My family has always made a huge deal of Christmas. My mum has always said to me, even as an adult, that Santa is real. One day I asked why she perpetuates this notion, when of course she knows that it is a myth for the anticipation and delight of children. “Because it keeps the spirit and magic of Christmas alive,” she said. And she’s right.
As I was growing up in Essex, England, Mum’s Christmases were legendary. She’s a perfectionist, and would always take a week off from her job in human resources to get everything done. Starting on December 24th, she was awake at the crack of dawn preparing the food. As the day progressed, the scent of allspice and cinnamon from mulled wine would waft through the house. I always offered to help, and she would give me small jobs to do, but it always ended with me nibbling on the irresistible food until she told me to bugger off out the kitchen. I would oblige, taking my mulled wine to the lounge, sitting in front of the fireplace and watching "A Christmas Carol" with my brother. (Dad offered another set of hands in the kitchen but also snuck off for a beer break whenever possible.) And on Christmas day, Mom was up again before sunrise, taking only a brief respite from the kitchen to open presents.
Actually, she never really liked Christmas dinner. All that hard work just so everyone else could have a delicious meal. But she loves watching our faces as we dig in and revel in the food she has made for us. That spirit of love and giving is what Christmas is about.
(Four generations: mom, grandma, daughter and me)
Sadly, it seems that every year there are fewer people around the holiday table, but Mum still makes enough food to feed an army. No problem—we feast on leftover turkey and cranberry sandwiches for days.
Two years ago, when my boyfriend and I moved from the U.K. to Houston, Texas, for business opportunities, I knew I had to reproduce my mum’s Christmas dinner, and this year, our one-year-old daughter will experience it for the first time. I’m not the perfectionist that Mum is, but I’m learning her recipes so that the tradition carries on to another generation.
And at least for a while, I will tell my daughter that Santa is real.
Ashley Stump lives in Houston, Texas, and blogs at www.blondieandthebaby.com.
1 fresh, unsmoked, boneless ham
2 oranges, thickly sliced
2 lemons, thickly sliced
1 leek, cut into chunks
1 celery stick, cut into chunks
3 sprigs of thyme
4 bay leaves
1 T. vinegar
1 T. sugar
1 lb. soft brown sugar
4 oz. cornmeal or polenta
2 T. ground black pepper
2 T. mustard powder
6 - 8 T. bourbon or whiskey
1 pt. apple juice
1 lb. dried apricots
½ pt. Madeira or Marsala
Put ingredients for poaching liquid into a large pan of water with ham.
Bring to the boil and poach for 10 minutes per pound.
Skim surface occasionally during cooking, making sure ham remains completely covered with water.
When cool, cut off all the rind and most of the fat, leave no more than ½ inch of fat.
Score fat into diamond pattern, and stud with cloves at cross points.
Preheat oven to 350 F.
In a bowl, mix brown sugar, cornmeal or polenta, mustard powder, and pepper.
Moisten mixture with the bourbon or whiskey and spread over ham.
Place ham in baking tray and add apple juice, apricots, and Madeira or Marsala.
Bake for 10 minutes per pound, basting every 10 - 15 minutes.
Serve hot or cold with apricots on the side.