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Locals Share Holiday Food Memories

By Patricia B. Mitchell, 1990.

“We stored fresh oysters ordered from Duluth on ice cut from our horse and cattle troughs,” Mrs. Julia Folkers of Chatham remembers in describing her childhood Christmases in Minnesota. “On Christmas Eve we ate oyster stew.… I was born in 1902 so in our area at that time we had none of the elaborate extras people have today. Jesus' birth was central.”

Christmas dinner table

In a written survey a number of local [south central Virginia] residents responded to questions about how they celebrated Christmas as they grew up. Many of the answers involve food.

Susan Worley, (Chatham, Virginia) Star-Tribune reporter, recalls a typical Pittsylvania County Christmas breakfast of bacon, eggs, rolls, and stewed and fried oysters. Danville resident Lucile Green, who grew up in North Carolina and Georgia, gave this Yule breakfast manu: Sally Lunn, scrambled eggs, ham, and scalloped oysters. Mary Reynolds, raised in the Callands (Virginia) community, always had oyster stew at Christmas breakfast, then went on to enjoy oysters, turkey, ham, vegetables, pies and coconut cake at the noon meal.

Many Pittsylvania (County, Virginia) people have traditionally enjoyed potato salad at the holiday dinner table. Evangeline Jones of Danville lists potato salad, ham, turkey, greens, and chitterlings as part of her family's Yule feast.

Mary Ellen Mormann, a Chatham area native, recalls a meal for 15 to 20 visiting relatives in addition to her own family. Mashed potatoes, baked sweet potatoes, cornbread stuffing and baked chicken, ham, string beans, peas, pickled beets and peaches, fresh coconut cake and sugar cookies filled the tummies.

While Virginians were eating that sort of food, Margot Mayhew of Gretna, a native of Germany, was enjoying roast goose, potato dumplings, red cabbage, gravy, and canned cherries and pears. Margot says that she associates the smells of “spruce, candles, and good food — usually a goose” with Christmas.

Reba and John Beaver, and their daughter Patricia B. Mitchell

Pittsylvania County's head librarian Marty Bruning grew up in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Her favorite Christmas foods were mince pie, stollen, eggnog, and Christmas cookies.

Arnold Hendrix, city editor of the [Danville, Virginia] Register and Bee, reminisces about his Mocksville, North Carolina Christmases, remembering the cedar tree festooned with popcorn strings, the “tremendous anticipation and excitement” about gifts from Santa and family members. Arnold's dinner included ham, barbecue, homemade yeast rolls, mashed potatoes, gravy, and cooked dried beans.

Pittsylvania County schoolteacher Ron Smith recalls his Tidewater Christmases and especially pumpkin pie. He always put out a snack of sugar cookies and milk for Santa.

The most popular Christmas dessert locally seems to have been coconut cake. Fruit cake was part of many a menu, too. Numerous area people recall how special citrus fruits were at Christmas. Oranges stuffed in stockings were a welcome treat.

Christmas dinner table

Frances Hurt, originally from Texas but a long-time Pittsylvania County resident, connects the smells of oranges and roasting turkey with Christmas. Herman Melton, another Texas transplant, remarks that the aroma of cedar always reminds him of Christmas. Herman also left Santa a snack — brownies.

Chatham native Mary Ruth Edwards gives her Great-grandmother Gammon's typical Christmas menu: turkey, dressing, ham, string beans, corn pudding, lima beans, pickles, celery, cranberries, hot corn bread and biscuits, fresh fruit salad, and coconut cake, chocolate cake, and beverages. And what was Mary Ruth's favorite Christmas gift? A doll trunk full of chocolate candy!

Oh, the meritorious joys and merry calories of Christmas!