Does anyone really enjoy Christmas lunch? For me there is so much not to like and very little in its favour. I’d rather cast “tradition” aside and have a meal I actually enjoy – putting all that effort into putting smiles on faces rather than indigestion by late afternoon.
Taking aside the seasonal bonhomie the whole rigmarole is seemingly destined for failure and resulting in at least one stressed-out cook on what is supposed to be a relaxed family day. They have the thankless and annually impossible task of trying to turn some terrible ingredients into a meal the extended family will talk about for years.
I can’t be alone in preferring virtually any meat to turkey and virtually any dessert to Christmas pudding. There is no other meal in the year which offers so little up-side. At best the turkey will be not as dry as some, it will be cooked through and medically safe, there will be nothing burnt or forgotten, only a couple of people will complain about the sprouts and there will be hardly any leftovers.
That turkey is the main attraction. I’m not even a great fan of chicken and so something bigger and tougher does not inspire me. Over the years I’ve seen a number of ‘tricks’ to improve the flavour and moisture – stuffing butter under the skin, roasting it breast-down, carving vertically though the breast etc but really…why? A turkey drumstick looks comedically like something from a Tudor banquet or a Flintstones episode but has no redeeming characteristics. It would serve as a useful club full of shards of sharp bones. The breast meat is remotely acceptable for Christmas dinner with lashings of gravy but ends up like chewing a kitchen towel by Boxing Day. I can’t help but feel that the idea of turkey as our Christmas table centrepiece began with some clever marketing. After all it does look great before it is carved – steaming and golden-coloured.
Bringing together more vegetables at the right time in a domestic kitchen is another challenge. There aren’t enough pans in the drawers or rings on the hob for the scale of the project. I like a nice roast potato, some carrots and some sprouts and I’d be happy with nothing else but here is the problem of catering for large numbers while getting the timing right. It seems that, after coping perfectly well with roast dinner throughout the year, all of a sudden we need mashed potato as well, peas, roast parsnip and all sorts of other things. Typically the roast veg end up soggy and the boiled ones could fall through a sieve.
Even the accompaniments are a drag. We have to have more than one stuffing and other sauces to go with it. I love bread sauce but it is a faff to make and sadly it is usually the first sacrifice. Cranberry sauce has the merit of being wet and therefore a lubricant for the turkey but in recent times it has to have other ingredients thrown in to make it even more special.
Christmas pudding is horrendous – way too much, with too strong a flavour and stodgy beyond belief. I’ve tried plenty and I haven’t liked a single one. I eat nothing even remotely similar for the rest of the year and I don’t understand why I need to start at Christmas time. Apparently though there are relatives who would disown you rather than sit at a table where it wasn’t served. I can remember, back in the day, my wonderful Auntie Ruby, trying to add some fun to the pudding by inserting little sixpences wrapped in grease proof paper for the lucky few to discover. This added a fun element and no little choking jeopardy to the dessert. Serving Christmas pudding with brandy sauce is another abomination. Didn’t I say that the flavours are too strong already? Some nice plain custard or even ice cream would be better…certainly not more rich alcohol.
As if all that wasn’t enough the washing up is horrendous and the fridge is bulging with various foil parcels of leftovers (why do we always overestimate how much meat we need?). The turkey seems to dry out at a phenomenal rate and retains this texture through whatever subsequent cooking process is applied.
Personally I would happily replace the traditional menu with something more celebratory and more relaxing. It would surely be better for the cook to pick something they are good at and that they have practiced and spend a little extra time embellishing it or executing it to perfection. But Christmas Day is about tradition so like the millions of others I’ll be eating Rennies on Christmas night and turkey curry throughout January.