Judy Ink - the food blog of Judy Schultz
TOMATO: Dreamin' of a Retro Christmas
Wednesday, 08 August 2012 16:22

Please note: Obviously this is a CHRISTMAS piece, intended for December reading. It first appeared last year in The Tomato, where this Christmas column belongs. How did it end up in Recent Ink as well as Tomato? Haven't a blessed clue. Apparently I'm still part Ludite. I'm also the person who complains about stores that start peddling Christmas wares in July. No kidding — an aisle of seasonal stuff (giant tree balls, wrapping paper, cards and one lonely plastic spruce) appeared in Costco on July 27. 

I’m Dreaming of a Retro Christmas

On the verge of celebrating our first Canadian Christmas in eight years, I’m making up for lost meals.

I won’t be contributing my usual potato salad to Christmas-on-the-beach. This year, let there be winter food. Turkey.

It’s the only bird that matters. Forget roast beast (apologies to the Grinch), nor will I be cooking a goose. Bob Crachit’s Christmas dinner is a lovely bit of food lore, but geese are too greasy, ducks are too small. Prairie chickens, like pheasants, are way too dry. Turkey is my go-to bird. I want to baste it, smell it roasting, pick its lovely bones.

It doesn’t have to weigh 20 kg, and nobody has to get up at the crack of dawn to cook it. (I remember an aunt rising at 6 a.m. “to get the bird in the oven.” Why? Were we roasting a buzzard, or what?)

Next, let there be stuffing. I know it’s an all-but-lost art, but stuffing is a grace note for the roasted bird. Give it three hours in a slow cooker: bread, celery, onions, maybe an apple, definitely a ladleful of turkey stock. No oysters, though. Why would anybody put oysters in stuffing? I ask you. And yet, they persist.

After the bird: mashed potatoes, turnip puff a la Aunt Laura, and gravy, in that order. Long-simmered scratch gravy, made the day before, with the turkey neck, giblets and the juice from Laura’s terrific turnip side. It’s all about depth of flavor.

One more thing: Jiggle salad. I’ll bet you didn’t see that coming. Jiggle salad, AKA tomato aspic made with Clamato juice and a squeeze of fresh lemon, offers just enough acidity to keep all those rich flavour at bay. Plus it’s retro as heck, and it reminds me of home, and good prairie women whose party piece was the ever-glamorous ring of tomato aspic with stuffed olives and parsley sprigs.

Christmas allows these whispers of dinners past. Celery stuffed with Cheez Whiz, devilled eggs, and the garage-sale survivor known as the ring mold.

No plum pudding, though. The name has always puzzled me, given the total lack of plums. I’ll make a very small carrot pudding, because there will be prairie people at my table and they love carrot pud, with ice cream and brown sugar sauce.

Boxing Day brings the best bit, the bonus round I’ve been missing for eight Boxing Days in a row: turkey bunwiches. I like mine with celery. Hold the mayo.

Call me sentimental, but I’m a winter person. I want real snow for Christmas, not the plastic stuff. Come December, bring on the blizzard. And the bird.

Last Updated on Friday, 10 August 2012 09:46