Happy Christmas and New Year to All
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Christmas Memories with Recipes:
Robert Finigan



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A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year in London: and the Same to You, Sir, and Many of Em
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and the Same to You, Sir, and Many of Em
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Christmas Remembrances:
Boston and London

Robert Finigan, © 1988

Christmas Memories with Recipes icon
1994, Wings Books, a division of Random House
Value Publishing, Inc.


“Charles Dickens created the vision of the perfect Victorian Christmas,
redolent of roast beef at the table and lemon oil on it. Robert Finigan,
the wine critic, has found authentic versions of Dickens in both Boston
and London. God bless them both!” [Editors]

“I’ve been fascinated by the world of Dickens since early youth, but it wasn’t
until creeping middle age that I realized how very Dickensian were the
Christmases I adored as a child. For me, Santa Claus and Rudolph and the
silly post-Thanksgiving songs on the radio were of little interest. I had a
special Christmas treat in store. It was all about lovingly polished oak,
gleaming crystal, tantalizing aromas from an old-fashioned kitchen, and
the company of adults more sophisticated than I could ever hope to be.
The stage was my grandmother’s house in the outskirts of Boston, in a
neighborhood fashionable then and now once again, but not in between…
especially there was the kitchen, where my grandmother held absolute sway.
Not that my grandmother was a dedicated cook. She was simply a perfectionist, though a jolly one, and she couldn’t imagine that anyone else might not be.
What she knew about cooking was exactly what the California movement
thinks it discovered: buy the best raw materials and treat them with respect,
and you’ll be just fine…
...But the good food I expected took on a different meaning at Christmas. My grandmother’s was of course a perfect Christmas house, and it never shone
more brightly than at that season…
From early morning, every corner of the house became perfumed with the
most complex aromas of wonderful food. It wasn’t just roasting turkey or
braising onions, though there were those elements; it was a symphony of
Christmas smells, pine and burning logs and the coal furnace along with intersecting aromas of the meal to come, and it was unique to the season
and the place…
That dining room I knew so well always seemed new and dramatic on Christmas,
as it did in different light on Christmas Eve. My grandfather was fascinated by
old English furniture, and his gleaming oak table, smelling faintly of freshly
applied oil, was one of his triumphs. He delighted in showing me how no nails
but, rather, small ebony pegs had been used in its construction. For this meal,
the reflections of old silver and crystal shimmered on its surface. Then, at
long last, came Christmas lunch.
The turkey was always astonishing to me, since it seemed so very big and yet
so manageable by my grandfather, who dissected it expertly with bone-handled
cutlery. He did the same with a seemingly mammoth roast of beef. But carving
was his only contribution: all else on the table was the product of my
grandmother’s skill, or that of the help under her direction.
There were platters of mashed potatoes, white and sweet, with rivulets of the
freshest butter, and candied yams that were truly candied over a slow fire.
There were those onions – real ones, now, not the acidulated product of jars.
There was usually pureed squash, the point of which eluded me as a child,
and always cranberry sauce with a few of the berries still unpopped. And
there were two gravies, a smooth and deeply flavorful one for the turkey,
a thinner and more pungent one for the beef and the Yorkshire pudding
Yes, there was plum pudding for dessert, always from the redoubtable S. S.
Pierce and always served with hard sauce, that indigestible mixture of sugar
and butter and rum. And I think there was mince pie. I’m certain, though,
there was an odd family favorite, an ice-cream bombe smothered in spun
sugar. It was a long and lovely day for a small boy.
…Then one Christmas disaster struck. We had overnighted in London on
our way to Barcelona, only to find that all the Christmas Day flights to
Spain had been canceled because of a labor dispute. It was bad enough to
miss the family celebration, but what were we to do by ourselves in London?
Christmas reservations in the city’s principal restaurants are frequently
made  a year in advance.

