For months, we’ve known that Christmas was going to be different in 2020.
I like a challenge. How can we adapt and thrive, remembering how life was and celebrating how life is going to be?
Typically, we gather around the trimmed tree at my parents’ house, with food and family all around. We usually decide on a main course about a month before the holiday, then choose sides to match it.
About five years ago, my dad built a truss big enough to hold two birds over a roaring fire. The birds rotated on strings, crisping to a rich golden brown, while we prepared the year’s harvest. We had saved green beans in the freezer and potatoes in dry storage. We had managed to keep just enough spinach alive in the greenhouse. We roasted hardy winter squash and finished it simply, with a sprinkle of salt. The last of our grape jelly paired with chili sauce to make classic cocktail meatballs, and the kids ate their way to the bottom of a bowl of preserved apples. Another year, we feasted on côte de boeuf with rosemary roasted potatoes, and super-sweet winter carrots glazed with the last of our maple syrup. Another, I deboned a leg of lamb, unrolled the muscle, and coated it in an herb-garlic paste before rolling it back up, tying it with twine, and roasting it all afternoon.
Those meals share a common theme: We save the best for last and go all out to showcase how special it is. This year, we’ll do the same. We’re just changing a few details. The venue will shift from my childhood home to the steel shed at our farm. My dad has been hard at work outfitting it for a pandemic holiday. Heat lamps, propane-powered heaters, and plenty of air circulation will help us stay safe and warm behind our masks.
Those meals share a common theme: We save the best for last and go all out to showcase how special it is. This year, we’ll do the same. We’re just changing a few details.
With all the extra preparation and the other issues we’ve had to tackle this year, we haven’t settled on a menu at the time I’m writing this. I have a main course planned, though. Our dry house has been a major source of inspiration this year. (Click to read about our farm liqueurs and our seasoned salts.) I’ll coat a lamb shoulder in salt and our honey and put it into our biggest pot. Then I’ll pack in dry house herbs, flowers, and leaves, including lemongrass, ginger, lemon verbena, lemon thyme, oregano, and citrus marigold, which will perfume the cavities and permeate the meat as it cooks.
I’ll slow-roast the lamb—at about 225 degrees—for four hours or so before removing it from the oven and lifting the lid, taking in the aroma before I take out the herbs and crank the oven up to 500.
The lamb should be thoroughly cooked by then, but I still want the outside lacquered with flavor. While the oven is heating, I’m going to drizzle some of my perpetual vinegar—infused with months of garden harvests, most recently lovage, fennel, and anise flower—over the meat. With my basting spoon in hand, I’ll put the flame-colored pot back in the oven and baste for ten or fifteen minutes, or until I get the rich, caramelized, holiday-roast color that I’m looking for.
Since we’ll be mostly outside this year, I might stuff a pumpkin with hay and roast it in the fire, letting smoke surround and infuse the skin. While it cooks, I’ll sizzle chopped dried chilies and smoked garlic in oil until the mixture is toasty and crisp, giving me another layer of smoky flavor to spoon over the roast squash.
The smoke still lingers as I think about dessert. How about a lightly smoked vanilla ice cream, flavored with just a hint of vanilla, to end the meal? I’ll reach back to late spring, when I harvested the tiniest immature pinecones in our woods and cooked them for hours in honey and vinegar until they were soft, like caramel. The preserved cones have been sitting in their forest-infused syrup for more than six months. Spooned over ice cream, they’ll top off the holiday, offering a memory of last spring and hope for the next. And that hope is the most important part of Christmas on The Farm.