Everyone has memories of family meals – the laughter, the arguments, Grandpa falling asleep at the table. For me, our most exciting (annoying, trying, and bonding) meals were Sundays. Sundays meant a roast of beef, Yorkshire pudding, potatoes, and some combination of overcooked and undercooked veggies – like the time a barely cooked brussel sprout shot across the table to avoid the cut of my dull knife, and my mother’s world famous (and disgusting) apple turnip puree, to which a wise cousin once exclaimed “Gerber wouldn’t even make this!”. All of this topped with my step-dad’s infamous gravy – infamous for how much the making of it messed up my mother’s kitchen (the kitchen which he only enters to make one of three things – carrot cake, a peanut butter and banana sandwich and his gravy).
Sunday dinners meant no elbows on the table, sitting up straight, using our knife and fork properly and not using the word “like” too much. Like, OMG that was rough! Sunday dinners also meant guests in the form of cousins, grandparents, aunts, uncles, family friends and of course the perfect opportunity to scrutinize the boyfriend du jour.
The memories from those Sunday dinners are too many to count. The one everlasting memory and a constant for Sunday dinners is the anticipation of the roast beef as it cooked away all afternoon. The smell filled the house and always prompted the question, “how long ‘till dinner?” The answer was always the same, “when it’s done!”
My responsibility for Sunday dinners was (and continues to be even now as a guest) setting the table. Pulling out the good dishes, making sure my brother was an adequate distance away from me and the pièce de resistance, pulling out the carving knife and matching fork. Placing these at the head of the table, it is my step-dad who does the carving. After all the veggie platters and the gravy boat were in place, we sat. The roast would then appear and would be carved right at the table.
It was during this time that only complete silence and the smell of the roast filled the room. All eyes watched as each slice was revealed. The plates filled with beef were passed down to the other end of the table where my mother loaded each plate with potatoes, veggies and of course the famous gravy. It was this trip from one end of the table to the other that was agonizing. Having your hands on a plate that smelled and looked so good only to continue passing it along was sheer torture. Worst was when there were many guests, it took much longer and as children of the hosts, we were served last.
All plates loaded we each waited eagerly to start – sometimes we said grace, sometimes not, sometimes my brother when asked to say grace would simply say, “grace”. This usually would start some sort of disruption. The disruption would end however the moment my mother’s knife cut into her beautiful piece of roast. You see, the moment mom ate we could eat. This was the moment we waited for all Sunday, the moment the smell of something so delicious finally got to be more than a smell, but a taste. To me, the taste of roast beef never disappoints.
Now married, my husband and I are starting our own family meal traditions. Sunday dinners however, remain. Good things happen when meal traditions are part of family life. Yes, there are arguments, but most of the time a great meal is enjoyed with family and friends. Eating Sunday dinner was more than a family tradition though. It has instilled what I believe to be the key to happiness – good food, good friends, good life. Privileged enough to have had this as part of my childhood and smart enough to realize I was privileged, I look forward to continuing this tradition of Sunday dinners (minus the apple turnip puree of course).
Do you have family meal traditions or food rituals? Do you know where they come from? How are they a part of you?
This post was originally published on Cuisine Canada Scene.