In our family, Christmas cooking was territory mainly reserved for the women. Only those of the manly persuasion who bore confidence beyond the garage would dare to enter the hallowed kitchen at holiday time. My Dad was one such warrior.
As a five year old I remember being impressed that my Dad knew how to make popcorn. This was before hot-air poppers and microwave popcorn… real men used oil, kernels, a pot and a stick of butter. Dad also made Sunday morning breakfast to entice us to get out of bed and get ready for church. Every Sunday we were awakened by him yelling up the stairwell, “Breakfast is now being served in the dining car.” This wasn’t donuts from a box or a choice of Rice Krispies, Cheerios or Trix. Dad perfected Mickey Mouse shaped pancakes, Jimmy Dean sausage and scrambled eggs with tiny pieces of bacon mixed in. We knew Dad could handle himself in the kitchen… at least before 9:00 a.m.
It was a surprise to us, however, when Dad decided one holiday that we were going to have figgy pudding… whether we wanted to or not. I think it was so we could sing with meaning, “Now bring us some figgy pudding. Now bring us some figgy pudding. Now bring us some figgy pudding and bring is right here.” Dad had never contributed to the Christmas dessert smorgasbord with the exception of holding the title Chief Taster of Pumpkin Pie. In fact, figgy pudding had never made the holiday menu at our house. Dad figured that we didn’t know what we were missing, and it was time to find out.
Mid-December, Dad searched the web for figgy pudding recipes finally selecting one that contained a few short cuts. There would be no removal of stems from a pound of dried figs at our house. Instead there would be the sound of cellophane being removed from the Fig Newton cookies. The recipe called for a special glass bowl with a plastic seal-able lid. The week before Christmas while most shoppers were gathering last minute gifts, my father was locating and purchasing the exclusive figgy pudding bowl.
Christmas morning was filled with the traditional stocking opening and cinnamon buns. Shortly after the socks were emptied Dad slipped into the kitchen to start preparing his wonder dessert. As the heavenly aroma of molasses, buttermilk and cinnamon filled the air we began singing, “We won’t go until we get some. We won’t go until we get some. We won’t go until we get some, so bring it right here.” Even with short cuts, it was one of those all-day recipes that had the chef glued to the clock most of the day. Personally, I was salivating by the time dessert rolled around, but my three kids were highly unimpressed with the brown goop that Grandpa had concocted.
The final step before we could indulge in the brown delicacy was the beating of the whipped cream to top off the figgy pudding. As Dad jostled the electric hand mixer, our children began pleading to be excused from Grandpa’s figgy pudding. No way. Everyone at the table would be partaking. It was sort of a bloodline requirement.
Much to our amusement, the hand mixer died mid-whip. Smoke escaped from the slits above the power cord and there were no stiff peaks in sight. If the figgy pudding killed the mixer, what will it do to us? We all wondered in silence. The mixer was thrown in the garbage yet the mission continued.
Not to be defeated, Dad put away the dessert plates and retrieved bowls from the cupboard. He scooped the brown chunky, air-pocketed glop and topped each mound with runny, half-beaten whipped cream and served them with glee.
My children are usually quite fearless when trying new delicacies, but I don’t think Grandpa’s figgy pudding was a contender in that category. In turn, each one took a bite and made the most contorted facial expression possible while trying to swallow without chewing. We laughed until tears dripped off our cheeks into the soupy bowls before us.
My husband, who has a stomach of steel, did finish his serving but profusely refused a second helping… over and over again. My mother wasn’t able to stomach her entire bowl of brown goodness, but smiled sweetly as always. Dad and I were the only ones who LOVED the stuff. We were secretly glad that no one else liked it, all the more for us. For the next five days Dad and I sang together with gusto, “Now bring us some figgy pudding and bring it right here,” as we enjoyed his extraordinary holiday dessert.
Thanks, Dad, for that happy Christmas memory!