Let’s talk turkey

AT RANDOM: Graeme Corbett has a feast with Christmas dinner traditions

I’m all for a good feast at Christmas time, but why does it always have to be turkey?

I suppose a reasonable amount of time has passed since Thanksgiving to have another go at a helping of dark meat smothered in gravy, surrounded by savoury stuffing and roast veg… OK, stop. I admit it – I love turkey dinner.

But how is it that turkey – and to a lesser extent, ham (which I also adore) – has become the go-to Christmas meal, especially when it wasn’t always the case? Way back in the day, the original bird on the dinner table was goose. That started to change when early North American settlers discovered loads of these dumb, big-breasted birds running around wild. When they realized a single turkey could feed 10 or more people, they started shipping live birds back home and the goose was eventually usurped.

From an economic point of view, turkey makes a lot of sense. It’s a relatively cheap meat, they are easy to raise, one bird can feed a lot of people, and there’s always the option of making soups, stocks and sandwiches with the leftovers.

But why not change things up a little? I can’t say the sirloin roast and beer can chicken I plan on serving on Christmas Day is all that adventurous, but some of the most memorable holiday meals I have had didn’t gobble before winding up on my plate.

The first year I moved to England (2002), my girlfriend and I opted for grilled salmon. Our roommates were away visiting their families, so it was just Terryn and I. Had our families been there, I’m sure more than a few eyebrows would have been raised over the seafood switcheroo, but it was truly a great meal. Besides, I’m not sure there is such a thing as turkey for two, and refrigerators in England are pretty much the size of beer fridges here, so leftovers weren’t really an option.

One year when I was younger, my parents decided to serve up tiny Cornish game hens, one apiece. Can you imagine the look on an eight-year-old’s face when they see an entire bird on their plate, just for them?

In other years, we have done the fondue thing, with the assortment of meats and veg and dipping sauces. The thing I love about this is it extends the average meal (roughly half an hour?) into an ongoing feeding bonanza. It’s all about pacing yourself.

And seriously, if you are going to fondue, make sure you have a fire extinguisher on hand, especially if you have someone like Terryn’s dad filling the fuel canisters.

One thing I definitely have to thank my in-laws for is my introduction to Ukrainian food at Christmas time. They don’t celebrate Ukrainian Christmas in early January, as is the tradition, nor do they follow the 12-dish Christmas Eve supper, which is supposed to be meatless, but it is fantastic all the same.

In addition to having a turkey/ham dinner on either Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, Terryn’s mom Carole whips together an endless array of Ukrainian dishes for the other big meal (sometimes they get combined). Her dishes usually include: cabbage rolls, meatballs, perogies, nalesniki (crepes stuffed with thick cream), rollmops (pickled herring), smoked sausage and borscht (beet soup).

It usually takes me a day or two to recover.

No matter how you choose to celebrate, be thankful for the food on your plate and the friends and family you get to share the holidays with. There are many who don’t have the luxury of either. If you do have some non-perishable food to spare, it’s not too late to make a trip to the Salvation Army food bank at 3303 32nd Avenue.

– Graeme Corbett is a sports reporter and business editor at The Morning Star. city@vernonmorningstar.com

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