Written by Rachel Pyke // @pykiie
Illustrated by Ellie Bassford // @lovefromeleanor_
One Christmas, all I ate was mashed potato.
The table was piled high with food. All the classics were there, the turkey with all her trimmings, a large juicy ham, roasted vegetables, stuffing and sides aplenty, including the mandatory but universally hated brussels sprouts. It was a veritable feast. But all I wanted and cared about was the mashed potatoes.
The meat had been ordered mid-September as soon as the local butchers released their Christmas range. My grandad has the brochure delivered annually and its arrival is the catalyst that starts my family’s Christmas planning. The WhatsApp is sent out and calls are made, and a location is picked to gather. December always feels like a distant time that will never come as the notification pings on the sunny September day. But as the leaves start to turn a vibrant orange, the dried fruit and brandy get fished out of the back cupboard, and the house is filled with the smell of cinnamon and nutmeg the call of Christmas feels more like putting on a well-loved hand me down knitted sweater.
The next sign comes when the freezer starts to pile high tubs with frozen carrot and orange soup ready for starter on Christmas day and probably for lunch multiple days that week. This is not long followed by the stockpiling of drinks, so many bottles of wine and fizzy juice. Seeing it all lined up in the garage does make me wonder if we are a family of alcoholics or if this is what everyone’s garage looks like during December.
Then come the calls of requests from the family - “oh you know the chocolate log you made last year - pleeeease could you make that again” “and you neeeeeed to make those biscuits” “your cousin is vegetarian now - do you remember the nut loaf recipe you mentioned”. Suddenly the normally quiet kitchen is a hive of activity, the kitchen scales are pulled out and clouds of icing sugar hang thick in the air.
My ultimate festive guilty pleasure comes when restaurants release their Christmas set menus and I just love trawling through them searching for the perfect combination of starter, main and dessert. I send through some key highlights to my friend - we have a lively discussion on whether starter and main is better than main and dessert.
By the time the family arrives on Christmas eve, there is so much food, I wonder if we are feeding just our family or a small village. Every meal is an occasion over the next few days and hours are spent sitting around the dinner table and sharing stories. This is the only time our now grown-up family returns from their far-flung corners of the world. The table of food is packed because every single person has their favourites on the table. The seven different options for dessert demonstrate that perfectly - the trifle for my grandad, the tiramisu for my brother, all gluten-free for my auntie and cousin. Every dish on the table has been made and chosen with so much love and intention.
So when I sat eating my mashed potato, I knew it had gained its place on the table despite the potato roasties, the potato dauphinoise and the potato croquettes. It was there because everyone knows I love them so they had made them just for me.