Christmas Dinner. Just those words evoke images of red and green table cloths, sparkling china (the best) and candles amidst greenery at the centerpiece. Maybe a turkey, ham or prime rib roast with all the trimmings as the main course.
What about on Alderspring?
This year we had Christmas dinner at our older friends, Gordon and Auntie Em on their spread up the Lemhi Valley. Their house is a very cozy log home, handcrafted some 40 years ago by Gordon himself. It is an octagonal home built of local lodgepole pine and weathered boards salvaged from an old gold mine in the nearby mountains. The floor is paved with multicolored flagstones gathered by Gordon all over the adjacent mountains. A wood fire’s heat permeated the house, overwhelming the zero degree chill trying to creep in from outside.
It was in this setting that we sat down to dinner. Auntie Em always takes great care to make us very comfortable while setting us down to a beautifully placed table.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
It really all started the night before when I pulled a 7 lb beef brisket that we raised out of its vacuum pack and introduced it to the world. Auntie Em had a huge steel pan that looked as if it was made for brisket. I plopped it in there, and then we looked at it.
“What now?” Asked Em. “Any water?”
Caryl thought we should add some. “No more than half the height of the beef.”
I agreed. Otherwise we would end up with boiled beef. I had barbeque ideas. Not barbeque sauce type like in Aisle 6 of Wal-Mart, but ‘Cue Joint ‘BB Cue. The real live smokin’ Joe southern backwoods ‘Cue Joint brisket, with the bark on.
Auntie Em pushed us over that edge. “How ‘bout some dill pickle juice?”
Now this wasn’t ordinary pickle juice. Auntie Em and my girls made these pickles last August from home grown and picked spices, dill and cukes. And garlic. This juice was the real dilly garlic deal. And not some cheesy white vinegar, either. Pure apple cider. Just one step down from apple jack.
So in went the Mason jar of juice and up went the oven and in went the brisket. No lid. Five hundred degrees. Nine-thirty-five PM. After it browned nicely, Em popped the lid on and turned the oven down to 200 and said nighty-night. And then Caryl and I and 7 girls wandered off in the cold along the candlelit trail through the aspen grove to the Honeymoon Cabin for a wonderful nights rest.
Next morning around 11 AM, Caryl, Em and I couldn’t stand it: we had to look. It was beautiful; nicely browned. I poured about ¾ of the liquid off for gravy. I pulled the lid off and poured the sauce all over the brisket: ground tomatoes, garlic, sea salt, olive oil, oregano, basil, and black pepper. Caryl came in with the honey and put enough on it that it began to drip off into the water. Then in again, now up to 350, until the top was well browned and the bark was set.
I checked again in about an hour. Very dark brown; time to put the lid on and turn the oven down…this makes a nice chewy bark (but edible)—otherwise, it dries out too much.
One P.M.. The table is set. All the trimmings are ready. Red spuds and cole slaw from their own root cellar (slaw made with thick cream, not mayo), beets (grown by Em), an assortment of homemade pickles (including a nice hot pickled pepper, glowing redder and greener than they did on the vine), fruit salad, corn muffins (gluten-free by daughter Binner).
The brisket comes out. I slice it. All the fat and collagen is broken down nicely. A very nice sweet and sour bark graces the fall-to pieces beef. I know already while sampling it that it will be hard to quit at just seconds. There will be much grazing…
And the sauce that Caryl makes even makes it better. And the cole slaw, well, lets just say that I found myself in a Christmas ‘cue joint of dreams…
Back to reality. The major problem now at hand was that I knew I had to stop grazing the BBQ and save room for Binner’s cheesecake (nice and dry and flaky and handcrafted from scratch) and Auntie Em’s garden raspberry pie (no sugar or filler—just raspberries, whip cream and a wonderful flaky crust).
Thank God for time, cause there was just enough. I had room.
Complemented with a nice strong pressed cup of coffee, I think it was time to nap while the kids went sledding. They did and I did.
And I picked the guest room in the octagon house-a little cooler, and a nice firm bed. I pulled a wonderful hand-knitted afgan over me and drifted off to the sound of the kids outside in the snow, where the sun was casting long shadows on the waning day.