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Christmas dinner takes time and lots of love
Ethel Cummings 012-1
Hinesville resident Ethel Cummings prepares to wash her collard greens two days before Christmas as part of her preparation for a Christmas feast. - photo by Randy C.Murray

Holiday dinners are a labor of love and commonly are regarded as well worth every hour invested in preparation.

In an effort to determine which state’s residents spend the least time in the kitchen whipping up seasonal suppers, food researchers at Del Monte asked 2,500 Americans in the 50 states how long it takes them to prepare Christmas dinner.

Kansas won with only 3.6 hours spent preparing what many consider the most important meal of the year. Georgia and Texas tied for fourth place as the states whose residents take the most time to prepare the yuletide meal — 6-1/2 hours.

Mississippi won with 7.1 hours to prepare the feast that families dream about as they head for grandma’s house. According to the survey, the states taking the longest to prepare Christmas dinner were all Southern states, indicating that in these parts, Christmas dinner is more than turkey and stuffing.

No Southerner looks forward to a bowl of wheat germ and hay stubble. They do, however, think about juicy, glazed ham, roast turkey, roast beef, chicken and dumplings, and seasoned veggies, such as collards, cream-style corn, sweet potato soufflé, green-bean casserole, butter beans, field peas, mashed potatoes and homemade cornbread dressing. Then, of course, there’s dessert — the pies, cakes, puddings, cookies and divinity.

It takes time to cook that. Moreover, it takes a big, warm heart that finds joy in the faces of loved ones as they devour the treats that were tenderly prepared for them.

Liberty County fits right in with the survey’s results concerning Southern states. Local residents George and Babs Holtzman, Melinda Schneider and Ethel Cummings all enjoy planning, preparing and serving decadent and time-consuming holiday dinners.

The Holtzmans scoffed at the notion that 6-1/2 hours is a long time, adding that a lot of the preparation is done before Christmas. Schneider agreed.

“I make the green beans, butter beans, dressing, apple pie and pecan pie on the 24th,” Schneider said. “Christmas Day, I make Waldorf Salad with pistachio pudding mix for my 24-year-old grandson and red Jell-O for our 6-year-old grandson.

“I end up cooking most of the day. Dinner includes turkey, ham, sweet-potato soufflé, rice, gravy and rolls. Yes, it takes seven or eight hours.”

Cummings concurred. Two days before Christmas, she washes her collard greens. She’s lived in Liberty County all 67 years of her life and in that time, she’s prepared a lot of Christmas dinners.

“I’m going to clean my collard greens today,” Cummings said, as she sorted through the large pan of greens on her kitchen counter. “Tomorrow (Christmas Eve), I’ll cook them. I’ll also cook my glazed ham tomorrow, and I’ll cut up my cheese for my macaroni and cheese. And I’ll make my cornbread for my dressing tomorrow.”

Christmas Eve also is when she whips up her sweet-potato pie and other goodies. Her “dump cake” has to wait until the big day because she prefers it hot. This sweet treat consists of cake mix with crushed pineapple, peach pie filling, pecans and butter. It’s a recipe Cummings got from her late mother-in-law.

This year, she’s not cooking a turkey but a large beef roast with all the vegetables — onions, potatoes, carrots and celery. She’s also cooking field peas and speckled butter beans seasoned with smoked neck bones, something she also uses to season her collards.

“It’s just a joy to cook (Christmas dinner),” she said, explaining that her grown children now are returning with their children to her house for this annual feast. “They all come home for Christmas. We usually eat no later than 3 o’clock because we’ll have a late breakfast and won’t bother with eating lunch. … Since I do all my prepping the day before then cook all morning (on Christmas Day), I know I take way more than six hours to prepare my Christmas dinner. But it’s worth it.”

This year’s feast was delayed by one day so her daughter, who lives in Atlanta and had to work Christmas Eve, was be able to join her son, grandchildren and friends at Cummings’ table.

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