The Story of Our Christmas Dinner
My journey into cooking is a long and strange one. I grew up under the tutelage of two Grandmothers and my Mother. In Deep Appalachia, food was one of the few attainable status symbols. Sure, you could take out a loan and buy a car; a Cadillac even! It fooled no one. Everyone knew that it was paycheck to paycheck and one step away from being repossessed.
Food was another matter. Great pride was taken in the harvesting, canning, preserving, pickling, smoking, drying and compiling a larder. The family with the biggest root cellar, often still the only reliable refrigeration when I was a child, won the envy of all the other people in the holler.
As I progressed from the counter to the floor, to the garden and to the yard, my responsibilities grew accordingly. The oldest of seven, I was expected to care for the chickens, keep the critters out of the gardens, barter eggs for honey and my grandfather’s white lightening for pig.
Pigs were harvested once a year, usually just before Christmas, based on the signs and weather. We needed three days of near freezing temperatures to safely prepare two or three pigs for the year. It was hard, brutal work. But oh, so delicious. My grandfathers and uncles would shoulder the task of dispatching, butchering and preparing the young boars for the women to preserve. They canned pork, rendered pork fat, seasoned pork belly, fried everything, made sausage by hand and smoked the rest.
Like all families in Appalachia, ours was full of legend and lies. The truth, though, was for the tasting. I grew up with traditional Mountain Cuisine and Cooking Techniques, but with a twist. My family used more spices, herbs, hot chili peppers and molasses than other families. Our food had an Asian twist.
The story is this: A long time ago, just after WWII, after the Asian-Americans, mostly Chinese, were released from concentration camps in the U.S., a wandering Asian man stopped by my Grandmother’s House. Like all red-blooded Americans at the time, she hated Japanese. This wanderer assured my Grandmother that he was NOT Japanese. We never knew what happened to him, what his real name was or where he came from. His story is lost in the mist of the mountainsides as he hunted ginseng, which was his main source of income.
He stayed with my Grandparents for a time, along with their parents and the Matney, Cochran and Cree families who made up our community. His cooking influences found their way into our food, becoming a permanent mainstay for generations.
As time passed, the old recipes were lost and forgotten, until my sister and I began our own quest in culinary adventures. We found that, amazingly, the tastes and sensations we crave and remember from our childhood were to be found in home Thai, Vietnamese and Cantonese cooking. So, with a nod to my ancestors and their fables, here is your Christmas Dinner.
With much Love, Ron, Laura and Nolan.
Duck, Duck Goose. Marinated Duck Liver, Rare Sliced Thai Style Duck and Goose Breast
Assorted Pickles, Southern Style
Marco’s Famous Oyster Casserole
Smoked Muscovy Duck
Smoked Boar Butt with Thai Molasses and Chai Tea Glaze
Chicken and Pork Terrine
Red Velvet Cake
Peppermint Ice Cream
Assortment of Christmas Cookies