Our Christmas Dinner

Hi. Barb here. Stuffed to the gills, and soon you’ll see why.

Yesterday, over on Wicked Cozy Authors, I posted about the Feast of Seven Fish–the traditional Italian Christmas Eve dinner prepared and consumed by my husband’s family.

Also, here yesterday, Susan Vaughan wrote about food as love.

I’ve been thinking about food as tradition. Specifically, where all the piece parts of my family’s traditional Christmas dinner come from.







While my husband’s Italian heritage prevails on Christmas Eve, dinner on Christmas Day comes very much from my family. Despite this, my husband has taken over full responsibility for the roast–picking the type of beef, ordering it, deciding how to cook it, etc. He is constantly experimenting. Four years ago he set off every fire alarm in the house with a very high temperature approach. This year he slow cooked it at low temperatures. I was nervous and wanted to know why he couldn’t experiment with a slightly less expensive roast–or when we weren’t expecting 21 people for dinner, but as you can see it turned out perfectly.

mcwpotatosWith the roast come potatoes, onions and carrots, which these days are not so much cooked with the roast, but rather in the roasting pan in the fat from the meat while the roast is “resting.” This dish, requires constant debate and endless decisions, parboiling or no, etc, etc.

I’m not sure where the roast beef and potatoes come from. My father’s family for sure. In my childhood, we spent Christmas Eve with my mother’s family and Christmas Day with my father’s at my grandparents apartment on Murray Hill in New York City. The roast beef and potatoes were always featured.

mcwonionsandraisinsThe onions and raisins also come from my father’s mother. Whereas the recipes I inherited from my mother’s mother are very precise, the one’s from my father’s mother are maddeningly obscure. This one says to start with “large amount of oleo.” Since there’s no longer a war on, I use butter. Three jars of onions, but how many raisins? The recipe says, “raisins.” I always forget how much they plump up and put in too many. Every single year. Sherry is 3/4 cup, but vinegar is “to taste.” I know it’s cider vinegar because in my childhood it was the only kind anyone used.







This beet salad is called in the family, “borscht jello,” because it’s savory, beets, onions, onion juice, horseradish, celery for crunch and served with sour cream. My father’s cousin Nora made it one year, and it became forever after a part of the meal, because it is delicious and because my mother wanted everyone to have something red on their plate. Nora hasn’t had Christmas dinner with us since she graduated from college forty-five or so years ago. I’m sure she doesn’t know we still serve this dish every year. I wonder if she still makes it herself or if it’s a long forgotten recipe? I’ll have to ask her.







Yes it’s the dreaded wasperole–frozen green beans, Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom soup, and French’s fried onions, which I assume are only still made for just this reason. I’m sure my mother adopted it as a part of the meal during the height of the cooking-with-canned-soup craze, because unlike almost any other green vegetable, it doesn’t have to be timed to come out perfectly with the meal. My horrified brother-in-law John deemed it the “wasperole.” I’d say about half our crowd eats it ironically, and the other half would be really ticked off if it wasn’t offered.







The mincemeat is another stranger who wandered in and stayed. My British downstairs neighbor in the two family house Bill and I lived in in Brighton. MA when we were first married taught me to make this meatless, uncooked mincemeat. Bill, who’s not a dessert-eater as a rule, loves it so much I’ve just kept making it. I make it every other year, enough for two Thanksgivings and two Christmases. The truth is, it’s even better the second year. We moved out of that house, and so did they. We’ve long lost touch. I doubt she knows the lasting impact she had on my cooking.







I’ve written about my cookies before here.

So those are the old traditions. But there are also new ones.

Roast pork from my Brazilian sister-in-law.

Roast pork from my Brazilian sister-in-law.

Spicy shrimp brought my my ex-sister-in-law's cousin's wife

Spicy shrimp brought my my ex-sister-in-law’s cousin’s wife


Seven layer dip from my husband's sister's mother-in-law.

Seven layer dip from my husband’s sister’s mother-in-law.

