Pat McDermott has scoured her mum’s beloved old cookbooks and devised her Christmas menu. Joy to the world? No, it seems Clan McDermott is on red alert.
Pat McDermott’s Christmas dinner
In the weeks leading up to Christmas, my mother was always at the kitchen table surrounded by her cookbooks. Final decisions had to be made about Christmas dinner. Of course, there would be ham and turkey, but what my mother loved most was making Christmas cakes, sweet biscuits and her famous Christmas chocolates – delicate, shiny mini puddings with spun sugar holly leaves on top. They sat in rows on a giant tray on the back verandah to cool and set. Eat one and the theft was obvious. Eat a whole row and it wasn’t so obvious.
On Christmas Day, my mother opened the china cabinet and brought out the good dishes. The cabinet had found a way to be large and squat at the same time. It was crammed with knick-knacks, glassware and plates. Only two curved glass walls saved it from being totally ugly. Eventually, it talked its way onto a boat and came to live with me in Australia, where, against the odds, it survived for another 30 years, despite kids, dogs and footballs.
One Saturday morning a few weeks ago, the china cabinet and the McDermotts finally parted company. The MOTH (Man of the House) and I stood solemnly to attention as two blokes carried it gently down the steps and around the corner of our apartment block. This was followed by the sound of breaking glass and splintering timber. Something big had been heaved into the back of a truck. The MOTH raced to the kitchen and came back with a bottle of Champagne and two glasses. “It had to go,” he said. “I know,” I replied. It’s been a year of change for us, of comings and goings, and suddenly it’s almost Christmas.
We raised our glasses in a toast. “Here’s to never having a year like this again!” Then I went down to the storage cage to dig out my mother’s cookbooks. I had to put on a proper Christmas feast like she did, with hot things hot and cold things cold, and everything ready at the same time. Surely I can do it, too.
An archaeologist would love these cookbooks. It would be like discovering Tutankhamen’s tomb. The ancient crumbs caught in the binding, the baffling recipes for “Company Chicken Spaghetti”, “Poor Man’s Cheesecake” and the mysterious “Egg-less, Butter-less, Milk-less Cake”. The pages are dog-eared and well thumbed. Mum’s margin notes in elegant cursive are fading fast. “Yvette’s favourite”, “If no brandy, use sherry”, “Children won’t like this”, “Dry and too crumbly – Blackie liked it!”. Blackie was our corgi, a grumpy “garbage can on legs” kind of dog, always waiting under the table for treats to come his way.
I should explain. I’m not the worst cook in the world, but I’m not an inspired cook either. I may just be a little “over-cooked”. I calculated that by the time Ruff Red, our youngest child, turned 18, I’d made 35,000 individual breakfasts, lunches and dinners. No one seemed disturbed by my lack of enthusiasm or skill. They showed up, relentlessly, day after day.
This week, I sent an email to the family about the menu for Christmas Day. “Forewarned is forearmed,” the MOTH said, mildly.
Dear all: This year I am following AWW Christmas cooking instructions to the letter. Everything will be fine. Not going to baste ham with orange juice. Going to put orange juice in the vodka. Xx Mum
I was still getting replies from the five of them at 3am. Doesn’t anyone sleep any more?
“Mum – just do spaghetti bolognaise! We’re used to it. The vodka will make it special.”
“Agree – spag bol is festive in its own way.” “Know your limits, Mum! Remember last year. Don’t do the flaming pudding thing.”
“Dear Mum, I think it’s good to be in your comfort zone at Christmas time. Do you have a comfort zone food-wise?”
“Hey Mum – Merry almost Christmas. Make turkey for sure and do a Pavlova. Gotta have a Pav! Send pix! Especially if something catches fire. That would be cool!”
At least one of the kids has faith in me, but why is it only the one who can’t be here?