Memories of Xmas Dinner Years Past
The next few Days of December pages will be of stories which will be very lengthy. I am not really expecting anyone to read all that I wrote, but if you want - have at it. I just wanted to make certain I got some of these stories documented. The photo is of my dear grandmother Nonnie. Holiday meals revolved around her, and her magnificient cooking. How I miss her!
Journaling reads: Christmas Eve dinner was always homemade spaghetti, with seafood sauce. The noodles were always handmade by Nonnie on her cast iron macaroni machine. I have that machine, and many years ago, had made spaghetti on it. The noodles were simply flour and water. She would roll out a large 1/16” piece of dough and cut this large piece into about 5” wide strips which she could then run through the machine. It would cut the sheet into Ľ” noodles that she would carefully pick up as they were run through the machine, and she would lay them on a kitchen towel that was laid over the back of a kitchen chair, so that they could dry.
The Christmas eve dinner seafood sauce typically had squid cooked in it. I would never eat any of the meat as I thought it was icky, but I do remember that the sauce had a distinct seafood flavor. My dad always ate the squid. He love it, and I remember how everyone would comment about how big the squid was prior to being put in the pot, and how small it was after being cooked. My dad loved that meal.
Christmas meal was always a big deal. It was not uncommon for a number of Grandma and Grandpa’s children & grand-children to come for dinner. The meal would consist of the following:
• Wedding soup, a chicken soup with the addition of spinach leaves, and pastina instead of noodles, and very small meatballs. I love that soup, and it always reminds me of Nonnie.
• Lasagna, with even the noodles homemade, or Manicotti, (pronounced Mon-E-got) which is a flour and egg crepe (not a noodle, like that typically served in restaurant).
• Meat: Roast Beef, Pork Roast, a Ham and a Turkey would always be served - not one, but all four.
• Side dishes were typically sweet potatoes, green beans, mashed potatoes, homemade cranberry & chestnut sauce, and homemade Italian bread or rolls.
• Desert: Pumpkin pie, Sweet potato pie, Wheat pie, Cream pie, and Minced Meat pie. As a kid, I never ate the minced meat pie as I always thought - who would eat a pie made with meat. When I learned what it was made of I tried it and now I love it. The Wheat & Cream pies were family deserts that I have never seen made elsewhere. They were typically 3” deep. The Cream pie is a real thick vanilla cream with ricotta cheese filling that was so good (the top had a bit of chocolate cream). The Wheat pie was made with whole wheat berries that were soaked, and expanded. The Wheat pie was not super sweet, but had a nice mellow taste. In addition, there would be multiple large platters of Christmas cookies, with so many different varieties, a few of which were press (butter) cookies, Scarlet O’Hara’s, Anisettes, Diamond cookies, Fried Rosettes, and Bowties with powdered sugar, Meringue cookies, Pignoli cookies and so many others. Homemade Cannolis were included as well. Nonnie even made a Strufoli, with the drizzled honey and colored sprinkles, - messy, but so good, and Fruit Cake. People make jokes about Fruit Cake, but I have always loved it.
Once the desert was eaten, the men generally retired to the family room where they would talk and watch football (but within a few minutes they would be asleep &
snoring). The women and children stayed in the kitchen where they sat at the table and talked while cracking and eating nuts. Nonnie generally had chestnuts roasting as well. Because there was more room at the table with the men elsewhere, us kids could now sit at the big table. We would sit there and just nibble on the nuts & dried figs for hours. I loved these traditions.
When we were very young, grandpa would sit us on his lap, and he would laugh when he would hand us his beer can, which we would take a very small sip from and then make a face, jump off his lap, and run off, having not liked the taste. I loved his smiling face. Nonnie always looked so serious, as generally she was
so busy putting together this feast. She was amazing. I don’t know of anything that was not made from scratch except for the pastina in the wedding soup.
When Grandpa passed away in 1966, and Nonnie moved in with her daughter Marie. We would then either have dinner at our home, Nannie’s home our Aunt Marie’s home. I never remember a meal at Auntie Helen’s home, and often, they did not attend. The adults ate at the dining room table, with extra leaves in the table. The children ate at either a kitchen table, or a card table. If everyone attended, there would be 19 people total (prior to grand-kids getting married). Although my mom married into this family, she learned how to cook all the treats, so we never longed for any of our old favorites, with the exception of Pignoli cookies. They happen to be my favorite, however, one year, my mom sampled the batter too much, and got sick of them. I don’t believe she ever made them again. I have never tried to bake them myself. She also made great cannolli, using a broom handle as a form that she had cut into segments.
Nowadays, I seldom cook, and our Christmas dinner, just being for the three of us is either a ham, or a roast or even steak (never Turkey as it is too much effort). We do add extra trimmings with the meal, and we do BUY a pie for desert (we only have desert on holidays). If we are lucky, we have made a few batches of cookies, but often times not. I long for those special holiday meals of years past - those days when we were all dressed in our Sunday best, and the meal was savored and truly enjoyed, along with the hours at the table, enjoying each other’s company, all centered around Nonnie, and her wonderful meal.
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| Date: Thu February 17, 2011
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