I rang in the New Year supping on a dish of oyster stew soup and sharing an apple cider toast with my mother in the kitchen of a Lancaster County farmhouse. When Mama and I sneaked in from the airport, the house was dark and breathing a little heavy what with the guest rooms all thrown open, the hide-a-bed in the living room pulled out, the children’s cots set up around their parents’ bed. We raided the fridge for festive leftovers, and a stellar rendition of the Weaver family oyster stew was the very best thing I could imagine after airline cookies and bottled water (fertile territory for the gustatory imagination).
This morning, then, we all bundled into the car and set our for Aunt Pearl’s. Every year for fifty years, Aunt Pearl has hosted the New Year’s Day Feast. The menu is as stable and fundamental as the best of traditions, from the shrimp and mulled cider appetizers to the ham, baked corn, peas with pearl onions, pineapple casserole, baked potatoes with sour cream, and feathery buttery crescent rolls. (This menu has long since become a litany; the sort of thing we’d chant to each other on the drive over, always finishing with the chocolate-covered pretzels. Oh, and butterscotch pudding and cheesecake and candied pecans). It’s a long dinner, with a break in the middle for walks and speed scrabble, and ham sandwiches before everyone departs. Precisely the sort of thing to make everyone agree that New Year’s resolutions don’t take effect till the second day of January.