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Taste Scene

Michael Devlin

Christmas dinner in July. Yep, it’s a thing.

My first Christmas dinner in July was such a resounding success I have to wonder, why am I not doing this more often?

Maybe you’ve all been eating Christmas dinners in July all the time and I’m merely a newbie at the party, although I was certainly surprised when a friend informed me that Christmas in July is actually a thing in the Antipodes. Upon my disbelief I googled the concept and was further stunned to discover that ironic Christmases in July also happen in the northern hemisphere. July 25 is the agreed date, apparently.

All of this got me a-thinking about the right food at the wrong time and the eating habits we sometimes slide into irrespective of the ideal.

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Like the time I went hoking through the fridge at three in the morning and wound up eating toast with butter and marmalade and then couldn’t sleep for the rest of the night. Whilst this nocturnal snack was exactly what I wanted at the time, it was exactly what I shouldn’t have been eating at that time. It’s not easy being me sometimes.

Last week I was gifted a small bucket of new potatoes that my father had freshly dug from his garden. There were two varieties, Arran Pilots and Duke of York and they also came with a vegetal bolt-on from my mother, four fresh beetroot. The beets were among a batch donated to my folks by the kindly Frances Mitchell from Gortin and I was only too glad to be the extended recipient of a few. Thanks, Frances!

Usually, I’m a strict-speaking beetroot-comes-in-a-jar-with-purple-vinegar kinda guy and so as the first pot of new spuds was bubbling away on Sunday afternoon of last week, I wondered and wondered about what I’d do with the fresh variety. The Arran Pilots were drained and left to steam in their own heat and then a liberal slathering of butter was applied and a few pinches of sea salt and they were devoured at length with many long sighs of appreciation. They were so good in fact, I may or may not have uttered an expletive at one point. And still, I couldn’t decide on what to do with the beets.

As is often the case with Sunday evenings though, when I’m trying to hold the promise of Monday at bay, I later uncorked a bottle of something red and fruity and this too was savoured as I read the paper and time ticked away.

Suddenly I found myself with yet more hunger pangs gnawing away just before bedtime, circa 11pm. And, as is so often unfortunately the case, I cranked the dial on the oven and opened the fridge. What to have?

My mother’s advice returned about how she’d done the beets (wrapped in tinfoil with balsamic vinegar and butter and seasoning) and so despite the late hour, the threatening inebriation and the ever loudening threat of Monday, I set to work.

I couldn’t tell you what time I sat down to the beets (I also roasted some of the Duke of Yorks for good measure) but it was very late and as such, it wasn’t going to help dealing with that bugger called Monday. But do you know, the beetroot were fantastic. Fan. Tas. Tic.

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The skin slipped off with the merest brush and the succulent, earthy tuber was given a further dusting of seasoning and once again, devoured at length. And once again, whilst this was exactly what I wanted at that very moment and I loved every mouthful, it was exactly the wrong moment to eat. Cue yet more staring at the ceiling from 3am.

The following Sunday’s Christmas dinner though, is the exception to the rule. Instinctively, I feel as though I shouldn’t want it (given the date, the temperature, the lack of pressies…), but it was arguably better than my performance at actual Christmastime past.

Apart from the fact that I couldn’t get a turkey (I shouldn’t even have been surprised), the free-range chicken, smoked ham, creamy mash, roasties done in beef dripping (a new height for roasted potatoes!), buttered carrots, honey roasted parsnips, steamed broccoli, sumptuous gravy, lashings of cranberry and the experimental sage and onion stuffing (made with wheaten bread) went down a delight. It was a first class mission to undertake of course, but I was bowled over and away by how good it was and, traditions dictating, at exactly at the wrong time of the year. I will certainly be back for more and maybe the next time, we’ll try and hoke out a few crackers to advance the satisfaction further still.

Although if I’ve bother getting a turkey in July, I don’t imagine the crackers will be any easier to purloin.

Later in the evening as the distended gut attempted to deal with its culinary pounding my father told me another deadly yarn about the right food at the wrong time.

This story was relayed to him some years ago by his cousin Charlie and it told of an occasion when my own great-grandfather James and Charlie were going to do a day’s work in the bog for James’s brother Mickey.

On the morning in question (back in the ‘50s or ‘60s, I presume), James and Charlie set off early but first called with Mickey, who was also going to be working. Upon entering Mickey’s house, the first thing the pair noted was a big pot of spuds bubbling away like hell on the range. When James queried this perhaps strange choice for breaking the fast, Mickey explained. “By sang,” he says, “sure we’ll take the dinner before we go.”

As Charlie told my father this story he added, “I knew I was in for a tight day when there wasn’t even going to be time to eat.”

I can’t work out though if this was the right food at the wrong time or the other way round. Whatever the case, the spuds were et and that was that.

CONCLUSION
If you want a recipe for the experimental but highly recommended stuffing using the wheaten bread, drop me a line.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but it was deadly gear. No doubt I’ll be up in the middle of the night – maybe even the night – looking for the leftovers… By sang, he says.

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