“What is patriotism but the love of the food one ate as a child?” Lin Yutang
My offer to host Easter dinner has been officially rebuked. This may seem like a snub of my culinary abilities (a throw back to that raw Thanksgiving turkey incident fifteen years ago when I learned microwave turkey is not toxic and provides extra helpings of bird for the follow-up soup.) I’ve been assured that this is a return to an old tradition. where we relinquished our kitchens in favor of someone else’s. When I was a teen we jammed into the family car and drove over the Mystic River, not to grandmother’s house, but to Pier 4 in Boston. We returned last year, but aside from the popovers and the chance to select a colored hard-boiled egg, it didn’t infuse a sense of tradition any longer. We’d been away for so many years as the next generation, at first, couldn’t be counted on to behave through an entire meal, and later wanted to hunt for eggs with the home field advantage.
Regardless of where we eat our Easter meal, I expect some traditions to be upheld. Jelly beans and chocolate, that is the foundation of Easter; Peeps, not so much. Peeps, ugh, don’t get me started on them; they rank a solid 7 in my “Top 10 Worst Excuses for Candy, Ever”. See my October post to find out the others. Other people’s traditions seem strange to me: my friend Susan serves butter molded into a lamb, and engages in a battle of eggs, seeing whose breaks first in an egg tapping contest. The Winns roast lamb which seems a strange way to celebrate the Lamb of God. Cindy’s Passover Seder dinner requires a poor unfortunate (me, when I’m lucky enough to be invited), an invisible dude, and a whole litany of foods that illustrate the Passover story. The shank, the parsley, the apples, the matzoh are profoundly linked to the holiday. And much to my chagrin I learned after my first visit that ice cream truffles are not part of the meal. I bring flowers now.
Many food traditions are so strongly held, they are deemed tamper proof. But
will it seriously ruin everything to relinquish one less than loved item in favor of something more gastronomically appealing? What are the foods that are synonymous with your family holidays? How do our menus compare?
Valentines and Halloween have an obvious food, if not meal, tradition, and it is chocolate (full-size bars please.)
Easter – Shrimp, asparagus, candy, lemon cake or bars, Betty Crocker au gratin potatoes (one of only two processed foods I really love), candy, and whatever we gave up for Lent. I eagerly await my first coffee in 40 days with a Mini Cadbury Egg scramble of soft pastels and milk chocolate.
Mothers Day aka Martini Mothers Day Eve – for several years we hosted a dressy cocktail party for the over 21 crowd only. We exclusively served hors d’oeuvres and martinis, and next day, moms slept in.
Fathers Day – Roast beef with mushroom cap gravy, baked potatoes and asparagus. Now we are more likely to grill or get fried clams if it falls near enough to my husband’s birthday.
Independence Day – I feel like I have to apologize for this menu. We serve KFC, and not the new grilled stuff, regular and extra crispy only. Everyone loves it and, full disclosure, the chicken is served with homemade salads, lemonade and strawberry shortcake and/or make your own sundaes, but the star is the chicken. So on July 4th we celebrate freedom from cooking and making healthy food choices.
My sister’s July birthday – Boiled lobsters and the best corn on the cob ever,
from Barker’s Farm in North Andover. Barker’s first corn is invariably ready for picking the week of my sister’s birthday and corn connoisseurs wait to select the ears still warm from the field.
Columbus Weekend – A harvest feast of soup and sides combining the last remaining vegetables in our gardens.
Thanksgiving of old – Turkey, sausage stuffing and a vegetarian stuffing, turnip
butternut squash, peas and onions, homemade cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, sometimes WITH au gratin potatoes, and my mother always has to make the gravy. We top it off in true gluttony with every pie invented (pecan, pumpkin, mince, apple, blueberry). We could make tarts since everyone has a different favorite but that would minimize leftovers. Ironically, 70% of my family admits to NOT even liking turkey. That my friends is unpatriotic. But the problem is solved with another restaurant holiday.
When Christmas Eve was shared with our neighbors, the Winns, we feasted on champagne and overly decorated sugar cookies. Now it’s lobster stew and/or lobster sandwiches, a remnant of the period when we indulged in the Italian tradition of the seven fishes. We liked the seven fishes, mostly, but it was so much work and my siblings and I surreptitiously sneaked our “gravy” slimed lobsters to the sink for a thorough rinse. Christmas Day on the other hand doesn’t have a set menu. But sometime during the season I will have peppermint stick ice cream and cocoa, but that’s a personal rather than family tradition and as long as it stays that way I won’t have to share.
Reading through this list brings back memories of full stomaches and fuller hearts and it pointed out that there are in fact several times throughout the year that I am free from thinking before answering that perpetual question “What’s for dinner?”
©2011 by Alison Colby-Campbell