A gorgeous salad from my ex-sister-in-law

A gorgeous salad from my ex-sister-in-law

Flan from my Brazilian sister-in-law

Flan from my Brazilian sister-in-law





Cookies from my husband's sister

Cookies from my husband’s sister

A new generation--cookies from my niece

A new generation–cookies from my niece

Pumpkin and squash pie from my ex-sister in-law

Pumpkin and squash pie from my ex-sister in-law






Do you think we have enough dessert?

Do you think we have enough dessert?


Here’s a fun tradition–an all-book Yankee swap. For years we did a CD swap, but then the younger generation started asking, “What’s a CD?” So we gave it up. The book swap is great, because as my daughter pointed out, online booksellers are always suggesting things that are like the last book you read, but with a multi-generational book swap, you almost inevitably get introduced to something new, which is kind of cool.

So today it’s all clean up, put the chairs back where they belong, put away the china and silver. Can’t wait until next year!

About Barbara Ross

Barbara Ross is the author of the Maine Clambake Mysteries. Her books have been nominated for multiple Agatha Awards for Best Contemporary Novel and have won the Maine Literary Award for Crime Fiction. She lives in Portland, Maine. Readers can visit her website at www.maineclambakemysteries.com
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11 Responses to Our Christmas Dinner

  1. Pingback: The Feast of the Seven Fishes | Wicked Cozy Authors

  2. Barb, I’m salivating. What wonderful traditions your family has. I love the book swap idea. A group I belong to does a food swap.

  3. Barb Ross says:

    Thanks, Susan. I think our family inadvertently does a food swap, since the quantities are such, everyone has to take food home!

  4. Lil Gluckstern says:

    I just got up here on the West Coast, and I am now as hungry as I could be. What lovely traditions you have, and the food looks scrumptious! I have a question about your tablecloth-is that a family tartan? I noticed you were wearing something in that plaid in the picture with your grandaughter. You don’t have to answer if you don’t want.

    • Barb Ross says:

      Hi Lil

      No, it’s not a family tartan. The Ross tartan is ugly and the McKims, I think, are a branch of the Stewarts. I just love it. I’ve had Black Watch bathrobes for 20 years or so, just replacing the old with the same thing. In those photos, my daughter who stayed over unexpectedly, is wearing one of my old nightgowns.

      The tablecloths and runners are from Williams Sonoma, I think. I did a big replace of my Christmas linens a couple of years ago. I know on the decorator shows they always criticize things that are matchy-matchy, but I was married for so long before we could afford anything that matched anything else–well, now I do tend to get carried away.

      • Lil Gluckstern says:

        Your house, your matchy match! The Stewarts had really nice tartans. Your meal was a mental feast. Thank you!

  5. Beth says:

    The array of desserts reminded me of my brother-in-law’s view of how my sister and I determine the amount needed. According to him, we count the number of people expected for dinner, double it, and add five more in case. In case of what, you ask? In case there is a danger of running out of feed. Could there be anything more humiliating than running out of food.

    • Barb Ross says:

      Actually, Beth, I saw The Unsinkable Molly Brown at a very suggestible age. In it, she gives an elaborate party and no one comes. Since then, I have lived in horror of having too much food. My husband, however, is in your camp.

      The good thing about this meal is that everyone brings stuff–and everyone takes something different home.

  6. Cynthia Blain says:

    Enjoyed your blog very much. Your dessert table looks much like ours, plus we have lots of homemade fudge and penuche at the table too as both are favorites. I really like the idea of a book Yankee swap. Our book club does a Yankee Swap with things related to reading, and many of us also give a book plus our gift, but just doing a book might make it easier and also re-introduce the girls that have the Kindles to reading a book that they can hold in their hands once again. A great idea. Thanks again for the nice blog today.

  7. June Lemen says:

    Can you post the beet recipe? I am a big beet lover, and the mere idea of a salad that tastes like jellied borscht thrills me!

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