Monday, December 15, 2008

Boxing Day Blues and Yorkshire Pudding

The round of holiday open houses has begun and I'm beginning to feel guilty about not hosting my annual Boxing Day (antiquated British holiday!) Open House. For the first time in many years I do not have a full complement of children in town and so the holidays are going to feel a little empty. My daughter is judge pro-tem at juvenile court Christmas morning and that decided us against going up to the cabin for the holiday. I rallied out of my slump and decided that I would do the proper mother thing and host Christmas dinner at my house...since I've downsized I've been reluctant to host large gatherings unless they can be held outdoors but with diminished numbers I know I can make a sit down dinner work. Will also stir myself out of a year long lethargy about unpacking and get to the boxes containing the best and festive china.
 Our tradition for Christmas dinner is roast beef and Yorkshire pudding. I used to get myself in knots about the Yorkshires and one of he very few arguments I had with my late husband was when he opened the oven whilst the puddings were in and caused them to collapse! My mother once yelled at me for stomping around the kitchen during the cooking of the Yorkshires claiming I'd make them "fall". I've pretty much devised a fool proof recipe and method now and will post it in . The trick for Yorkshire's is hot, hot oven and cold batter! oh, and no peeking. I remember years ago stationing my kids at the oven door to watch the puddings rise. My greatest disaster came 3 years ago when I came close to losing my "mother" badge. I used a fancy organic flour for the puddings and they were a total flop. For those of you curious as to the origins of this dish, I was always told that it was a way of stretching the meat. It was common in the north of England to get a great slab of Yorkshire Pudding covered in gravy and a very small portion of meat. My mother remembered getting the Yorkshire Pudding first to fill you up and minimise the craving for meat. Another must have for this traditional dinner is what my kids call "grandmother potatoes" named for my mother who somehow managed the crispest exterior on roast potatoes with soft centers. She also made the lightest and best Yorkshire puddings.
Back to Boxing Day - in both English and Irish history it's also known as the feast of St. Stephen and this saint had a reputation of visiting the poor and leaving boxes of food and clothing on their doorsteps ...or so I've been told. In Victorian England it was the day that the staff got their holiday and the family made do with a cold dinner of leftover beef, cold pies and trifle. In my family it was part of Christmas to box up, the day after, clothing, toys and preserves that would be taken to the church for distribution to families in need. Not a bad idea today either...might want to think ahead of the game and put togther your boxes for the community food bank and other charities .
As a child I loved Boxing day. If we were in England we went to the pantomime and then high tea was a wonderful mixture of cold roast beef, cold pork pie, salads, trifle and mince tarts. We didn't have to sit at the table and could take our plates close to the fire.
No matter where we were living my parents opened the house to friends and friends of friends on this day and it always struck me as being more joyful than Christmas itself. It was perhaps 35 years ago that I began to host a Boxing Day Open House ... maybe I'll do it again this year. I'll have to unpack the trifle bowls and find the antique pie mold that belonged to my grandmother for the pork pie. Those wonderful cold pies were also part of my heritage. My mother was a great cook and thrift was part of her make-up. She could look in the pantry and produce a meal with little effort...she scorned recipes and shopping lists. She guarded her cooking skills as her secrets and never taught me to cook, she probably didn't realise it but her very secrecy made me curious and turned me into a passionate cook.
 All my children love to cook and one of the best things about the holidays is the sharing in planning and cooking. The son who is the uber cook amongst us is out of the country this year but he assures me that he'll be doing a New Mexico dinner Christmas eve for new friends in Ethiopia. The New Mexico Christmas Eve tradition started about 12 years ago when he was in college in Santa Fe and it quickly became a favorite...he's got my mother's light touch and working with sopapillas rather than the Yorkshires it's apparent. My daughter is the baker of fantastic birthday and wedding cakes and is always asked to bring the desserts. I love the way that the creation of a meal and presentation of food brings us together as a family.

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