Monday, January 3, 2011

Christmas Dinner

Having not had a working dishwasher (other than the two-legged creatures in the house, and that’s a story for another day) for the last three weeks, throughout the entire holiday season, this is actually about the preparation and clean-up of big celebratory meals.  From childhood onwards, I always enjoyed Christmas dinner.  It usually included turkey, which was one meat I enjoyed without reservation, not being a real meat lover in my youth.  

As a child you generally show up for dinner, pick your favourite foods, and enjoy.  I remember some wonderful items.  There were always dill pickles, homemade.  And homemade tomato juice, another favourite.  One strong memory is dipping my pickle into the juice, and holding it where my missing front teeth should have been.  Don’t know why that sticks out.  My dad loved taking pictures, and he was recording the occasion with his new movie camera.  The meals at my father’s parents’ house were memorable – this family lived through terrible hunger and privation during the Stalin years in the Soviet Union, and enjoyed every bit of the turkey, pork, beef, or whatever they prepared.  Watching them enjoy pigs knuckles, chicken feet, and head cheese must have been part of my early meat aversion.  But they didn't waste a thing, and before it was a foodie thing to do, were making sausages, canning meat, and enjoyed the plenty of life in Canada.

As we grew older,  we had a few more responsibilities related to the meal and its preparation -- that's what raises the memories of the dreaded dishwashing of my youth.  But the adult women took the lead in our family – aunts, mothers, grandmothers prepared the big meals, from scratch.  They may have used canned foods, but the items were canned by them earlier in the year.  When we got our first deep freezer, freezing replaced some of the canning processes.  I still remember thinking that frozen peas were hundreds of times tastier than their canned, palid counterparts. Another memorable Christmas dinner memory is of me carefully moving the canned peas from my plate to the floor under the table, hidden by a long tablecloth.  Why my father checked under the table still remains a mystery.  I do know that I received another heaping portion of the benighted canned, now cold, peas on my plate.

As a teenager I started to notice the work done by my female relatives, and I usually participated in the clean-up.  In my late teens, I do recall lecturing several older male relatives about having a nice relaxing time in the living room while the hot, tired women had to deal with the meal’s aftermath in the kitchen.  To their credit, they did rise from their restful spots and come and help in the kitchen.

The beauty of the food, the enjoyment of its nourishment and taste, and the laughs and talks with relatives we didn’t see that often were a highlight of the year.   As a parent, I want to bring that experience to my children.  In our house, Tom is usually responsible for most of the preparation of the Christmas dinner.  One of his great achievements was making sure we had Christmas dinner, a day late, the day after I and the twins came home from the hospital.  That was the calm before the storm, but by then we had a dishwasher, a portable one, courtesy of his mom, Sadie.  She wisely counselled, strongly, for the purchase of a dishwasher, and made sure it happened, by contributing the cost as a gift for the new household.  Tom professed he loved washing dishes, but he’s been a convert to the mechanical process of washing dishes for years now.  Not having had a working dishwasher  as a household helper in the last few weeks has been noticeable.  Of course we have the benefit of 3 strong, two-legged pre-teens and teen to help us, but it’s still a bit more work than we wanted.  It does drive home how much work the clean-up of a memorable meal can be.  The preparation is fun, usually, and you anticipate the wonderful tastes, the different side dishes, and the main course, ending with some amazing dessert.

So I give tribute to the women relatives of my past, who created amazing meals for their families, who showed us what taste was about, who cleaned, scoured, whipped and creamed, much of it by hand.  They were definitely my role models, and made sure our meals were memorable.  I remember many of the special occasions to this day.  And one day GE and Purolator will manage to get the special corrugated hose that links our dishwasher to the waste water system to our Winnipeg repair person who will then come to our house, connect the new hose, and we'll be thrilled to once again have a working, non-human dishwasher!


  1. So true Brigitte - I can clearly recall the Christmas dinners at gramma's house! And my aunt nearly shouting at us as we sat down that we were to sit and enjoy as it took her, my gramma and the other 'women' of the family many hours to prepare the feast. The feast alwayhad a variety of foods including two kinds of meat turkey and delicious ham (shink-a flisch) or roast beef that nearly melted in your mouth; my dad didn't like turkey having been raised slaughtering chicken; mashed potatoes with raisin gravy, cold rice salad that had pineapple rings and cherries on top, at least 5 kinds of jello salads and later in the day cookies and baked goods including jam-jams, homemade marshmallow rolled in toasted coconut, homemade O'Henry bars and macaroons!!! Such great memories - in fact I want to write a recipe book for the foods my gramma used to make. She passed away this past November at the age of 92. I too give tribute to the women relatives in my past - to good Mennonite cooks!

  2. What a great idea, the recipe book that is! Do it! When we got a bit older, we would walk to and from our grandparents, just to counteract all the calories which we couldn't resist! Your grandmother made it to her 90s! Wonderful. We have to keep some of those recipes alive... don't want to rely totally on stuff you can buy in the shops.