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Friday 8 December 2023 Dublin: 9°C
first christmas

'We were driving around with a turkey in the back seat': The year a storm nearly ruined Christmas dinner

But not quite. Caroline Hennessy recalls her first time being entrusted with the turkey… and how it almost all went wrong.

Every week this December, we’ll be hearing the tale of a first Christmas. Here food writer and broadcaster Caroline Hennessy (aka BiblioCook) recalls the first time she was entrusted to cook the turkey… and the electricity went.

WE WOULD HAVE always had Christmas dinner at my grandparents’ house with numerous cousins, aunts, uncles, grand aunts. It was a huge gang of people and it was all hands on deck. Everyone making mince pies and doing the bread sauce and all the rest of it.

Christmas Eve was spent at my grandparents’ house. Head down, everybody working. Whoever wasn’t in the kitchen was doing the cleaning. You could put dusters on small kids and tell them to go around the bookcase! There was no sitting around. If you keep people busy, they don’t argue.

Eventually we moved to my parents’ house for Christmas and we’d take different roles. Everyone was allocated a different job and this one particular year the turkey was my job. I had every confidence in my ability to do that without having any problems… except the electricity went off on Christmas Eve.

It was in the late nineties, and there was a really horrendous storm. I remember being at my parents’ house and my father had us all running around the fields after bullocks. When we came back in, the electricity had gone down. This was early afternoon on Christmas Eve. It was absolutely wild outside and being that time of year we were like, ‘Flip! What are we going to do?’

We were sitting there and there was only a limited amount of the actual prep we could do – you couldn’t bake your mince tarts and all the rest of it. We had all those ready to go and we thought, ‘Sure, it’ll come back on any minute now.’ No sign of it at all. Back in the nineties, you didn’t have Twitter and you didn’t know what was going to happen.

We rang around the relatives and we discovered that Kilfinane – which is ten miles away from my parent’s house and where my grandmother lived – had electricity there. Granny was gone to one of my aunts’ houses for Christmas. We were going, ‘Oh we have a key for Granny’s house, don’t we?’ 

So at five in the morning, myself and my Dad got up, put the turkey in the car and drove it over to my grandmother’s. 

We came back home and there was still no electricity. All Christmas morning, we had no electricity. We were thinking, ‘It’ll come on, it’ll come on,’ but it didn’t. Eventually I said to Dad, ‘We probably need to go and check the turkey at some stage.’ So we drove over to Granny’s and we walked into the house to this gorgeous smell of turkey. We were like, ‘We’re nearly there.’ We just had to empty out the juices and my father, not being very adept in the kitchen, managed to spill those all over my grandmother’s floor. But we didn’t care. We just thought, ‘At least the turkey is okay.’ 

When it was ready, we wrapped it up in loads of teatowels and tablecloths and tinfoil and the newspaper. I’ll tell you this was the best insulated turkey. I’d say my grandmother came back to the house like, “What happened here?’

We wrapped it all up, tucked it into the car and myself and Dad drove off home thinking they’d still be in the grim ages without electricity only to discover that the electricity had come back on about five minutes after we’d left.

As soon as the electricity came back on, my siblings and mother swung into service because that was their area. The turkey was supposed to my special baby. We got home and I think we managed to eat at around 4pm – normally we would have eaten around 2pm. 

It was the Christmas that created the most hysteria. It was when the whole thing dropped. We were sitting there by candlelight peeling carrots going, ‘Well I suppose we might as well have these ready anyway!’ 

It’s lovely to revisit it in my head. I just remember sitting around the fire that Christmas night and obviously there was nothing on television because there was no television. We had the candles lit, the fire was lighting, the house was warm and cosy and it was so peaceful because we just couldn’t do anything. 

It ended up being a very special Christmas and myself and Dad still laugh about driving around the countryside with a turkey in the backseat. 

Want to win a €100 Aldi voucher to help you celebrate in style? Enter this week’s Aldi Christmas Magazine competition right here. 

More: ‘I fancied him from the beginning’: Our first Christmas as a married couple, 36 years ago>

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