At this time of the year several people always say to me, “I’d love to come to your home one Christmas; I can just imagine the fancy things on your table.” I laugh and shake my head; “You’d be disappointed; I keep it traditional at Christmas. The most you might find is a little twist to something and not much else.” For me, Christmas is about tradition.
Christmas foods carry cherished memories for me, important memories that are poignant as there are fewer chairs around the table, and empty chairs once occupied by loved ones… Some of their favourite dishes on the table made just for them… a reminder of the fragility of life.
The traditional foods of the season are not about the food itself but the ritual associated with preparing them and eventually partaking in a meal in the company of those we hold dear. Growing up I especially liked the 48 hours leading up to the Christmas meal – the bustling in the kitchen; the prep; the baking; the cooking; and the reheating of the Pepperpot as it bubbled away on the stovetop, the aroma escaping from the partially covered pot filling the kitchen, on Christmas Eve, the ham in the oven competing with the Pepperpot for attention.
It was traditional in our home to always make a big pot of Cook-up Rice on Christmas Eve night so that when we returned home from Midnight Mass, along with friends we’d enjoy the late-night meal. The hot pot sat on the stove waiting for us. I swear, that 2 am Cook-up was the best. Mommy used to cut up the ham skin she’d removed earlier in the day and include it in the Cook-up; that just made the Cook-up even more tasty.
Garlic Pork, Ham, Pepperpot, Scrambled eggs along with homemade bread are still the only things I want on my Christmas breakfast table. I generally do not drink coffee but on Christmas morning I drink a mug or two of it because it was the only time (as a kid) that I was allowed to drink coffee. When I turned 16, I got my first sip of Sherry on a bright Christmas morning.
There are lots of emotions and feelings associated with this time of the year. That is why it is more than the food. It is for this reason that I am not really a fan of the “diluting” of traditional foods by making and eating them throughout the year; the food does not taste right, it’s missing everything that traditionally goes with it. As I have written on various occasions, taste is more than the physical act of eating; it is about a place, a time, the company. It is about the environment. Having these traditional Christmas foods all year round makes them seem, well, common, everyday, thereby losing their meaning. Traditions and rituals are how we mark our lives and I like my Christmas food to be traditional. So, if you ever come to my home at Christmas, I hope you won’t be disappointed. I’m off now to make some anise seed bread for the Pepperpot and then give the mauby its last brewing before pouring off, bottling and refrigerating. Tomorrow evening, even though I will not be going to Midnight Mass, there will still be a late-night pot of Cook-up Rice (with the ham skin)! You coming?
Merry Christmas everybody!