I was going to call this Surviving Christmas but that felt too miserable and Scrooge-like. I’ve just read Jay Rayner’s account in Observer Food Monthly of his family Christmases, past and present (the story of his mother un-stuffing the turkey is priceless). He says people expect something magnificent of him, being a food writer, but in fact he has simplified the festive meal. My family goes one further.
Mr Rayner serves a starter and a dessert. We don’t. Our lot has no interest in a starter, preferring to get stuck straight into the main event. We don’t do a pudding either. I dislike Christmas puddings (sue me) and after the year I made one of my frankly magnificent sherry trifles and then tipsily ate it all myself owing to a total lack of interest from the rest of the family, I gave up on puds. They prefer bowls of sweets and chocolates, to be nibbled while reading bad cracker jokes and playing charades at the dining table.
The best thing about our family Christmas dinner, though, is that we have it in the evening. That’s so our London-based relatives can visit the in-laws before trekking up to Suffolk, but it means my husband, my other sister-in-law and I have all day to cook the meal. Believe me, it really takes the pressure off. Who wants to get up at dawn on Christmas Day?
We make a time plan for what goes into the oven at what time and when it should come out. We have lists of turkey cooking times going back years but sometimes we still get it wrong and the bird is over-done. Does it matter? Not really. As long as it’s not dry (it may be seriously uncool but we swear by turkey roasting bags), by the time it’s covered in gravy and all the other trimmings, no-one cares. Let me say that again. No-one cares because the meal is so damned delicious anyway and the whole point is that we’re round the table together, sharing food.
Like Jay Rayner, I’ve cycled through most of the available Christmas birds, including the three bird roast. Now we have turkey, a beautiful free-range bronze raised by PA Mobbs in Suffolk. We also have a goose, from Carr Farm Geese, mostly because I think their meat is so tasty. The others agree, not that they have a lot of choice when I’m in charge of procuring the feast. I’d be perfectly happy if they hated it because then I’d get more goose, but sadly they love it too. Christmas is a time for sharing, after all. Bah humbug.
We have chipolata sausages (almost always from John Hutton in Earl Soham), sometimes wrapped in bacon, sometimes with the bacon curls cooked separately. Never let it be said we’re stick-in-the-muds. We have bread sauce. We have cranberry sauce.
We have stuffings, one herby, one chestnutty (not sure that’s a word), made ahead, frozen, and cooked on the day and lashings of hot gravy, the stock made in advance from the necks and giblets then mixed with the de-glazed pan juices.
Any leftovers are eaten cold, with home-made chutneys and relishes and baked potatoes and a big winter coleslaw. Oh, and a ham. The bird carcasses get made into a huge broth-y soup, which we traditionally eat on Boxing Day Night after visiting family in Thorpeness, slurping up bowlful after bowlful round the kitchen table.
Most of all we have fun. I used to get stressed about creating the perfect Christmas, slaving over marzipan and icing, creating elaborate puddings and flapping about the turkey. Then I realised nobody was worried except me. Having a sweaty cook snapping at all and sundry because she forgot to put the sprouts on negates the meaning of Christmas. The turkey won’t get cold while you finish the veg. Perfection is not required. Smiling faces and happy tummies are infinitely preferable.
As Jay Rayner said, a turkey is just a giant chicken. Think of Christmas dinner as a big Sunday lunch rather than a test of your culinary prowess. Don’t beat yourself up this Christmas. Relax and enjoy it.
PS This isn’t a sponsored post. Producers are listed because I rate them, not because they give me freebies.