Christmas in the Greetham house is certainly a busy affair, with the added bonus of a daughter having a birthday very close to the big day. This makes the build-up to what becomes an eating and drinking marathon all the more intense.
It all starts with the logistics of fitting far too many people and accompanying children and dogs into a house designed for a quarter of the number. It’s like a camp bed and blow up mattress showroom with every bit of floor space taken up to accommodate the Christmas visitors.
Christmas Eve is the big day when everyone starts to arrive. Cars filled with booze, food, bedding and gifts are all emptied, and the contents are distributed anywhere space can be found. To help make what can be a 3-day host marathon nightmare a little more stress-free, one Greetham tradition is that everybody has to choose an envelope from a pile in the hallway as they arrive. In each envelope is a duty that each person becomes responsible for during their stay. It could be to empty the dishwasher, prep the sprouts, make sure the wine is chilled or to just keep the fire going. When you’re hosting 20 plus people for the next 3 days, it an absolute lifesaver.
With all the guest now arrived, unpacked and their duties all distributed, the eating and drinking marathon can start in earnest.
The first task, and one of the most important, is to get it all started by cracking open some Fizz and a good old mix of accompanying salty snacks, while we get on with prepping the veggies and dumplings to go with a big old pot of bubbling rich, beef stew.
So, for some reason, Christmas Eve is always the latest and most boozy of the 3 days. Rich Beef Stew and dumplings are all washed down with some nice red wine, followed by a healthy selection of stinky cheese, and maybe a bottle or two of Port, which are all consumed late into the night.
Every Christmas Eve, before everyone peels off to their blow-up mattress, the annual debate on “how long to cook the turkey for” takes place. This is debated for a while; Delia Smith is consulted and alarms are set for the early hours.
With a slightly fuzzy head Christmas Day arrives, turkey is stuffed, coated in butter and in the oven. Kids have unwrapped their presents and spread their new belongings everywhere and day 2 begins in earnest.
Breakfast is usually a strong cup of coffee and a slice of toast with some homemade honey glazed ham and English mustard, while more preparation, table laying, fire starting, and glass polishing starts all over again. Every single chair is gathered from around the house and the extra table is added to the end of the dining table to accommodate all.
By 12 pm the corks start popping again along with the handing round of traditional Foreman’s smoked salmon blinis and homemade cheese biscuits. By 4 pm it’s almost time for the main event. The drum roll begins, and a small gathering unwraps the turkey to see if it’s cooked to perfection and not too dry. Are the potatoes crispy on the outside and fluffy in the middle. Every year it’s like you’re being judged by Greg Wallace and John Torode in your Christmas culinary skills.
The table starts to fill with all the traditional accompaniments, such as sprouts, pigs in blankets, two types of stuffing, gravy and a generous helping of bread sauce. Plates are piled high with as much as you can fit onto them, glasses are charged and within an hour your whole days cooking marathon has been devoured. A small break happens in proceedings while we clear the table and get ready for the Christmas pudding round, followed by more stinky cheese and washed down with yet more Port and a tin of Celebrations.
The ones with more stamina stay around the table and drink, chat and crack the odd walnut while the moviegoers and snoozers find their comfy spot on the sofa for the rest of the evening.
Boxing day is here, and everyone is decidedly sluggish when it comes to getting up. A good walk is in order to blow away the cobwebs and a trip to get the racing post is led by the older guests and a potential stop off in the local for a pint.
Then it all begins again!!!!!!!!