According to tradition, the 4 calling birds symbolise the 4 gospels in the bible. If your wondering just what a calling bird is apparently we originally sang 4 collie birds which is an old word for a blackbird.
It is traditional to have much larger bird on the Christmas table roasted and decorated as the centre piece of the Christmas feast. For most of us that means turkey, but others across the world that may be a chicken, goose or duck or other meats and even vegetable dishes. Some families even indulge in a separate roast of beef or pork, served alongside the turkey!
Apparently Henry VIII was the first monarch to enjoy turkey on Christmas Day but it only took over as a tradition in the UK in the 1950’s. Up until then, turkeys were seen as luxury item and geese, pheasants and swans found their way onto the Christmas table more commonly. Last year, 10 million turkeys were consumed in the UK and 76% of families tucked into one. We have come a long way since Dickens’ Bob Cratchit was famously gifted an enormous turkey by Scrooge!
Turkey and geese are both perceived as healthy meats, ideal for lowering cholesterol, a great source of zinc, potassium and phosphorous and selenium which we need for thyroid metabolism and immune function. `Something else these meats have in common is the abundance of amino acid tryptophan which is a precursor to melatonin which could explain your post meal nap (and you thought that was the Christmas tipple!)
A survey has shown that in the UK the average age when women tackle their first Christmas lunch is 34!
The Christmas roast is one of those things we can stress over. Here are a few tips to get us through the meal with your questions answered.
Will the bird be fully cooked?
This is one I used to stress over! One way to check is to put a sharp knife between the breast and the leg and see if the juices are at all pink. If they are, pop it straight back in the oven until the juices run clear. Leave the bird to rest for half an hour outside of the oven before serving which gives you time to make your gravy. If like us you don’t have a double oven it’s perfectly fine (and actually makes the bird taste better) to leave it to rest even longer. Just cover it with some parchment and a couple of tea towels to keep it warm. That way the oven is free for roast potatoes/parsnips, Yorkshire puddings, stuffing etc. It’s much less stressful knowing the turkey is cooked and then you don’t have to panic about everything being ready together. If you are nervous about cooking a roast, a meat thermometer is very useful to ensure the joint or bird is cooked through.
NOTE: If you buy an organic free range turkey it will cook much quicker than a conventional turkey. This is because it hasn’t been pumped full of water and the birds have developed more muscle by roaming about freely. Nigella’s timings are a good guide. https://www.nigella.com/latest/talking-turkey
What if a family member is gluten free?
Most of the supermarkets have GF sausages and chippolatas at this time of year. Just ask the staff. If in doubt head to Marks and Spencer where they have a huge selection of Gluten Free options. Everything from sausage meat to gravy to Christmas pudding! There is no need to buy separate food as it would be impossible to tell the difference between them. Just give everyone the same sausages etc. If you are making home made gravy from the juices just use corn flour in a little cold water to thicken the sauce. As my Nan sued to do, a teaspoon of cornflour with a little water and mix well to a paste (no lumps!) then pour into your turkey stock in a small pan and beat with a whisk until thickened. Yum! (If you aren't comfortable making your own, all of the M&S gravies are gluten free anyway so problem solved!
How can I make sprouts more appealing?
Roasting sprouts in the oven drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with sea salt is a great way to make them more appetizing. You could also try them pan fried with some diced pancetta or streaky bacon. It’s surprising how different they taste when roasted instead of steamed (or worse boiled!). I just had a flash back to the Vicar of Dibley and Geraldine munching her way through plate after plate of sprouts as she finds herself in the awkward situation of several invitations to Christmas dinner!
Can I really get it all to the table while it’s hot?
Yes! Leave your turkey to rest to free up space and then just work out your timings for everything else. If using serving dishes you can fill these with hot water to warm them up before tipping it out and decanting the veg. If all else fails there is nothing that piping hot gravy can’t rescue so don’t panic and just enjoy your dinner. 😊
Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Things will go much more smoothly if you delegate a few jobs. I’m sure you could get someone to peel the potatoes and parsnips while you do something else.
Finally, did you know that your Christmas roast dinner is probably one of the healthiest meals of the year? All those veg!! Just as important from a health point of view is that it's one day of the year, even us Brits linger at the table and enjoy a leisurely meal with loved ones and drink a toast to absent friends.
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