As an only child my early Christmases always happened surrounded by adults, and it was more about food than anything else. The earliest sign of the feast would be my granddad disappearing off down to his large greenhouse at the end of the garden to pluck and draw turkeys and geese and one of them was always kept for our own Christmas dinner as a kind of festive bonus for his hard work. My pillowcase full of presents was no more than an early distraction before I was allowed to beg a Babycham at about eleven o’clock to keep me out of the way. It was the only time that there was alcohol in the house ( apart from a small bottle of whiskey hidden in the sideboard belonging to my granddad and QC cooking sherry ) so I found this very exciting. My Auntie Edie always made the Christmas pudding and fetched it down a few days early. On the day itself, after much extra boiling, there would be so much food being cooked on the cooker top that it would be finished off outside, on a small primus stove. The table would be pulled out, for the only time in the year, and there were seven of us to sit round it. There were no fancy trimmings, just bottles of pale ale for making shandies and Mackeson stout for the men. I loved the smell of the goose cooking, drifting out across the garden through the back door which was always kept open even in the coldest weather. There was something special about the fact that it had to be in the oven for such a long time and looked after so carefully, and the fact that we only ate it once a year made an exciting change from the weekly routine of roast beef, cold beef, minced beef, stewed beef and a lamb chop as a treat later in the week if the joint ran out before the fish and chips on Friday.
Some things didn’t change however. Even Christmas didn’t stop the first course of Yorkshire puddings appearing. That happened fifty two weeks a year and since the best Yorkshire puddings ever eaten were made by my Grandmother, and then my mother, I certainly wasn’t complaining. You are wasting your time if you want to take me up on that claim by the way, as neither of the ladies concerned are still here to prove me right. The skill was never taken for granted and every week my mother would peer into the oven fearful that they would fail to rise. Right up until she died my mother always knew that the sentence “Do you want Yorkshire puddings?” if I was home at the weekend was the best treat that she could give me. I have kept two of the large pudding tins that were used for more than forty years, and never washed out so that the natural non stick coating which they had developed would not be spoiled, as a totem to their memory. They are never used.
The goose was always wonderful, eaten with thick onion gravy and apple sauce, and plenty of vegetables from the garden ( the last few frost bitten sprouts and mashed carrot and turnip) and lots of potatoes. These would be jacket potatoes (what we called roast) and they would have been in the oven for a couple of hours. By the time they got to the table they were so hard that you had to cut them in half and scoop out the inside- you had no chance of eating the skin. The inside was beautiful after cooking for so long, making the loss worthwhile. I’m sure the Christmas pudding was equally good but except for reporting the fact that I was always given the sixpence from it, I have nothing to say. I always refused to eat it and didn’t even like the rum sauce that my aunt made to go with it. Having already eaten enough to keep two grown men in today’s world happy I can’t feel that I missed out. There were plenty of sweets to go at if I got hungry before tea.
Tea was another sit down meal eaten at about six o’clock. There was a boiled ham joint (the part that I liked best) a much bigger pork pie than the usual Saturday one, polony, tinned salmon, a chocolate log and a big trifle. All seven of us would set to happily all over again. I have no idea how we did it but my mother’s ancestors were Yorkshire farming folk, used to hard work, and they knew how to eat.