friends every year from Toome, it will be glorious, and its gravy will have a crowd of beggars around it while we are trying to get plates to the table, all with sneaky spoons trying to get that first mouthwatering taste of the meal.
You see, for all the research, it always comes back to the same recipes because that is what Christmas is about. Our present connecting to our past Christmases, and the little child, waiting for the magic and wonder of Christmas, with all of its smells and twinkly lights and tastes of fruit, spice and all things nice.
Whatever your traditions or whatever you having, may the magic of Christmas visit you this year.
Nollaig shona daoibh.