Yesterday, D came home with a plump little pheasant which will form the basis of our Christmas dinner this year. It is all rather exciting, because for the first time we will be on our own for this most important of meals so we have been able to please ourselves with the menu plan. The bird currently reposing in our freezer will be served with braised red cabbage, celeriac and thyme gratin and plenty of sausage meat.
The sausage meat loaf is the only traditional item on there – and even then, it is only really a tradition in my own family. Sausage meat is the one constant that we all insist on; it was the one item that all the family were guaranteed to fight over, to the extent that my Mum used to say that she was providing more sausage meat than turkey. The Christmas sausage meat is the foodstuff that ended my six month foray into the world of vegetarianism as a teenager. I remember vividly that Mum, despite the many misgivings she had as to my dedication to the vegetarian cause went out and bought me a veggie alternative to Christmas dinner. I remember, or think I do, sitting down to lunch and seeing this…grey mass on my plate where the meat should be. To be fair to M&S it probably wasn’t that bad, but to me every mouthful tasted like dust. I struggled to hold on to my anti meat principles through that last meal, and then, the next day demanded a turkey and sausage meat sandwich.
(That doesn’t take the prize as my worst Christmas lunch ever though, because that honour was awarded a year later when my Dad, my brother and I were all struck down with what we think was food poisoning from eating oysters on Christmas Eve. I think by the time my Mum had got the dinner on the table (we used to entertain all four grandparents at our house in those days so she was not serving it for herself alone) the three of us were all sprawled pathetically in the other room away from the smell of the food. )
But back to the sausage meat – and it’s funny how certain foods can be so evocative, especially those foods that we associate with Christmas. One of my favourite memories of my late mother in law is the first Christmas dinner I ate there: it was the first time that I had ever been away from my parents and I felt a little sorry for myself. Come lunchtime, she proudly presented me with not one but two different varieties of sausage meat – D had tipped her off in advance and she had gone to great lengths, consulting many recipes, to provide it for me, despite the fact it was not a feature in their household.
And do you know what, I have just realised while writing this, that I don’t actually know how my Mum makes her sausage meat! Since she won’t be around on Christmas Day (she and Dad will be spending it with my brother and very heavily pregnant sister in law) I had better get on to her in advance. Given it forms a central part of my Christmas ritual, it would never do for it to be inauthentic!