Sunday 5 July 2009

The Evergreens at Christmas. What? Yes, I know it's July

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?


Dandelion said...

What? Giving Christmas lunch to the Christmas trees? In a word, no.

Z said...

Darling, it was the name of the society for the older members of our village community. I don't know what you have against giving a treat to Christmas trees, mind you - but I don't think they'd appreciate ham and Christmas pudding very much.

Z said...

If I'd meant holly, ivy and fir trees, I'd have called them evergreens, not Evergreens.

The trees might have quite liked a mulch of soup, mightn't they? If it wasn't too hot, that is.

Dandelion said...


(Though for referring to humans, Deciduous might have been more apt...)

Dandelion said...

But I still don't think it's quite normal. Although in large-quantity public-type cooking situations such as this, I have come to accept abnormal ideas as the norm.

Very often the kind-hearted types who tend to do this sort of thing have no qualms at all about using tinned vegetables in front of other people.
So it's not normal, but in these type of circs, it is normal, if you get my drift.

martina said...

My family always served carrot and celery sticks, black olives and sliced cucumber chips at holiday meals. I never figured out why the celery and carrot sticks were served at holidays. To me it was something normally found with school lunches-not special. There would always be a roast or ham with mashed potatos, maybe macaroni salad. Church things generally were various types of salads with rolls, maybe lasagna or casserole and a huge assortment of desserts.

Z said...

I think it was the pickles that tipped the weirdness balance. The rest was not abnormal, I suppose, except the half hour that the frozen peas boiled for.

Macaroni salad, Martina - would that be cold with french dressing or mayo? That would be weird with a roast. I think salad with lasagna is okay actually and possibly better than an array of hot veg.

When we've got a church thing, usually the people arranging it do the main dishes, whether cold cuts or lasagne (sorry, reverting to English English here) or shepherd's pie or whatever, and ask people to bring salads (unless we do frozen peas) and a huge assortment (don't the fellows love them?) of desserts.
I suppose you have the delights of bring and share lunches as well?

Z said...

Oh, and as for Deciduous, the Sage might be thin on top but I am certainly not. I'm still quite green in judgment, too.

Anonymous said...

That menu with minor mods reads like an end of season cricket club buffet I attended.

martina said...

The macaroni salad would maybe have tuna and chopped celery and scallions/spring onions and a ton of mayonnaise in it. Or, it could be a mac/cheese type salad. Lutheran church dinners always seemed to have more starches than any other food group. There was a book called Norwegian Humor and Other Myths. The author said that any church basement meals were okay, so long as the foods were white.

lom said...

I have eaten cold ham with hot veg.

'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.'

Z you made this meal sound so....erm what's the word I am looking for?

Dave said...

I've eaten worse.

Z said...

Macaroni salad with a hot roast and mashed potatoes equals pickles with Christmas dinner for oddness.

I'm not knocking the not veg and cold meat really, it wasn't practicable to do a full roast dinner in that little kitchen for that number. And salad wouldn't have been quite the thing for a Christmas meal, and at least the meat was top quality. I did skip the soup however. And those pickles.

Anyway, thanks for the reminder, Kaz!

Daisy said...

I recall, as a youth club member, providing that very same menu to the senior citizen's of 'our' village (not a million miles from Yagnhb) perhaps it's a Norfolk thing?

Thanks Z for the happy memories!

Z said...

Oh marvellous - welcome, Daisy, and thanks for the corroboration!

As you say, it is a happy memory and when I was invited to help I really felt I was accepted as part of the village (I'd lived here ten years by then). But it's not that people are unfriendly; not in the least. Just cautious.