Turkey and Turkish delight – Merry Christmas everybody!

hollyMerry Christmas to you all from me and him. The Italian and I hope you all have a smashing Christmas holiday, don’t forget to leave out a mince pie and a glass of sherry for Father Christmas before you go to bed on Christmas Eve.

We hope you got your free Countdown to Christmas Lunch cook book, with our tips on all you need to simplify the big day, from choosing a turkey and cooking it along with the roast potatoes, Brussels sprouts, stuffing, bread sauce, gravy, cranberry sauce – the lot. If you haven’t received a copy, get yours by filling in your details just here on the right in the sidebar.

Here are some of our Christmas memories; we’re hoping you’ll be sending us yours. We might even send a prize for the best story. Well, it is Christmas.

Christmas still brings up the same feelings of excitement and anticipation I had about it when I was a kid. During December there was a slow build up to the big day as my parents returned from Sainsbury’s with extra goodies that didn’t usually feature in the weekly shop – boxes of dates and figs, round wooden boxes filled with pink, squashy cubes of Turkish delight dusted  in icing sugar, string bags of nuts – brazil nuts, walnuts and hazelnuts. There would be a huge tin of Quality Street chocolates and packets of sugared almonds coloured pink, mauve or white.  And satsumas, it’s not Christmas without satsumas. A day or so before Christmas a turkey the size of a Labrador would be parked in the storeroom, sat in a large box filled with cellophane straw.

About a week before Christmas we’d be allowed to help Dad hang the paper chains and Chinese lanterns from the ceiling and decorate the tree with fabulous hand-blown glass baubles.

On Christmas Eve my mum would boil a joint of ham and make the mince pies, using her home-made mincemeat. We kids would be ushered off to bed with a caution that if we didn’t go off to sleep straightaway Father Christmas wouldn’t be sliding down our chimney.

On Christmas morning my mum would get up very early to heat the oven and stuff the turkey with sausage meat and sage and onion. We kids would be kept in our bedrooms champing at the bit to get downstairs to see if Father Christmas had paid a visit. Mum would fend us off for as long as she could until we were eventually allowed to come down. There was no other morning of the year that we all jumped out of bed at five-thirty with such willingness. Wrapped up in our dressing gowns we sat on the floor in the front room unwrapping presents while Dad got the fire going in the grate.

The Italian remembers a favourite Christmas morning when he was five; he came down at 6am to discover a snare drum and cymbal under the Christmas tree. He’s been noisy ever since.

He also remembers that when he was about six or seven he made a massive poster of Santa Claus, complete with a cotton wool beard. He took it home and stuck it up on the wall next to the Christmas tree with a wish that Santa would autograph the poster when he visited. Well, the next morning sure enough there was Santa’s signature! But upon closer inspection he noticed the handwriting looked a tad spidery for a beefy bloke who whizzed round the whole world in a night delivering presents, in fact, it looked suspiciously like his mum’s. Childhood can be so cruel.

I remember the day an older kid sneeringly told me that Father Christmas didn’t exist. It was a seminal moment in my life, a childhood bubble burst; it was almost as shocking as discovering that storks and gooseberry bushes played no part in the arrival of baby brothers and sisters.

After a cup of tea my mum would wrestle the turkey into the oven, swearing that it wasn’t going to fit, but it always did. Then we’d all sit down to Christmas breakfast. This was the only morning of the year when we ate breakfast in the dining room instead of sitting around the kitchen table. My father would carve slices from the ham joint my mother had cooked the previous evening which we ate with mum’s home-made chutney and pickled onions. (I have a jar of her chutney for that very purpose this year!) After pigging out on the ham we’d have stem ginger with bread and butter, slicing up the root and covering our slice of bread with the sticky syrup from the jar.

After breakfast Mum disappeared into the kitchen for the rest of the morning to prepare the feast. The whole day was run pretty much like a military manoeuvre; my father was in his element. Mum would ask Dad to put some Nat King Cole or Frank Sinatra on the Dansette record player for her, and while neither of them really drank, they did enjoy a sherry about midday on Christmas Day. Mum was also partial to a Babycham or a Warninks advocaat snowball.

Some years my grandparents would spend Christmas with us and when they arrived there would be more presents to open. I’ve mentioned my grandfather before; he was adored by everybody but was absolutely pants at planning ahead. (According to my mother, I’m a lot like him.) When I was small we lived at my grandparents’ house, and at Christmas nothing happened until Christmas Eve, when he’d come home with a really tatty tree that he’d got cheap at the market at end of the day. He’d set himself up in the living room with his drill and saw and put his pot of glue on the stove, then start removing branches from one side of the tree and sticking them somewhere else until he’d fashioned a much more attractive Christmas tree. That’s one of his glued-together trees next to me and my mum and dad, in the main picture.

We all sat down to lunch and pulled crackers, reading out loud our mottoes and jokes. Dad would always insist that we had to wear the paper hats, which I never wanted to. I mean, I had a sense of style and how uncool is a paper hat from a cracker? But he would insist, pointing out that I had to wear it because he’d paid for it. The turkey was carved with some ceremony, the roast potatoes shared out; my personal favourite bits were the sprouts, the roast parsnips and my mum’s bread sauce, cooked with cloves and bay leaves.

My Grandfather with my Mum's Christmas Cake

My Grandfather with my Mum's Christmas Cake

Despite stuffing ourselves silly at lunchtime we still managed to find room in the evening for cold cuts, pickles, cheese and potato salad, and my mum’s Christmas cake, before settling down to a jigsaw puzzle or playing some competitive Monopoly which always seemed to bring out the worst in people.

We both hope you enjoy Christmas in your own particular way. Last year The Italian and his main squeeze went to Paris and enjoyed a degustation-style Christmas lunch of sea snails, marinated peppers and mushrooms, fish and salads, cheeses and breads freshly baked in the bakery next door, washed down with champagne and some rather good Bordeaux. Whatever floats your gravy boat.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!
Peter and The Italian

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