Christmas in Connecticut: The Sequel (2022)
By Amy White
In the movie Christmas in Connecticut (1945), America’s favorite food columnist Elizabeth Lane (played by Barbara Stanwyck) is forced by her magazine’s owner to prepare Christmas dinner at her Connecticut farm for a sailor who has famously been rescued after being shipwrecked for 18 days. The problem? Her Diary of a Housewife column is pure fiction. Lane isn’t married. She doesn’t live in Connecticut. And she doesn’t even know how to cook. The farm she describes belongs to a friend, and her recipes come from the owner of the Hungarian restaurant around the corner from her New York City apartment.
While the film never depicts the dinner itself, the camera zooms in on the page in the magazine with the published menu. It includes such classic holiday fare as bouillon, roast goose, candied sweet potatoes and plum pudding. Lane will (supposedly) serve these delights on Christmas Day at the idyllic Connecticut farmhouse—white picket fence and horse-drawn sleigh included. In fact, Lane’s holiday column starts thus: “From my living room window as I write, I can look out across the broad front lawns of our farm, like a lovely picture postcard of wintry New England. In my fireplace, the good cedar logs are burning and crackling.”
This festive fantasy is quite appealing, especially for those who love the holidays and for born-and-bred New Englanders. But most of us can’t imagine serving a teacup of bouillon to guests on any holiday. Instead, let us take Elizabeth Lane’s traditional, old-fashioned menu and, with the help of some of the state’s hospitality industry innovators, keep what’s classic, put a twist on the rest, pair it with Connecticut’s hottest liquor and end up with Christmas in Connecticut: The Sequel (2022).
Our meal’s starter will be far better than bouillon with the French onion soup recipe from The Charles. For those not in the know, this riff on the iconic soup is the signature dish at the gorgeous restaurant that Bryce and Kerri Hardy opened in the spring of 2020 in a historic building in Old Wethersfield. It has been earning accolades ever since.
“We do comfort food with twists, spins and really make it playful,” Chef Tom Kaldy describes. “That’s how we approach things. We don’t even take ourselves too seriously. It’s nice doing classics, but when you get to reconfigure and reimagine things, it’s a lot of fun. It reaches more people, and you get to see people’s faces, when the dish is hitting that place in their memory and they’re really enjoying it.”
For the Connecticut holiday table’s centerpiece, it doesn’t get much more traditional than a roast goose. Chef Ben Dubow is the executive director of Forge City Works in Hartford, which runs The Kitchen café. The mission of Forge City Works is to provide job training, particularly to people who have barriers to employment, and food access through sustainable social enterprises, thus empowering people to improve their lives. The Kitchen offers full-service catering, including holiday meals. When dining at, or ordering catering through, The Kitchen, we help underwrite Forge City Works programs.
“Goose has more flavor than turkey and presents some of the same challenges as duck—you have to render out the fat to get a crisp bird. Similar to duck, you can—and should—cook it medium rare, and never past medium,” Chef Dubow says as he gives us his take on the classic roast goose with a honey glaze infused with Chinese five-spice. He recommends buying the goose locally or ordering it through an online specialty shop such as D’Artagnan. Ms. Lane, or her hired chef, would probably agree on his take of this classic.
Sides make the meal, but instead of those tired candied sweet potatoes we had at Thanksgiving, try honeynut squash agnolotti, also from The Charles. Chef Kaldy roasts Connecticut-grown honeynut squash and sweet potatoes, turns them into a silky filling, stuffs the filling into pasta, and creates little pasta pillows perfect for our favorite sauces—such as brown butter.
Bryce Hardy encourages home cooks to bring the whole family, kids included, into the kitchen to prepare this recipe as a fun holiday activity. And if that’s not in the cards, visit The Charles. As Hardy says, “We are the place for the holidays. We do a lot of decorations, not over the top at all, but we are the quintessential New England holiday restaurant with green garlands and white lights on the door and on the mantles of our three fireplaces and trees in every room. We are the place to go for your office party, family dinner, whatever you need to celebrate the holidays.”
It’s not a holiday meal without something sweet at the end. For those familiar with New Orleans cuisine, bread pudding in many different forms is a favorite. A twist on this southern classic is to use panettone, the Italian sweet bread that appears everywhere around the holiday season. While it is sweet and fruity, like fruitcake, its airy texture and rich, buttery flavor is a great base for this dessert.
Beverages should never be overlooked. Here in Connecticut, we are lucky to have top-notch mixologist Justin Morales who created his very own Up n’ Down Rock and Bourbon—a very unique liquor. In 2017, Morales started blending his fig and birch old fashioned cocktails in a wooden bourbon barrel at one of the nine bars he has opened. The drink was such a hit, it was nearly impossible to keep up with production. He teamed up with Central CT Distillers, created a large-batch formula and started bottling Up n’ Down in East Hartford. Today, three versions—The OG, Pumpkin Mash and limited release The Colonel’s Cut—are sold throughout the state and expanding beyond.
“I’m a child of New England and holiday time in New England is something very special. I did my best to capture that in a bottle with some really good bourbon,” Morales explains when asked about his inspiration for the Pumpkin Mash version of Up n’ Down. This Connecticut spirit is the perfect pairing to our Connecticut dinner.
This inspired meal, whether we make all of it, parts of it or only read about it, can help make this year’s holiday season a wonderful one.