Kaz’s description of the ham salad of her childhood reminded me of a conversation I had yesterday about becoming part of the community and how long it takes. That could be a post for another day, but Kaz reminded me of one of the signs I cited; of having been asked to help prepare, serve and wash up for the Evergreens' Christmas lunch. I apologise for the use of the C word in July, of course.
I turned up, not knowing what to expect, to find that the tables had already been laid in festive manner, with crackers and the like, and preparations were going on in the tiny Village Hall kitchen. To be fair, actual cooking was hardly possible there - the layout and equipment is much better now, but it's still small and awkward.
It's the menu I'm thinking of. To wit -
Large vat of soup, made by putting catering-sized packs of dried vegetable and dried onion soup into boiling water and simmering for quite a long time until there was a dark brown ring round the top of the pan, then adding more water until the spoon didn't stand up in it any more, then stirring, realising it was a bit thin again and simmering until just right, then serving.
Appropriate number of slices of excellent quality ham and turkey from local butcher, who home-cooks all the meat he sells cold. We rolled the ham to look pretty and put it, with a slice of turkey, on each plate.
Tins of new potatoes, which were heated up in another large vat, put into serving dishes and had butter pats put on top.
Large packs of frozen peas which were put into boiling water rather a long time before any of the guests arrived so that, when they were eventually dished up, they looked nice and yellowish-green, like tinned peas do. They were then put in tureens with more butter.
On the tables, we put dishes of sliced pickled beetroot from jars, bowls of pickled onions and mustard. There was no salad cream or chutney - this is Christmas dinner, not Sunday tea, remember.
As we were serving the main course - giving each person a plate with the cold meat on, serving hot peas and potatoes from the tureens and letting them help themselves to pickles, the Christmas puddings arrived. There were half a dozen huge ones, home-made by Mrs B, and they'd been simmering in and on her Aga all morning. We boiled more kettlefuls of water, put the water in the washed-out soup vat and stirred in a catering pack of instant custard (that is, it didn't need to be made with milk). We opened a huge tin of mixed fruit salad for those who didn't eat Christmas pudding and put a small carton of cream into a jug. We put the puddings onto plates and served it into bowls, then took them round to the guests,
We put small cellophane packs of cheese onto plates, small foil-wrapped packs of butter onto plates and mixed crackers onto plates and put them on tables. We made instant coffee, pots of tea and served them.
The entertainers had been given lunch too of course, they then entertained while we washed up. Then Father Christmas arrived with his sack of presents, he bore in the Christmas cake (also made and decorated by the splendid Mrs B) and it was brought back for us to cut up and serve with more tea.
Everyone received their present, including the helpers, and we washed up again.
Oh, and everyone received a glass of sherry on arrival, including the helpers. We sort of polished off the bottle while we were washing up, too.
I've got somewhat carried away and described the whole thing - but what bemused me in those far off days when I was a young and innocent thing of about 43 was the juxtaposition of cold meat with hot vegetables and cold pickles. After a few years though, I learned to rather enjoy it. But what I'm wondering is, is (or was) this normal?