My mother was one of seven sisters and my grandmother (Gran) had 20 grandchildren. Having a Christmas gathering for all those relatives was a week’s long undertaking but one Gran accomplished every year well into her 70’s. At the center of this gathering was a large, 54-60 inch wide, multi-leaved oak table, likely dating back to the late 1800’s or early 1900’s.
Normally this table sat in the dining room with its many chairs ready for a large supper, but on Christmas Day it was pushed against the outside wall of the spacious dining room to allow free flow around it, ready to be laden with taste treats of all varieties. Many brought dishes to add to the bounty, all homemade by some very fine cooks. Everyone, especially the aunts but later some of the cousins, had their specialty.
At one end was a large stack of fine China plates to fill and the platters of turkey to start with. As each person oohed and aahed their way around the table, there were mashed potatoes and giblet gravy, sweet potatoes with marshmallows on top, dressing (cooked inside the turkey(s) and very tasty), green beans, corn pudding, scalloped oysters and more. The fruit salads were a celebratory sweet treat. One had fresh fruits—apples, bananas, grapes—and the other had Royal Anne cherries and pineapple. There was always a relish tray with crunchy fresh veggies, tangy pickles and ripe olives and its own specialty relish fork. At the end were pans of homemade rolls—soft and yeasty, just waiting for a pat of butter. A table full of bounty for a true holiday feast. If you listened hard, you might have heard creaks, almost groans, as the table was heavily laden with favorite foods.
As Gran oversaw the replenishing of the main course items, she also began to put the desserts, heretofore gracing the kitchen table, on the oak dining room table. There were pies of all varieties—pumpkins, pecan, chocolate and banana cream to name a few, and Christmas cookies in great number from everyone’s house. But my favorite was always Gran’s last minute chocolate cake—light and airy, chocolaty and iced with the thinnest layer of the tastiest chocolate frosting goodness a child could ever wish for. She always thought she wouldn’t have time for this mundane treat, but somehow she always did.
As everyone savored their last bites and was sated, adults sat to visit, kids ran playing in the house and babies became sleepy, the table got lighter—only an occasional cookie snatcher visiting. Crumbs had been swept off, the tablecloth straightened, the Christmas poinsettia was in the center now that there was room—the table had served this large, gregarious sometimes rambunctious bunch well through another Christmas holiday. Gran was smiling and, if you listened hard, you might have heard almost a faint sigh as one of the kids brushed hurriedly past that sturdy centerpiece of the family celebration.
Susan Heuiser lives and cooks and bakes and writes in northwest Wisconsin.