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The Christmas Eve Squid Test


By Ann Favreau


Christmas Eve was my father’s time to show his culinary expertise. Growing up in an Italian household, the night before Christmas was one in which many Catholics did not eat meat. Instead they served seven fishes. Although Dad didn’t adhere strictly to that number, he made it a meatless meal. It always started with shrimp cocktail served in beautiful glasses that came in two pieces. The bottom held crushed ice; the top, shredded lettuce with the large shrimp carefully placed on the rim and a slim wedge of lemon. The spicy cocktail sauce was passed.


Although baccala, dried cod fish, was prepared in many households, my father didn’t care for it, so it didn’t appear on our holiday menu. Instead, mussels were opened, topped with finely chopped fresh garlic, Italian parsley and a bit of olive oil and cooked under the broiler. Italian bread was available to sop up all the tasty juices. 


Preparing the squid was a chore, but one I loved. First, the tentacles were separated from the body and set aside. These would be lightly cooked in spaghetti sauce and served over linguine. The body of the squid had to be cleaned, and the hard gelatinous membrane removed. My father then mixed ground Ritz crackers, finely chopped green olives and a bit of water for the filling. Sometimes he used a pastry bag but more often than not, it was just a teaspoon and fingers that filled the squid tubes. These were placed in a pan with tomato sauce and baked for a short time until the squid was cooked.

To cleanse the palate between courses, he often made a salad of greens topped with cold octopus salad.


The finale of the meal was baked stuffed lobster. I can still see my father, with a large chef knife and hammer, bent over the belly of a live lobster. He raised the hammer, hit the knife and split the lobster, careful not to cut it in half. Then my mother extracted the tamale and placed it in a sauce pan. When all the lobsters had been opened, they were placed in a large baking pan. The tamale and butter was  cooked for a short time until it turned from green to red. Then ground Ritz Crackers and chopped green olives were added with more butter and a bit of water and cooked until the stuffing came together. This was mounded into the lobsters and then they were baked to perfection.


 Since my sister, brother, and I grew up with this feast, it was part of our tradition. However, when young men came courting, they were put to the squid test. We never told them ahead of time about the meal. They loved the shrimp cocktail. Then my mother served the linguine and made sure that some tentacles were on the top of their dish. We all watched the reaction. My future husband passed the test. He loved not only the tentacles but the stuffed squid, as well. My sister’s intended balked at the squid and asked for only the pasta. Their marriage ended in divorce. Was the squid test an indication of a happy union? 


After my father passed away, my husband and I took on the responsibility of preparing the meal. Our children grew up enjoying this unusual fare. We even put our future sons-in-law to the squid test. Now that we are in Florida and our family is in Massachusetts, my daughters have continued the tradition with their siblings and families. They gather together on Christmas Eve to enjoy the feast and remember those memorable meals prepared by their grandfather.


 

* Ann Favreau is a retired educator who lives in Venice, FL. She published Lap Games for Little Ones, the Healing Circle and Window Eyes which is available on amazon.com. She is a member of the Florida Writers Association and the Suncoast Writers Guild of Englewood, FL.  Her prose and poetry has been published in national and online magazines.



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