In celebration of a celebration...
"Twas the night before Christmas, and all through the house, not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse!"
That poem never applied to my childhood home, for on Christmas eve, the kitchen would be a flurry of activity.
The stirring would be done by my mother, to pots and pans containing vegetables, sauces, various turkey parts, and whatever else needed preparing for the big Christmas dinner the next day. The turkey, usually a twenty pounder, would take eight solid hours to cook, so it had to be ready to roll first thing in the morning. This meant that the stuffing - both kinds, had to be ready the night before, along with the bacon that was to be stretched on top, the gravy, the giblets; - liver, heart and neck boiled to perfection and chopped into the next best thing to powder to be mixed with similarly chopped boiled eggs and salad cream to make an irresistible pate which would be spread the next day on countless sticks of celery as we all waited for the turkey to roast. Then there were vegetables to be washed, skinned and chopped ready for boiling the next morning. The ham, much like Joseph and Mary finding no room at the inn, would find no place on the stove on Christmas morning, being relegated to the indignity of being boiled the night before, and carved on Christmas morning, like some unknown understudy to the star that was the turkey.
For the entire evening my mother was like a general preparing for war. Barking orders at anyone who was willing to help, planning strategies for how to use the oven and four gas rings to best effect, arranging space in the fridge and on the workspace that was the kitchen table, assigning rights to use the sink. A nightmare in logistics waiting for something to go wrong.
As children, we would pretend to help, while trying to snatch as many nibbles of our favourite foods as we could get away with. Once grown, we were not so covert; a few hours in front of the television were followed by an excursion to the pub, in the name of going to midnight mass so we could get out of the chore of going the next day, and we would return home to shamelessly pillage the kitchen, my father and myself being the worst culprits, diving fingers first directly into the pot to pick out liver, hearts, and a neck each, to be devoured at the kitchen table, greasy fingers be damned, showered in salt to make the beer flow more freely, finishing off with a whiskey to get us sleepy enough to climb the stairs to bed.
Morning would come with a call from the kitchen, telling us that mince pies were hot, and ready for the taking. No mercy would be shown to the tardy. Leftovers from the previous evening's exertions were fair game. Once appetites had been sated, civilisation would kick in and the exchange of presents would start. True generosity would show itself not in the price of a present, but in it's perceived worth. Ripping open the wrapping paper would bring forth a smile, a look that said "You got it!", and the giver would know that they had hit the spot.
And then began the odyssey that was our Christmas dinner. Celery sticks would be plastered with liver and egg paste, (in adult years to be washed down with sherry). Activity in the kitchen would reach a peak, and eventually, around three o' clock, just as a delicious sleepy feeling was washing over those of us glued to the sofa, gallantly fighting the growing pangs of hunger to watch the remains of "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang", the call would come from the kitchen; it was time for battle!
Places were taken at the table, and the procession began. Plates were filled with meats, vegetables and sauces added from a shelf on one side. Drinks filled, and a toast signalled the start of a feast. Most of the usual table manners and rules were waived. This day was special. We ate, we drank, we enjoyed.
As the hours passed, each would raise the white flag that was their napkin and retire to the living room to rejoin the orgy that was television. Sleep would take those who would let it, with only the strongest among us remaining to find out who would be the Christmas number one on Top of the Pops.
The evening meal was undefined. Eat what you find when you need it. Leftovers would be the staple for the next three days at least. The war of the kitchen was won. It was a wonderful
Copyright (C) 2012 A.Keyes All Rights Reserved.