Christmas Eve Dinner… What’s on your Plate?
While I have no memories of Christmas Eve celebrations with my family, I have over 45 years of Christmas Eve memories with my husband’s family.
I quickly learned that Christmas Eve, in an Italian family, was celebrated in so many different ways and customs than what I grew up with. Being an only child, with no cousins nearby, and a family consisting mostly of adults, things were so much different from my husband’s family. While he only had one brother, he had many cousins, aunts and uncles to share the holidays with… I soon inherited a large family.
Grandma Minnie and Grandpa Joe with the famous Christmas Eve “asapes”
Christmas Eve began early in the morning at grandma Minnie’s house with the “asapes” fried early in the day; grandma began preparing the dough… often using an entire 5 lb bag of flour – daughters Nancy and Catherine were the first ones arriving to help in the frying process. After the dough rose, the frying began… and that was a long process. When they lived on the “farm”, as it was always referred to… the frying was done in an outside building also used as a kitchen. (The “asapes” are served with warm honey drizzled over)
An Italian Christmas Eve dinner usually consists of 7 fishes, but not everyone celebrated with this type of dinner. My father-in-law’s mother didn’t prepare a meal as such, instead serving home made pizza’s. But no matter the food, it was a festive night with the family and kids running around all evening… waiting for Santa; he always arrived after dinner, which was the big highlight of the evening. My husband remembers the same type of Christmases when he was young, and Santa never fooled him… he always knew which uncle was hiding behind those whiskers!
When my kids were young, we began our evening at Nonni’s house in Shelton and ended our evening at Grandma Minnie’s house in West Haven. By the time we arrived, the party was in full swing and the presents under the tree in the living room were growing as each family arrived. There were so many gifts under the tree, that when the kids began opening, you didn’t even know who gave what, as paper and ribbons flew everywhere. I wish I had taken more photos on those nights, but they only remain as memories now. It truly was a madhouse at times, but in looking back…. it was some of the best times of our life.
As every family arrived, besides the presents they brought, cookie trays soon filled up the dessert table. There was no problem in finding your favorite cookies… and everyone knew who brought what, so they quickly scoffed up their favorites. I never saw so many cookies in all my life, as on those Christmas Eve’s… from the favored Italian Anginettes, Butter Balls, Cinnamon Crescents, Pignoli’s, Sugar Cookies, Thumbprints, 7-Layer Bars (Aunt Catherine made the best) and that’s where I first tasted, my soon to be favorite cookie – Cherry Winks, made by my mother in law.
Christmas Eve dinner at Grandma Minnie’s consisted of the 7 fishes Italian dinner, foods that were strange to me, but through the years I’ve learned to love. Although I’m still not a fan of the Baccala, I learned to like the fried calamari, and I had no problem with the fried shrimp! Several of those same dishes today… especially the stuffed shrimp and the seafood sauce with blue crabs, shrimp and sometimes lobster tails, are what we still serve today. While I don’t often add lobster tails, Grandma Minnie always did, and they were my favorite in the sauce. I never ate this sauce in the beginning, but it slowly grew on me, and in as much as I love this sauce, I never crave it anytime other than Christmas Eve.
My daughter-in-law Rose with the “famous” Christmas Eve 7 fishes. She uses her grandmother’s platter in carrying on the Christmas tradition. (I painted the Santa Rose is wearing)
Another favorite of Grandma Minnie’s was her cold broccoli salad, and no one made it better! It’s a simple dish of broccoli, crushed garlic, olive oil, lemon juice, salt, and pepper; and it’s another dish that I never make except at Christmas. I was honored in asked to make it this year to bring to my son’s house; mum’s the word on how I happened to make it this year, and I’m happy to report that I haven’t lost my touch! Today our family celebrates Christmas Eve at my son and daughter-in-law’s home and enjoy all our favorite foods.
Christmas Eve at my son and daughter-in-law’s
The main Christmas Eve meal consists of fish along with the seafood sauce that’s served generously over pasta. My husband has taken over the job of cooking the sauce today, and from the early morning, he begins the process of cleaning the blue crabs, which are the main fish in flavoring the sauce. At the end, he adds shrimp and crab meat picked from the blue crabs; only he would take the time to meticulously pick out the crab meat. He also adds King Crab legs to the sauce but saves them for himself. By the time he’s added all the crab meat picked from the shells, the sauce is thick and flavorful. Just walk into the house after the sauce has been simmering for awhile, and you can’t wait for dinner.
More of a new dish that’s been added later in the years is stuffed shrimp… I make them using crabmeat, Ritz crackers, and melted butter… which turns the mixture into the stuffing. I find the Ritz gives a better flavor than breadcrumbs. It was Grandma Minnie’s daughter, Dolly, who first began making them …and who I learned from.
Want to read more…. Family Recipes and Memories
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