Rest assured, these once greatest hits of Christmas Day still can power up that feast.
Tired of same old, same old every Christmas? Tired of a carbon copy of the Thanksgiving turkey feast, an unmerry mash up of the cranberry Jell-O? Here’s your chance for redemption. Add variety to your holiday with one or more of our Forgotten Foods of Christmas.
These are five out-of-favor dishes once critical to a proper celebration of Christ’s birth but now for the most part ignored and forgotten. Each offers its own history, its own significance, its own surprising flavor. If you’re lucky, your holiday diners will not miss that green bean and mushroom soup casserole. Then again, better have that dish too.
1. PORK PINING
Once upon a time, roasted pork was No. 1 each Christmas Day. Pork was cheap and plentiful. Poultry was expensive and difficult to keep fresh. You needed your own turkey flock for a main course as fowl was shunned in neighborhood groceries.
The pork of preference was the crown roast, a butterflied length of chops with bones standing up proudly, roasted with dressing in the center. It was impressive, rolled out of the kitchen on a silver platter. Rich gravy was made of the drippings. Butchers provided little paper covers, called bone booties, to prevent the bone ends from burning. Although impressive, it’s an easy dish to prepare. Try your turkey-dressing recipe in the center.
2. CEMENTINE TOWER
Clementines are miniature Spanish oranges, seed-free, easily peeled and loaded with sweet juice. They are delicate and only appear a few weeks of the year, conveniently in time for the holidays. Years ago, only the wealthy could afford them as they were rare and expensively imported on ships. They were served only on Thanksgiving and Christmas, proudly piled up into tree-shaped towers as a centerpiece.
Thanks to air freight, clementines, or their California knockoffs called Cuties, now are common in stores but have lost their holiday panache. Bring them back to the table. And they offer a bonus: Good luck for the coming year.
3. PEASANTLY DELIGHTFUL BREAD
Peasant Bread has deep religious significance. It is humble yet highly rewarding on the flavor and luck scales. Bread is the staff of life, you know.
It has all of the Christian significance including dozens of mentions in the Bible.
Then there’s the magical rising (from yeast) before baking. Serve warmed and unhumble it with butter and cranberry jam.
4. MEANINGFUL MINCEMEAT
The English argue modern American mincemeat isn’t real. It lacks the chopped beef or venison suet of the original. Ours is fruit based, but its strong spicing and addition of brandy turns off the kids. The dish dates back 700 years. Fermentation, yuck, caused the meat to give off sugars which vastly sweetened the pie filling. It became an important dinner course of its own, just before the desserts.
5. AVGOLEMONO ADVENTURE
This was considered more of an appetizer than a course, appearing in first place on the Christmas feast menu. It had a purpose: Clear the palate for the onslaught of the food to come. Greeks added body to it with rice-shaped orzo pasta. The trick is to come up with a soup tart enough to prepare the tongue but sweet enough to dispel the pucker. It was a hit for many seasons but suffered a fate similar to mincemeat -- the kiddies turned up their noses at it.
3 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon yeast
1 cup warm water
Mix two cups flour and all the other ingredients except water. Add remaining water and flour and mix until satiny dough forms. Cover and let rise until it doubles, about 45 minutes. Form dough into a long loaf and place on a baking sheet dusted with corn meal. Cover and let stand until 30 minutes. Bake 30 minutes at 425 degrees or until loaf is brown and sounds hollow when tapped.
Makes one loaf.
3/4 cup butter
2 cups raisins
2 1/2 cups currants
1 3/4 cups brown sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 1/2 teaspoons mace or cloves
1 1/2 teaspoons nutmeg
3/4 teaspoon salt
4 apples, peeled and grated
1 cup candied citron
1 Lemon rind and juice
1 Orange rind and juice
1 to 2 tablespoons brandy (optional)
Combine ingredients. Bring to a boil and simmer 5 minutes, stirring. Use as a pie filling or in cookies or pastries or in place of cranberry sauce.
Serves 8 to 10.
AVGOLEMONO (LEMON) SOUP
2 cups milk
6 egg yolks, beaten
1/2 cup uncooked orzo pasta or rice
Chopped parsley to taste
1 Grated lemon peel
2 tablespoons cornstarch
2 quarts chicken stock
1/2 stick butter
1 cup fresh lemon juice
Salt and pepper to taste
Whisk the milk and cornstarch together and beat in the egg yolks. Bring the stock to boil and add the orzo or rice. Cook, covered, until the orzo or rice is tender, about 15 minutes.
Remove from heat, add milk and egg mixture, stirring. Continue to simmer until thickened. Remove from heat, add butter, chopped parsley, lemon juice and grated lemon peel.