It’s time to start thinking about Christmas dinner. I’m cooking, and I am dreading the annual discussion I have with my husband about what to serve.
It’s funny how large a part tradition plays in our holiday menus. Ham is traditional in the South for Easter, but lamb is usually the meat of choice in the North. I am sure that the cooks of the family who are reading this column remember when they first got married. You either had to compromise on what you expected to be on the menu for a holiday or had to make one or more additions. Then as your repertoire in the kitchen expanded, you tried more adventurous recipes, green beans sautéed with almonds rather than the standard casserole with crunchy onions. But the basics which have to be on the holiday table are what you return to and love. Those basics represent your memories of happy times with your families.
My family moved to Georgia from Massachusetts when I was in grammar school. So I am as Southern as you can be. I have the accent, but I don’t always have the taste buds. My problem is that while I grew up in the South, my mother continued cooking the way she always had, so I didn’t grow up on Southern staples. I don’t think my mother ever fried a piece of meat in her life.
I don’t eat grits or anything green and leafy that is boiled. I don’t drink iced tea and I like my hot dogs with mustard and relish, no chili. I do, however, love corn bread and hush puppies, but not fried catfish. Given my tangled taste buds, my idea of what is appropriate for Christmas dinner is entirely different from my husband’s; he wants the full traditional Southern spread.
His idea of the perfect holiday meal is two or more meats and a huge spread of starches, and you can throw in cranberry sauce as your vegetable. He wants potato salad, rice, dressing, macaroni and cheese, sweet potatoes, rolls, mashed potatoes and butter peas, which are green but are really a starch. He sometimes asks for creamed corn, another starch. One time he wanted deviled eggs. I only think of making them for summer meals. Or he wants ambrosia. Ambrosia has to rank up there as one of the messiest things to prepare. It is also very time consuming. Don’t send me short cuts. I’m not making it.
My idea of a holiday meal is turkey, mashed potatoes, squash casserole, English peas with pearl onions and my favorite, celery stuffed with cream cheese and olives. My sister usually makes that recipe and brings it to my daughter’s at Thanksgiving, and I eat most of it.
Then there is the debate over dessert. I want apple pie with cheddar cheese. He gags at the thought of that. I have recently become addicted to carrot cake. It’s my new addition to holiday meals. My daughter will usually make one for me.
My husband wants pecan pie and pumpkin pie. My father always wanted mincemeat pie. (Do you know what is in mincemeat?) I don’t think anyone in the family ate it except him, but my mother would make one.
Anyway, I have to whittle down my husband’s starch requests. But we both know the agreement we will come to is a charade. We will agree; I will go to the store and buy what we have agreed on. Then come Christmas morning when I begin cooking the agreed-on menu, he will sneak out to the back porch and his coffin-like grill, which has two electric eyes, and begin cooking two of the ingredients which we had eliminated.
We also disagree on the amount to cook. I want to cook enough to feed the crowd and have enough left-overs for one or two days. He wants to purchase a 20-pound turkey for about a dozen people. After almost 50 years of marriage, we have reached a compromise. I buy what he wants, and if it is still in the refrigerator by New Year’s Eve, it goes in the trash.
Enjoy your holiday meal with, I hope, lots of friends and family.
Paula Travis is a Newton County resident and retired schoolteacher. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.