Why do people sweat over making a turkey dinner?

Rustling up a four-course meal every Friday night is par for the course for Jewish mothers across the land, says Angela Epstein


From left to right: Noemi Lopian, Angela Epstein and Lynne Dover

It is 5.30pm on a cold and damp Sunday afternoon, a no man’s land of dead time between finishing the physical and cerebral demands of the day and beginning an evening of slobbing out in front of the telly.

And what better way to bridge the gap than by whipping up a dessert for Friday night dinner. Yes, yes, I know it’s still six days away, but there is nothing like getting an early march on shabbos.

And so I knock together a fruit crumble, mobilising some frozen cherries and improvising a topping that mostly consists of sugary granola.

Believe me, once the pudding is soaked in custard and your guests are pickled in alcohol, it tastes like nectar (and not just the Ambrosia stuff).

This is why time-poor women like me who dish up Friday night dinner on repeat rarely stress about serving a four-course meal to a first eleven (or more) of friends and family each week.

Not only is effort mitigated by familiarity, we also know that judicious planning, seasoned with serious cheating, makes Friday night dinner fairly easy to pull off. (Osem chicken powder can, frankly, redeem any soup or side).

Perhaps this also explains why so many of us Friday night hostesses are puzzled by claim that Christmas dinner is the most stressful meal of the year. 

This week one survey found that that 47 per cent of Brits are stressing over making Christmas dinner with yuletide tsores including getting the timings right.

Is it really so surprising? Every year, from the inception of December Christmas dinner is deconstructed across the UK media in tremendous detail.

Top chefs offer “fail safe ways” to time the sprouts or roast the potatoes. And this year, M&S has launched its first all-in-one turkey dinner (turkey, roast potatoes, red cabbage and gravy: from oven to tummy in 60 minutes.)

As  co-presenter on Jewish Mother Me, a podcast celebrating the Jewish matriarchs we and our guests have known, we often discuss the beauty of Friday night dinner.

In fact, we often ponder if every home, irrespective of faith or culture, should have one every week. (We say the same about Jewish mothers).

My co-presenters dentist Lynne Dover and former GP turned Holocaust educator Noemie Lopian and I have all been married for over 30 years. This means that between us we have made thousands of Friday night dinners.

And probably mastered every short cut to knocking out a four-course meal. I mean, why waste time scraping the skin off piles of spuds when Tesco sells wonderfully ready-peeled potatoes? In fact, prepared veg are a Jewish mother’s best friend.

Just dump a jar of chrain into a bag of shredded red cabbage or grated carrot and you have a truly delicious side dish. Onions? No need to cry.

Buy them chopped and whiz them up with mincemeat for succulent meat balls.  Need a souper-quick soup? Head to the frozen vegetable aisle in the supermarket.

And while they’re not great for the planet, disposable foil trays save on the washing up and several can be squashed into an oven at the same time, which rather helps with timings.

Oh, and if you are doing more than one meat, salt beef has to be the easiest ever. Boil, simmer, forge and fork into strands while still hot to create that the pulled look.

Decant mustard into one of those little fancy bowls you got as a wedding present and never use, and you’ve got a lovely condiment to go with it.

Finally, if your guests ask if they can bring anything, your answer should always be: yes. Otherwise, they’ll bring Bendicks (just off the kosher list) or wine that has been passed on to them. Ask them to make a fruit platter – much loved, but so boring to prepare. In short, do subcontract the labour to your otherwise idle guests.

To be frank, against this background, the trad Christmas dinner of roast potatoes with sides of red cabbage and sprouts and a big roasted bird in the centre of the table really isn’t a big deal.

Hell, I often throw in two other fleishig dishes. I live in Manchester, but if I was in London you’d call me “three meats Hendon”, I believe.

Whatever your festive dinner, enjoy!

* JJewish Mother Me podcast is available on Apple, Spotify and more..

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