 We were staying at the Connaught, that marvelous bastion of all the best that
is British, and we threw ourselves on the mercy of the concierge. He seemed
doubtful, since the dining room of the Connaught is one of the most prized
of Christmas reservations, and it is booked by the same families year after
decade. But late in the morning we had a call: there would be a table for
two at 1:30.
…Our table was ready precisely as promised - who knows by what means? -
and it was a prime table to boot. The warmth of the Dining Room’s wood
paneling has always seduced me, though the Grill is supposed to be trendier,
and never had it been more comforting than on this stormy Christmas Day.
We were part of a quintessentially British throng madly popping ‘crackers’
and rearranging the paper hats that are as much a part of English Christmas
as they are of American New Year’s Eve.
Then came the food. We were happy enough to be where we were, but when
the serving carts appeared, I shivered with the feeling of being back at my grandmother’s table. Just as had been the case in my childhood, the choices
were roast beef or roast turkey, and sampling both, I realized in an instant
that I had not tasted their like for a quarter century. Here was turkey that
tasted like turkey, a splendid plump bird from Norfolk, and ribs of Aberdeen
beef with that mineral beefy flavor I had seldom found since my Christmases
in Boston.
It would have been senseless to wax ecstatic to the captain, for he took this
sort of quality for granted. But the sommelier knew the wine I chose was
special indeed: this ’61 Corton from Louis Latour’s best Burgundy vine-
yard was supernal, and as it happened, the Connaught’s last bottle.
The plum pudding of my childhood was raised to new heights by the
Connaught’s kitchen, and a final glass of champagne put the cap on
one of the most memorable meals of my life. A special day apparently
gone wrong had been transmuted into a trip back in time, complete with
the polished wood and crystal and even the aromas of Christmas past.”

Prime Rib of Beef (Slow-Roasting Method)

“This was the way of cooking prime rib chosen by my grandmother,
and the only one she could have chosen, given her preference for a
wood stove. She probably relied on touch and smell and experience
to make the beef as perfect as it always was, but she was also
extremely particular about what she bought."

Select a prime rib from an utterly reliable butcher who has dry-aged his
beef at least two weeks [not an easy task this day and time!] There is
simply no point in presenting this delectable cut unless the beef itself is
of impeccable quality and proper age. With the roast at room temperature,
rub it all over with freshly ground pepper, perhaps some rosemary. Insert
a few slivers of garlic into the fat at random intervals. Place on a rack, fat
side up, in a commodious pan and put to roast in a 250-degree [F] oven.
Assuming you have a three- or four-rib roast, you should let it go for 20
minutes per pound, then check the internal temperature with a reliable
meat thermometer. What you are seeking is an internal temperature of
125 degrees [F] for rosily rare. Calculate your further cooking time after
this 2-hour checkpoint, and salt the roast lightly before resuming its
cooking. At 125 degrees [F], remove the roast from the oven and let it
stand 15 to 20 minutes. Carve into the thinnest slices you can imagine.
Serve with horseradish, fresh if possible, stirred with a little unsweetened whipped cream.


Two-Week Plum Pudding

“I tried for years to replicate the plum puddings of my youth, but the much-
missed Jim Beard set me on the right track by suggesting long ‘marination’
of the basic ingredients with sequential daily dollops of rum or cognac.
After much tinkering I think I have it right now, and believe me, starting
well in advance produces a result you’ll never find commercially.”

Mix the following ingredients, preferably by hand:

3/4 pound beef suet, minced
2 1/2 cups sifted all-purpose flour
3 cups breadcrumbs, mostly from the crust
1 1/2 cups black seedless raisins
2 cups golden seedless raisins
2 cups dried currants
1 generous cup minced candied ‘Christmas
fruits’, citron and others, tossed with flour
1 cup chopped almonds
3 1/2 cups shredded green apples, peeled first
1 1/2 cups brown sugar, firmly packed
1 teaspoon each ground cinnamon,
allspice, and ginger
1 orange, grated rind [zest] and juice
1 lemon, grated rind [zest] and juice
1 cup rum or Cognac
3 1/2 cups rum or Cognac
6 eggs

When you’ve had your way with these components, mixing them well
indeed, add a cup a rum or Cognac and mix them again. Then put plastic
wrap over the bowl and refrigerate. Each day for the next two weeks, add
1/4 cup of spirits and work the pudding mixture through your hands (you
could have a nip of the rum or Cognac for your efforts).
After two weeks, stir in 6 beaten eggs, mix well a final time, and fill pudding basins or small soufflé molds with the batter, leaving space at the top and
then covering with foil preferably secured with twine. Place the containers in
a roasting or other pan which will allow you to add boiling water to half their depth, then place in the oven and cook at a slow simmer (about 275 degrees [F] ) for approximately 6 hours, replenishing the water as necessary to keep
it at half the height of the cooking vessels. After 6 hours test a pudding with
a needle or wooden skewer; if it doesn’t come out clean, continue cooking
for another hour or so.
Serve with a sauce made of 3 parts beaten butter, 1 part fine sugar, and 1
part rum or Cognac, the mixture whipped frothily together.

Featured Archive Recipes:
Dad's Perfect Prime Rib

Rib-Eye Roast with Mustard and Black Pepper
Christmas Pudding with Brandied Butter

More Christmas Memories:
Edward Giobbi
Marcella Hazan
Jenifer Lang
Jacques Pepin
Julee Rosso
Helen Witty

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