I’m working on recording our holiday celebrations— what we ate, what we carried over from years past, and what we started anew— so that we can refer back in future years and see how our celebratory canon has grown and changed. For both Mike and me, food is our rhythm, what centers us, so we’ll start there— with what we ate on the eve of our celebration of the Christmas season.
Growing up, we nearly always spent Christmas Eve at my maternal grandparents’ house. My grandmother would make a big pot of something or other, we put on Christmas carols and light the fire, and look at all of the ornaments that predated our births. There were always sugar plums, hunks of peppermint bark, and Poppie’s chocolate-dipped, chunky peanut butter filled Ritz cracker sandwiches. If I was lucky, I’d been there the day before, setting up the double boiler and dipping those peanut butter smeared crackers into the melted chocolate, with the bits and bobs of cooled chocolate drizzle peeled from wax paper as my reward.
We rotated what was in the aforementioned dinner pot— sometimes a stew with chicken and green chili, sometimes posole, and sometimes, most memorably for me, pashofa, a Choctaw stew of hominy and pork.
Traditional preparation of pashofa over an open fire is incredible to me. Ours was never so traditional, using canned or dried hominy and the stovetop rather than a fire, but it was still warming and filing. One of these days, I’ll learn to prepare hominy myself. This recipe is what I’ve used to re-create my grandmother’s.
- 2 lbs pork (something bone-in— I like ribs, but you could use ham hock or bone-in loin)
- 1 lb dried white pearl hominy, rinsed and soaked overnight
- Salt to taste
Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a large dutch oven or stockpot. When hot, brown the outside of pork enough to make your kitchen smell really, really good. Remove from heat, add hominy and enough water to cover by a couple inches (you’ll read a lot of recipes that say you should bring the water to a boil before adding hominy, but I’ve never noticed a difference). Bring water to a boil, reduce heat to low, and continue cooking for two or three hours. Pashofa is done when hominy is tender and broth tastes meaty. If you find the flavor is lacking after a few hours, turn up the heat and continue cooking without a lid to concentrate the liquid. Salt to taste. We always served with hot sauce, raw onion, limes, and/or fresh cilantro.
Before moving to New York, I’d never heard of the Feast of the Seven Fishes, and even still, its mysteries are still relegated to the Instagram feeds of friends. We’ve no plans to convert to Italian-American Catholic traditions anytime soon, but I was struck with a little holiday inspiration on a very, very tired shopping trip a few days before Christmas Eve.
Mike was going to be working late on Christmas Eve, and I had plans to be out of the house running around with last minute errands and serving at our parish’s family Christmas Eve service. A big, homecooked meal wasn’t in the cards. While we were stocking up for Christmas dinner (more on that to come later), Winnie lost it. She was d-o-n-e with being out of the house, with being in the cart, with being held, with all of it. While Mike stood in the checkout line, I walked the aisles with Winnie, pointing out the kitties on the pet food, the cows and goats on milk cartons, and suggesting we smell each bag of coffee beans, you know, for fun. We meandered down the aisle containing canned fish, I remembered that we were probably low on them (we go through sort of a ridiculous amount of what Mike and I have affectionately deemed the “tiny fishes”) and I started browsing to see what looked good. Dang, I thought, I kind of want a lot of these. Hey! I thought again (I was doing a lot of thinking), maybe I want SEVEN of these! SEVEN TINNED FISHES? You don’t say.
So here’s what we had. These aren’t recipes so much as suggestions/ingredient lists.
Seven Tinned Fishes
- tossed with toasted pecans, chopped parsley, hot Calabrian peppers and golden raisins, with a splash of Bragg’s apple cider vinegar
Bonito del Norte tuna
- combined with cara cara orange supremes, diced Cortland apples, and ruby red sauerkraut (any kimchi or lacto-fermented veggie would work)
Sardines in oil
- pureed with sherry, a healthy dash of Colman’s mustard powder, and capers
Portuguese sardines with tomato
- tossed with finely chopped olives (we used a variety), diced avocado, and a squeeze of lime
- served with butter, cornichons, and bread
Smoked sprat deviled eggs
- Boil eggs, mash yolks with mayo and prepared mustard in a 4:2:1 ratio. Add one sprat for every two eggs, continue to mash until sprats all but disappear. Fill egg whites with mixture and sprinkle generously with sweet Hungarian paprika.
Herring with herbs
- With a dollop of creme fraiche, a pinch of cayenne, and a squeeze of lemon with quick pickled onions as a riff on Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall’s tinned mackerel pate with quick pickled onions
The miracle of the loaves and the fishes started to make so much more sense after this meal— I think we ate those gussied up tinned fishes for another ten days, and still didn’t make a dent in them.
For Christmas Day, Mike and Winnie cooked up a breakfast of yeasted waffles and smoked salmon tart and a dinner of cocoa and coffee rubbed beef tenderloin, Yorkshire pudding, Christmas shrimp (some day I’ll write down the recipe), and roasted Brussels sprouts.