Hmm Weekly for December 24, 2019

It's Wednesday Eve!

Hmm Weekly for December 24, 2019


Madonnalorian and Child

Hmm Weekly, Holiday Edition

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The Feast of the Two Fishes

THIS THING HAS emerged into the popular consciousness, as part of everyone learning about everybody else's foods and foodways: the Feast of the Seven Fishes. It is an Italian thing, evidently one of those Catholic things whereby a feat of liturgically prescribed privation is turned into an occasion for gluttony — Christmas Day being a great holy feast, the day before it is given over to meatlessness, like a Friday, especially a Lenten Friday, only instead of a Filet-O-Fish the privation takes the form of all the kinds of fish you can eat, piled onto the holiday table.

That's my guess, anyway, because as an Italian-American raised in the Italian-American culinary tradition, I never heard of, let alone ate, any such thing as the Seven Fishes. I am notified about it by the online grocery service but I was never notified about it by my dad. The online grocery service, moreover, says that one of the Fishes is supposed to be baccala. On the subject of baccala, my father diverged entirely from the culture of reverence for authentic foodstuffs: He despised it. Dried salted cod was what you had to eat if you were too poor and too stranded in a foreign country to buy fresh fish. The idea of people paying good money—any money, let alone expensive, imported-food levels of money!—for a slab of baccala was personally insulting to him. We never had the stuff in the house.

As for the other six fishes, we might have had some shrimp on Christmas eve, I think? Or baked flounder. Nothing fancier than an ordinary decent Friday night.

Still the idea sounds appealing. So many fishes! Sometimes, under its spell, I've cooked a few kinds of fish. Within reason: one limit on the appeal of a blowout fish feast on December 24 is that you have to turn around the next day and have Christmas dinner. The leftovers are an obvious problem, as is the plain fridge space, to say nothing of back-to-back days of heavy kitchen work.

But I was thinking about it, as I walked down Broadway toward home, lugging the bags full of the final round of presents. Some sort of fish, anyway. Whatever looked good at the fish counter, maybe, or two kinds of whatevers. If I could get to the fish counter. Another downside here to the concept of the Feast of Seven Fishes is that you need to buy fish fresh, which means everyone else who wants Seven Fishes is also trying to buy them that day, which makes it miserable for all involved. I thought about battling my way to the rear of the store with my bags, freeing a hand long enough to take a number, struggling to even see the fish on ice through the rest of the crowd.

I thought, and then I remembered. I have a can of tuna in the pantry at home. I have a jar of anchovies in the fridge. I have tomatoes. I have, that is, everything I needed to make spaghetti with tuna and anchovies, the way my father made it, which I believe he got from his grandmother, the family's matriarch and font of cooking knowledge. "Spaghetti a la cat food," he called it, when we ate it on Friday nights.

You mince a couple cloves of garlic, and cook them in the oil from the tuna and the anchovies until they're fragrant but not at all brown. Add some anchovies and mash them to paste in the oil. Add the tuna and stir it and cook it and break it up. Add tomatoes. My act of fanciness will be to use fresh tomatoes rather than a can. A small pinch of oregano, crumbled into it. Cook it a little while until it unifies into a sauce. Get back to wrapping presents.


Holiday Supermarket Sweep

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WE PRESENT A selection of recipes for ancient but reproducible sandwiches, found in The Up-To-Date Sandwich Book: 400 Ways to Make a Sandwich, by Eva Greene Fuller; 1909; McClurg and Co., Chicago, now in the public domain for the delectation of all.

Shell and blanch the chestnuts, then boil fifteen minutes; drain and cool, and when cool chop fine. Add an equal quantity of finely chopped celery, moisten with a little French dressing, mix, and put between thin slices of lightly buttered white bread, with a crisp lettuce leaf between.

Boil chestnuts twenty minutes; peel and chop fine, add an equal amount of cooked prunes chopped; moisten with a little cream and place between thin slices of lightly buttered whole wheat bread. Garnish top with a maraschino cherry.

Chop figs and English walnuts fine; moisten with whipped cream; place between thin slices of lightly buttered white bread. Garnish with smilax.

Chop figs fine, adding enough water to make a smooth paste, and cook slowly until of a consistency to spread. Flavor with a little orange juice or grated candied orange peel. Chop one-half cup of English walnuts fine, add to the fig paste filling. Place between thin slices of white or brown bread lightly buttered, cut in fanciful shapes.

Take two tablespoonfuls of sweetened chocolate, mix with a little water and heat to a thick paste; chop fine a half-pint of English walnuts or hickory nuts, stir the chocolate paste when cooling, add the nuts, and spread thinly on narrow wafers. Let harden, then press the two wafers together.

CANNIBAL SANDWICH Chop raw beef and onions very fine, season with salt and pepper, and spread on lightly buttered brown bread.

If you make one of these sandwiches, before you eat it, please send a picture to

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