By Catherine Pritchard
‘Tis the approach of the holidays and a most festive mood,
And many of us are having visions of… food.
Special meals, dishes and treats are usually inextricable parts of winter holidays, whichever holiday it is that you celebrate.
You can find the same dishes on many tables at this time of year – turkey, for example, and ham. Cranberry sauce and mashed potatoes. Pumpkin pie and sugar cookies.
But there’s also lots of variety out there and maybe you’d like a taste, even if it’s just vicariously.
Below, several local people talk about the special dishes they serve at the holidays.
If you’re lucky enough to go to Samuel and Alicia Glover’s house for a holiday meal, you will not go wanting for things to eat.
There’s a long lineup of meats, including grilled lamb that Samuel has marinated overnight in yogurt and cumin. There’s also fried turkey and smoked ham. And there’s roasted venison – usually from a deer the couple hunted themselves.
“It’s always important for us to have something we’ve harvested ourselves,” Alicia said.
Other dishes include collard greens and Charleston red rice, which Alicia makes with a tomato sauce, bacon, onion, celery and sometimes smoked sausage.
Samuel loves to grill. He handles the meat preparation. Alicia does most everything else.
“We have a good division of labor,” she said.
Family and friends feast with the Fayetteville residents at Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Then there’s the delicious aftermath: “We have good leftovers.”
Nor will you go hungry at Marcia Gamet’s home in Hope Mills.
“I’m of Polish descent,” she said. “We do a 13-course dinner on Christmas Eve, all meatless.”
Called the wigilia, the meal is a Polish tradition going back hundreds of years.
It starts with the sharing of the oplatek, a thin unleavened wafer symbolizing the bread eaten each day. Gamet said the oldest person at the table breaks off the first piece of the oplatek, then gives the wafer to the next oldest person while expressing some good wish to him or her for the coming year.
Later courses include pierogies, picked herring and other traditional Polish dishes. As a nod to kids at the table, there are also courses of French fries and macaroni and cheese.
Dessert is kolackies – Polish cream cheese cookies with fruit filling.
Gamet said newcomers to the wigilia are warned to pace themselves because everyone is supposed to eat at least a little of every course.
The wigilia usually starts around 4 and goes to 8 or so.
“It’s a lot of work,” Gamet said. But it’s worth it: “It’s a wonderful tradition.”
Turkey and the fixings are the usual tasty fare at holiday meals at Wilbert and Mary Lou Faircloth’s house in Clinton.
Most guests are extremely partial to Mary Lou’s rum cake, the traditional holiday dessert at the Faircloth home.
But the couple’s daughters always clamored for something else – a layered salad.
It always tickled Mary Lou, that her children craved something with vegetables, not sugar.
The salad – layers of lettuce, spinach, green peas, cheese, bacon bits, a mix of sour cream and ranch dressing, with red onions, black olives and diced tomatoes occasionally added in – remains popular with the couple’s grandchildren.
“It’s nice,” Mary Lou said, “because you can make it ahead of time.”
Trevor and Dalia Swaby of Fayetteville always incorporate dishes from their native land of Jamaica into their holiday meals.
They might serve a whole fried red snapper complete with eyeballs, jerk chicken, oxtails, curry and rice with pigeon peas. Dalia said pigeon peas are like black-eyed peas but smaller. She cooks the peas, then adds coconut milk, scallions and thyme. She then adds steamed white rice until the liquid is absorbed.
Drinks include “sorrel,” a spicy, fruity mixture made with dried hibiscus, known in Jamaica as sorrel.
And then there’s the piece de resistance – black cake.
A traditional holiday dish throughout the English-speaking Caribbean, black cakes contain rum-soaked fruit, brown sugar and a bittersweet caramel called browning. Dalia said she starts steeping the prunes, raisins and orange peel she’ll use in her black cakes in a mix of rum and wine at least three months out.
More rum gets poured on top of the black cake after it’s baked – and again throughout its life if it seems to be drying out.
A New York Times article said black cakes are to American fruitcakes “as dark chocolate is to milk chocolate – darker, deeper and altogether more absorbing.”
“It’s really, really delicious,” Dalia said.
Wilma Ritter of Fayetteville says holiday meals aren’t right if they don’t include a sweet potato casserole where the sweet potatoes have been all mashed up and made light and fluffy.
Pecan pie should also be served but she now buys those, from Cracker Barrel, instead of making them.
She still does plenty of holiday baking. Chocolate is always in the mix.
She discovered her most popular treat about 10 years ago while testing a recipe that came with butter-flavored Crisco. Called Holiday Hideaways or Hidden Treasures, they’re ball-shaped white cookies coated in chocolate with a maraschino cherry at their center.
The cookies became a hit with her family and friends and have since become a tradition in Wilma’s holiday kitchen.
“They all have to have it,” she said. “I make like 400 every Christmas. Those are the best.”
Wilma said food is an important part of the season.
“The smell of food in the house,” she said, “it just brings the holidays.”