Christmas Cheer, or, Fire Up the Reindeer

John Clancy's Christmas Cookbook
Photo credit: C. Bertelsen

Black Friday marks the first “official” day of Christmas, er, shopping, that is. (You know it’s almost Christmas when the day after Halloween, the grocery stores start hauling out the red ribbon and fake mistletoe.)

A bit premature, but that’s cultural change for you. Used to be that you couldn’t find a bit of tinsel or a reindeer before Thanksgiving was over.

But Advent and Christmas will soon be upon us, along with visions of sugarplums and plenty of reindeer.  Not the real ones, but the ones that little children associate with Santa Claus. Reindeer, in other words, that remind us of the far-reaching power of myth.

Food nearly always plays some role in myths, and the Santa Claus story is no exception — imagine Santa swilling milk  and cookies by the chimney, while tiny reindeer hooves beat on the roof … .

Cooking for the holiday season requires stamina, grit, and time. It also demands a certain willingness to suspend belief, a desire for something almost intangible. Like Santa slipping down the chimney.

There’s something soothing about that, frankly. On a deeper level, winter season and its stillness give us a chance to settle back and reflect on the cycles of nature and lives, to re-experience childhood awe.

In other words, it’s a magical time. Or it can be.

I own a Christmas cookbook that helps me recapture some of  those childhood impressions and wanted to share a little bit of it with you. The following blurb comes from comments by Mimi Sheraton in the New York York Times, December 5, 1982. At the time, John Clancy was a well-known cooking instructor …

CHRISTMAS COOKBOOK By John Clancy. 165 pp. Illustrated. New York: Hearst Books. (1982)

The most Christmasy of the lot is ”Christmas Cookbook” by John Clancy. The author, a well-known cooking school teacher, chef and restaurateur, may have done himself and the public a disservice with his title, for most of the menus and recipes would be welcome at any festive occasion. ”Holiday Cookbook” or ”Company Cookbook” might have been more accurate.

Part One is devoted to preparation of the traditional mincemeats, punches, eggnogs, puddings, cookies and breads. The second part is divided into menus that include festive, if not traditional, specialties such as an excellent lobster Newburg, mushroom-filled pastries, a lemon meringue pie, a great and simple German roast fresh ham with potato salad, a beet and onion salad, pickled halibut and savory pates and dips. The menus are coordinated, recipes are clear, and there are tips for starting dishes ahead of time.

So fire up the reindeer! And get the pans out. The cooking season is about to take off.

Purée of Celery Root and Potatoes

Serves 8 – 10 (From John Clancy’s Christmas Cookbook)

1 1/2 – 2 lbs. celery root, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch slices

1 – 1 1/2 lbs. boiling potatoes, peeled and sliced in half

6 T. unsalted butter, softened

3/4 c. hot milk

1 t. sea salt

1/4 t. freshly ground black pepper

1. Boil the celery root in lightly salted water for 30 minutes. Add the potatoes and continue to boil, partially covered, for an additional 30 minutes or until both vegetables are cooked through. Test them for doneness with the tip of a paring knife. Drain the vegetables in a colander.

2. Melt the butter in the milk and keep the mixture warm.

3. Put the vegetables through a ricer or food mill. Beat in the butter and milk mixture and season with salt and pepper.

NOTE: I often add a couple of peeled garlic cloves, sliced thinly when boiling the vegetables. So that might make this dish perk up a bit!

© 2009 C. Bertelsen

2 thoughts on “Christmas Cheer, or, Fire Up the Reindeer

  1. I liked Jeff Smith’s Christmas cookbook, but that whole child-molest thing really put a damper on my membership in the Frugal Gourmet fan club. Smith’s book had a lot of history about Christmas and the attendant feast days, plus recipes for very traditional dishes. But Clancy’s book sounds like just the thing for me – the unabashed Christmas sentimentalist!!

  2. christmas has come much earlier this year even in the mediterranean, where the public authorities do not seem to bother too much with christmas decos until the middle of december – the credit crunch has made them re-think their normal policies, in an attempt (i suppose) to bring about some early christmas cheer!

Comments are closed.