Dan Curd’s holiday at home

Holiday meals can become family rituals
Dan Curd’s holiday at home
Photo by Amelia Bates

In most households, holiday meals become family rituals. In mine, they were notably an occasion for my mother to upstage her mother-in-law–universally exalted as Top Chef in our clan. I think Mom knew she could never reproduce my grandmother’s flawlessly cooked turkey, silky-smooth gravy or picture-perfect pies, so she resorted to quantity. After all, “more is always better” could be the mantra of the holidays.

The issue was never whether to have candied yams or mashed potatoes, but whether to serve twice-baked as well. Stuffing and dressing made with both cornbread and white bread were perquisites; likewise, Mom provided variations without onions for my aunt and with oysters for my father. Of course there had to be the I-made-it-just-for-you specialties: baked apples turned radioactive red by cinnamon candies for my sister, and for me, Golden Glow Salad–lemon Jell-O with shredded carrots and crushed pineapple crowned with a dollop of Miracle Whip.
Anyone who knows anything about my culinary prejudices knows that I loathe Jell-O. I suspect being forced to eat this “favorite” year after year and pretend to like it is how I developed my phobia!

As I think back on it now, my mother’s spread was worthy of the court of Henry VIII if not my grandmother’s table. After our best Lenox serving dishes and silver-plated platters took what seemed an eternity for small children and elders alike to complete their circumnavigation, it was finally time to eat–and for cousin Merrill to invoke his annual blessing: “The potatoes are cold!”
With the passage of time, each repast grew smaller. One by one, all my relatives passed away or moved on to new families and new traditions. I know that I never truly appreciated how much these ritualistic feasts meant to me until the first time I spent a holiday away from home.

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