Memories of Christmas Food ……
What is it about this time of year? However young or old you are, suddenly the memories of Christmas food, and your mum’s cooking, come flooding back.
We had moved to a big, old house when I was five, and tucked in the kitchen alcove was an ancient, cream, solid-fuel AGA that belched out bitter, cindery fumes when it was riddled with a poker. As a young child, I didn’t like the fumes at all, they seemed to stick on your tongue and up your nose, but I really loved the AGA. I used to lean backwards, freezing hands either side of me, on the AGA towel rail as it gradually warmed me when I came in absolutely ‘nithered’ from mucking out, or riding my pony in the rain. It took away the agony of my freezing hands and its warmth soothed the pain. It taught me and my friends how to make ‘proper toffee’ and drop scones when we had a mad sugar rush or were just starving. And it made those wonderful Christmas dinners that I remember to this day.
As I grew towards teenage years, I remember Mum and Dad would put some small presents in stockings in our bedrooms. But we would all put on our brand-new dressing gowns and slipper (Mum always bought us new ones for Christmas Eve), and go downstairs to the breakfast room, where other presents were piled up on the table. But even now I remember that wonderful aroma that hit my nostrils as I descended the long, winding stairs to the hall, walked through the dining room, into the breakfast room then into the kitchen. Perched on the AGA was a big, dented stockpot, lid rattling, as it sent out the most important memory of Christmas morning to my nose, the Giblet stock. The whole house gradually smelt of this wonderful scent – to my mind (or nose), the scent of Christmas.
I just accepted that Giblet stock was…… just beautiful. Then, as I took more of an interest in cooking, I realised that Giblets were the innards of the turkey. Urrrgh! Went right off the idea of stock made with innards. But only for a moment. If something that looked and sounded so horrible could make a stock that smelt like Heaven, then Giblets couldn’t really be that bad, could they? And the dogs liked the remains of them.
So, I’m afraid, that even today I have to make my Giblet stock fairly early on Christmas morning, just so that the house smells, to me, of Christmas, and brings back my fond memories of Christmas food.
A lot of my Mum’s recipes stemmed from Mrs Beeton, and this passed down to me. The Giblet stock was no exception. Basically you need a big pan or stockpot, a set of giblets from the Turkey, washed, 2 big onions, peeled and sliced in quarters, a couple of big celery sticks, sliced into big chunks. 2 large carrots, cut into big chunks. 3 bay leaves, at least 6 peppercorns, good pinch of salt and about 1200 ml (2 pints) water. Put everything in the pan, heat to boiling. Skim off any ‘gunge’ that floats to the surface and throw away (keep doing this) then cover the pan, and simmer gently for at least an hour and a half. (If cooking with the AGA, bring to boil on the hot plate, then simmer in the simmering oven for 2/3 hours). Let the stock cool, then skim off any fat. Put through a strainer, then cool and chill. I use this as the basis of my Turkey gravy, and freeze the rest.