Christmas is upon us and that means good food, good company, and celebrating traditions. But in the US, Christmas traditions can be a hard thing to nail down. At least you won’t be at a loss in the kitchen. Not with these stars of the dining table.
This traditional English meat pie dates back to the 19th century, where it probably evolved from an older French recipe. The name certainly suggests a patriotic rebranding – the Duke of Wellington had just defeated Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo not long before its emergence. There’s certainly no ignoring the Frenchness of its core components: beef filet, pâté, duxelles, crêpes and puff pastry.
Whether or not this somewhat speculative history is accurate, Beef Wellington was delicious enough to survive as a popular celebratory dish, including on this side of the Atlantic, where it’s a common alternative to a stuffed bird at Christmas. After all, we did Turkey on Thanksgiving.
Beef Wellington can be a bit fiddly to make, but hey, it’s Christmas, you’re cooking for loved ones, and we’ve got three failsafe recipes for you right here. So what’s stopping you?
Country ham has always been a Christmas staple in the South, where it’s broken from its stuffy British roots and spawned literally countless variations. Its Old World popularity has endured due to being a traditionally more affordable alternative to beef and turkey. But let’s face it, it’s delicious.
Or if you’re a ham fan who can’t face Christmas without stuffing some kind of meat, then hold your horses and keep reading.
Stuffed Ham, Southern Maryland Style
Many regionally specific dishes break through geographical barriers and become worldwide hits (pizza or sushi, for instance). But there are plenty more that remain unheard of and unloved by those outside of the food’s birthplace. Sometimes that’s because they’re really not very good, or make use of ingredients that are hard for outsiders to stomach. That is definitely not the case for Southern Maryland’s traditional Stuffed Ham. So what’s the reason?
Well, only being eaten once a year probably plays its part, and the amount of boiled cabbage it calls for doesn’t exactly create the kind of smell that might beckon you into a restaurant. But it almost certainly has more to do with taking up most of the space in your fridge for the two weeks it takes to make.
In fairness, almost all of that time is spent corning the ham. That means curing it in salt. And you can cut the time down by simply not attempting a full ham if you don’t have to (i.e. you’re not expecting many guests). So if you’re a chef who loves to challenge themselves in the kitchen – and if you absolutely love ham, of course – then you really must try it at least once. You can find an excellent recipe in the Chesapeake Bay Magazine here.
The rest of the sides differ from household to household, with Christmas as much about creating your own family traditions as sticking to old ones. So if you’d like to add your own personal touch to future holidays, try looking for inspiration among these 10 Christmas side dishes.
Gingerbread Man, The Christmas Symbol
Ever wondered why we eat gingerbread at Christmas? Well, it starts in medieval England, where ginger had many perceived medical benefits. The problem was that, being medieval times, it was also expensive and hard to get. Gingerbread was actually created as a way to preserve that valuable ginger for longer.
But that doesn’t quite answer the question: why Christmas? Well, there are a few theories. The first is simply that ginger, being a spice, was thought to warm you up. Why wouldn’t you eat it during the colder months?
It was also thought to calm the stomach, which may explain why it became a popular treat during a time synonymous with overeating. But, perhaps more curiously, it was also considered sacred and, consequently, was only made available to the public on Christmas and Easter.
Where better to finish off than with something to wash it all down with. The Shirley Temple is the original mocktail, named for the child superstar Shirley Temple, who charmed audiences in 30s box-office hits like Bright Eyes and Curly Top.
This blush-pink ginger ale and grenadine drink is alcohol-free and suitable for the whole family, but you can also make yours a Dirty Shirley by adding a splash of top-shelf vodka. Get the recipe here.
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