TRADITIONAL CHRISTMAS DISHES

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TRADITIONAL CHRISTMAS DISHES

The traditional Christmas dinner usually features roasted turkey with stuffing (sometimes called dressing), ham or roast beef (sometimes all three) and Yorkshire puddings.  Potatoes, squash, roasted vegetables and cranberry sauce are served along with tonics and sherries.  A variety of sweet pastry and egg nog sprinkled with cinnamon and nutmeg are served in the United States. Certain dishes such as casseroles and desserts are prepared with a family recipe (usually kept a secret). Fruits, nuts, cheeses and chocolates are enjoyed as snacks.

Most Christmas customs in the United States have been adopted from those in the United Kingdom (though others have come from Italy, France, Scandinavia, and Germany.) Accordingly, the mainstays of the British table are also found in the United States: roast turkey (or other poultry), beef, ham, or pork; stuffing (or ‘dressing’), mashed potatoes and gravy, squash, roasted root vegetables are common. Common desserts include pumpkin pie, plum pudding or Christmas pudding and mince pies. In the South, coconut cake, pecan pie, and sweet potato pie are also common.

The centerpiece of a sit-down meal varies on the tastes of the host but can be ham, roast beef, or goose, particularly since turkey is the mainstay at dinner for the American holiday of Thanksgiving in November, around one month earlier. Regional meals offer diversity. Virginia has oysters, ham pie, and fluffy biscuits, a nod to its very English 17th century founders. The Upper Midwest includes dishes from predominantly Scandinavian backgrounds such as lutefisk and mashed rutabaga or turnip. In some rural areas, game meats like elk, opossum or quail may grace the table, often prepared with recipes that are extremely old: it is likely that similar foodstuffs graced the tables of early American settlers on their first Christmases.

An Italian American meal for Christmas Eve can be the Feast of the Seven Fishes. An Italian desert and sweets that has become popular at Christmas time is a cake enriched with candy fruits, raisins, and pine nuts called panettone as well as marzipan, zeppole, cannoli, candy fruits and fresh fruits.

Christmas in the Land of Trees: Pacific Northwest

The cool, rainy Pacific Northwest is known for several things at the holidays: salmon, apples, and Christmas trees.   Salmon, which is indigenous to this region, is a popular main dish at the holidays and throughout the year. Smoked salmon is often given as a Christmas gift. Oregon and Washington produce more Christmas trees than anywhere else in the country.

Some holiday meals ideas from the Pacific Northwest: (1) Fall Salad with Cranberry Vinaigrette; (2) Dijon Garlic Salmon; (3) Butternut Squash Casserole; (4) Eggplant and Mushrooms with Wild Rice; and (5) Washington Apple Cake.

Christmas in the Sun: California

Christmas in a warm, sunny place seems like a strange idea to many people. For Southern Californians, it’s everyday life. Regional holiday food favorites: avocados, artichokes, homemade tamales, and fish tacos. Beyond the mainland United States, members in Hawaii said they celebrate Christmas by cooking Kalua Turkey and Laulaus.

Some holiday meal ideas from California include: (1) Mesclun and Mango Salad with Ginger Carrot Dressing; (2) Orange-Chili Turkey; (3) Yukon Gold Mashed Potatoes with Roasted Shallots; (4) Brussel Sprouts and Chestnuts; and (5) Apple and Pomegranate Crisp.

Christmas in the Heartland: The Midwest

The Midwest is a melting pot of cultures, which is reflected in its varied traditions. Across the Midwest, European and Scandinavian cuisines have a strong influence on holiday food traditions. Popular recipes include lefse, stollen, lutefisk, lasagna and Polish sausage. The Midwest is the only region of the country where ham was chosen over turkey as the favorite holiday meal.

Some holiday meal ideas from the Midwest include: (1) Prime Rib Roast; (2) Candied Yams; (3) Creamed Corn; (4) Christmas Cranberry Salad; (5) Buckeye Balls; and (6) Danish Kringle.

Tex-Mex Christmas: The Southwest

American and Mexican cuisines meet in the Southwest to create the perfect marriage of holiday food traditions. Although they rarely admit it, many people actually like fruit cake. More than in any other region, 13% of South-westerners claimed they would like to receive fruit cake as a gift. Unique regional holiday foods: green chilis, blue corn muffins, and romeritos.

Some holiday meal ideas from the Midwest include:   (1) Real Homemade Tamales; (2) Mexican Posole Stew; (3) Chile Relieno Casserole; (4) Mexican Rice; and (5) Creamy Carmel Flan.

Christmas Southern-style: The South

Rich with distinctive variations on traditional holiday fare, The South makes the holidays its own. A high percentage of people in the South said they prefer to cook both ham and turkey at Christmas. Pie was consistently voted the most popular holiday dessert in all regions of the country. Cookies came in second, except for in the South, where cakes took the prize. Most Southerners (63%) claim that they do their Christmas shopping after Thanksgiving. Only a few admit to waiting until Christmas Eve.

Some holiday meal ideas from the Midwest include:   (1) Candy-Coated Pecans; (2) Honey Glazed Ham; (3) Deep-Fried Cajun Turkey; (4) Tasty Collard Greens; (5) Garlic Grits; and (6) Sweet Potato Pie.

A Traditional Christmas: Northeast

From New York to Maine, as in most of the U.S., New England traditions form the basis of the American holiday menu.  According to the survey, users in the Northeast were divided over whether to serve ham or turkey at Christmas, with turkey narrowly winning out. Popular regional holiday foods: lobster, clam chowder, and mincemeat pie.

Some holiday meal ideas from the Midwest include:     (1) Wassail Punch; (2) Maple Roast Turkey and Gravy; (3) Mom’s Delicious Oyster-Cornbread Dressing; (4) Stuffed Cabbage Rolls; and (5) Christmas Plum Pudding.

 Kathy Kiefer

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