We don’t have a normal Christmas dinner at our house.
I guess normal is what you make it, and everybody has family traditions – but we’ve gotten more than our fair share of funny looks when we describe our usual Christmas Day dinner. We have very little of what would be found in a Norman Rockwell painting of such a feast. We have fried chicken. And we have homemade ice cream. There, our family secrets are out.
Traditions can begin in funny ways. As the story goes, when my brother and I were just wee lads, we would have Christmas morning at our house in Starkville (to make life easier for Santa), then travel later in the day to one of my grandparents’ houses in north Mississippi or Arkansas.
One fateful Christmas day I got a fever of some sort (probably from lack of sleep and high sugar intake), and my folks decided not to take us to Belmont, for fear of infecting Pappy and Granny. But having planned to get out of Dodge for a few days, the cupboards were bare.
Luckily for us, the Jr. Food Mart was open, but the only available poultry was a frozen chicken.
Thus started the tradition of fried chicken on Christmas. And we have had it pretty much every Christmas since. Even when we lived across the big pond I usually managed to find at least one piece just for old times’ sake.
Other food traditions soon hooked onto the fried chicken train.
There are some old favorites – mashed potatoes with cream gravy (made from the drippings of the fried chicken), rice with cream gravy, biscuits with cream gravy – I have even been known to ladle gravy on the entire plate, especially as a youngster trying to hide the taste of just about any vegetable.
Yes, we have biscuits – not rolls. And yes, we usually have both potatoes and rice – the low-carb dieter’s worst nightmare, this meal. As kids, I wanted mashed potatoes, and Rusty was something of a rice fanatic – so Mama usually made both.
Not to worry, though – we do have something green. Green bean roll-ups, from the kitchen of family friend Kathy, became our favorite. The token green vegetable works well with the carb-onanza when wrapped in bacon and slathered with Durkee sauce. You don’t even need a recipe for this: make a bundle of 7 or 8 whole green beans, wrap in a half piece of bacon, secure with a half-toothpick (watch out for these later!), fill a casserole dish with the bundles, cover with Durkee sauce, and bake at around 350 until the bacon is cooked. It gives a nice tangy contrast to the gravy.
At my day job this week I learned that our version is just a variation on a theme. Colleague Anna marinates her bundles in Italian dressing overnight, then sprinkles brown sugar on top before baking – Christy’s green bundles look really Christmas-ish with red Catalina dressing. After this exhaustive research on the topic of green bean roll-ups, I have come to this conclusion: after something is wrapped in bacon, anything else is just a bonus.
Most Christmases Mama would also make an asparagus casserole for Daddy – and he generally got to eat it all by himself. Rusty and I were not big asparagus eaters, and it was Christmas, after all, so there was no force feeding. Dawn’s corn casserole joined the menu in the late 80’s – hmmm, more carbs. To up the sugar ante just a bit, we also had hot fruit salad, also from Kathy’s recipe.
I’m not sure who requested that. I think it just gave Mama a little satisfaction knowing there was a bit of fruit floating amongst the gravy. To wash all this down, of course, is Granny’s iced tea, with plenty of sugar and lemonade.
The homemade ice cream tradition is a mystery. Nobody in the family really remembers a story about this. I think one Christmas we just decided it would be fun, and figured “Why not? We’re having fried chicken, for goodness sake!” But let’s be honest. In Mississippi we never know if we’ll be wearing shorts or snowshoes Christmas week – sometimes it’s both – so weather is not an issue. And after a big Christmas dinner, it is the perfect dessert. Everybody knows that you can always eat ice cream no matter how full you are. It just melts into the open spaces in your tummy and you don’t fill up any further. Trust me.