It’s almost here!! The most remarkable, staggeringly wonderful, magical day of the entire 365 day year!!! Christmas day was the ONE day Mama threw caution to the wind and woe to the person who even remotely thought about possibly admonishing her on frugality. Mama was financially cautious and squeezed her dollars until the eagle screamed all year long but at Christmas…au contraire, mon frere!!! She let Daddy know from the get go that she wanted pure, starry-eyed enchantment and delight from her children Christmas morning. And tradition reigned. We had unwritten rules. The morning of the 25th of December we were absolutely NOT allowed out of our rooms until we had been called. The east side of the house was the children’s side. Tommy and Pamela shared a room when they were little and Cynthia and I also shared a bedroom. Our rooms were connected by a bathroom so at six or seven every Christmas morning those babies were up and scrambling with excitement. My little brother and sister would make a beeline to “the big girls” bedroom and hurl themselves at us, sleep time clearly over. On Christmas Eve Santa Claus’ elves had always left pajamas for us on our beds and Tommy and Pamela would be skidding around on the terrazzo floors in their new footies, the anticipation and eagerness growing to a fevered pitch.
Needless to say, there was quite a bit of bed jumping that morning! Cynthia and I would be languishing in our Lanz of Salzburg flannel nightgowns trying to look as sophisticated and glamorous as we could for that six-year-old boy and that five-year old girl! But don’t kid yourself, we were getting excited, too! The week before Christmas Daddy would invite Cynthia and me to come into the store, his women’s clothing store, and pick out a few outfits. Shoes, belts, scarves AND purses were included in those outfits. You just didn’t know which dream outfits you were going to get! But that morning, Christmas morning, was something else, just so over the top. After some time we, the kids, would start getting hungry and cranky, when all of a sudden we would hear carols playing on the hi-fi… that meant Mama had her coffee and any moment the door to our room, Cynthia and my room, would open just a crack and Dad would utter the most wonderful words. “I’m sorry, kids. Santa just couldn’t make it!” With a chorus of “Awww, Daddy!!” we would barrel threw the door and there would be the most beautiful, giant tree on the planet, or at least in the neighborhood, with mountains and mountains of boxes and packages heaped fifteen, sixteen deep around the tree! We were always stunned and it always took our breath away. People, you need to know our parents always gave us everything we needed, needed being the operative word. Other kids had candy money…not us. My parents said, “You don’t need any money. You’ll just get in trouble.” Everybody had pocket money. But not us. So to see that lavishness, that overabundance…WELL! We just couldn’t believe it. And Mama did it year after year. Again, there were rules. When we first came out we could only open our stockings. Chocolates and tangerines. Sometimes a beautiful little ring. In later years nail files and lip gloss. Then we had to be seated for a formal breakfast at the dining room table. “Daddy, could you please pass the burned, whole wheat, Roman Meal, brown bread toast that nobody BUT NOBODY has to eat except the Wattleys? Gosh, thank you!” Then we all had to bathe and go to MASS. Yes. MASS. It was pure torture. But it was our tradition and we knew the edict. We would race home after Mass, change our clothes and wait until we were told that Daddy would now hand out our presents one at a time. It never, EVER occurred to us to grab random presents and rip open the paper. Oh, good Lord, no. No, we all patiently waited while one present at a time would be opened and we gave the recipient our undivided attention. We still laugh now at how the other children in the neighborhood would be racing up and down the street on their new bikes with metallic banana seats or skates and in later years their brand new shiny cars or boats but the Wattleys were STILL inside opening gifts! At three o’clock in the afternoon!
Was it worth the wait? Oh. Hell. Yeah. Dolls and tea sets from France. Model airplane kits from Germany. Typewriters from Italy. Mazes from Sweden. And bikes from England. And books! Oh, the books!! Beautifully bound sets of Alice in Wonderland, Winnie the Pooh and The World of Christopher Robin or The Story of Dr. Doolittle and The Secret Garden. Volumes and volumes of poetry or artwork. We were rich with the gifts of print and our parent’s complete love! Happy, happy Christmas everyone!
This spicy, savory pie was inspiration from my grandfather, Grandpa, (pronounced Gran-puh). His family helped found the island of St. Kitts and he spent quite a bit of time there. He developed a love for fine rum and spirits some which could only be had in the West Indies. For this pie high quality canned crab meat is just fine to use. And if you wish to use grocery store pie crust that’s okay, too. I just feel if you’re going to drop some cash on crab you should have the best crust available and for me that would be home made. The Scotch Bonnet and cayenne peppers make the pie spicy which we love but if you can’t do heat leave one or both out. But do add the brandy…it really makes the pie stellar!
West Indian Christmas Crab Pie
yield: 1 deep dish pie, 8 slices
- 1 pie crust in a deep dish pie pan
- 1 stick of butter
- 1 large onion, finely chopped
- 4-6 ribs of celery, washed and finely chopped
- 1 tablespoon of dried thyme
- 1 tablespoon of cayenne, (optional)
- 1 large scotch bonnet pepper finely minced, (optional)
- 1 8-oz. block cream cheese at room temperature
- 1 8-ounce bag shredded Monterey Jack or Cheddar cheese
- 1/4 cup Benedict & Brandy, the brandy of your choice or rum
- 2 eggs, well beaten
- 1 1/2 pounds white lump crab
- In large skillet melt butter over medium-low heat.
- Add onion and cook until soft, 3 or 4 minutes.
- Add celery and, again, cook until soft and clear, 3-4 minutes, stirring well.
- Add thyme, cayenne, scotch bonnet, mix wel and remove from heat.
- Add cream cheese, breaking up with the back of a spoon, and brandy or rum and stir well. You don’t want any cream cheese lumps.
- Add shredded cheese and mix well.
- Stir in beaten eggs.
- Gently fold in crab, try to keep lumps intact.
- Pour into prepared pie shell, smooth top and bake at 350° for approximately 40 minutes or until golden on top.