In a special two-part holiday treat for readers, COUNTRY WEEKLY shares some of the fondest Christmas memories of country music’s stars, accompanied by enough of their most delicious holiday recipes to make your own festive meal. This week’s stories, collected by Cathie Pelletier, Patsi Bale Cox and Jim Glaser in *A Country Music Christmas*, come from Bill Anderson, Suzy Bogguss, Ronnie Milsap, John Berry, Mark Miller of Sawyer Brown and Tanya Tucker. The recipes include specialties from the kitchens of Collin Raye, Garth Brooks, Barbara Mandrell, Patty Loveless, Pam Tillis and Connie Smith. Enjoy, and watch next week’s issue for more.
I was 10 the Christmas I almost drove my parents crazy asking for a bicycle. I wanted the shiny blue Columbia bicycle I had seen at Jenkins Cycle Shop. I *had* to have that bicycle.
I knew my folks would do everything they could, but I also knew my dad had just gone into business for himself. Money was tight, and bicycles didn’t come cheap.
The day before Christmas, I turned on the radio and heard an announcer say, “Firemen have been called to Jenkins Cycle Shop, where a giant blaze threatens to destroy the building.”
Had my bicycle been destroyed? All I could do was wait.
When my parents got home that night, I saw Dad ease his black 1941 Chevy into its parking place. As he opened the door, the dome light came on — and before Dad closed the door, I feasted my eyes on the most gorgeous bicycle in the civilized world.
The next morning I tried to act surprised. Dad told me solemnly there had been 50 bicycles in the store and only eight survived.
“Yours must have been parked close to the door.”
One of my most hoped-for gifts when I was around 10 was a Thumbelina doll. My mother spent weeks searching for it. She was preparing to wrap it Christmas Eve, but she was so proud of her find that she waited to show it to her sister. When my aunt arrived, Mother wound the crank in Thumbelina’s back so she could see how the doll moved — and the crank broke off. But my mother had a story ready for me on Christmas morning.
“Santa is so sorry,” she said, “but he accidentally dropped Thumbelina’s box from his sleigh. He told me how to get her fixed, so I’m sending her back and he’ll take care of it.”
I bought the whole story. I wasn’t even disappointed, because it meant Santa paid special attention. Mother sent Thumbelina back to the North Pole (the factory!) and she came back good as new. I still have her, even though I ruined her hair. She was my fashion guinea pig, and after a time, her hair just rotted and fell out. I solved her doll-pattern baldness by cutting the hair off a “Beauty Parlor” doll and gluing it to Thumbelina’s head. The women in my family have always been problem solvers!
From the time I was a child, the family believed in doing things together during the holidays. Louise, Irlene and I decorated the tree, and since my mother didn’t like to wrap presents, I wrapped everyone’s gifts — including those from Santa. We opened them on Christmas morning, and then my sisters and I performed a holiday show for our parents. I wrote, produced, directed and starred in all those shows. When Irlene was too young to do much, I made her skip around the tree while Louise and I acted.
I always wanted to see how many presents I had, so I’d vacuum the rug around the tree as an excuse to do inventory. It’s a habit I never lost.
The year Ken Dudney and I married, he had to spend Christmas on his battleship, so I went to my parents’ home. There was only one lipstick-sized present for me, and it stayed that way as the days went by. Christmas morning, same thing.
Nobody said a word as we opened presents — they milked it for all it was worth. Then they wheeled out a doll buggy filled with my presents and laughed until they cried.
I was born blind, so my holidays existed in sound and smell and touch. Christmas meant a cabin filled with the voices of neighbors; more trips to the general store; the smell of the pine tree my grandfather had cut; and the anticipation of a sweet-smelling orange or a rough, hard English walnut.
Christmas took on new meaning in 1965, when I married Joyce. Her parents were understandably concerned when she brought home a blind musician, but she assured them that I wasn’t helpless. Joyce made the holidays special, and after our son Todd was born I started a tradition of sitting at the piano on Christmas Eve with Todd in my lap, playing carols and listening as the elaborate decorations were described.
Our best Christmas was in 1994, when Todd and his wife, Ruth, brought their daughter, Kye Leigh, to our home. Sitting at the piano with my granddaughter in my lap, I felt the same satisfaction I did as a 4-year-old listening to my grandparents talk about their blessings.
My mother raised us alone on a schoolteacher’s salary, but even so, we believed in getting Christmas presents for everyone, even our 21 cousins, so Christmas Eve gift-giving could go on until midnight.
One year my brother, Frank, and I saved up to buy Mom clothes. It was the first year we’d been able to buy anything more than just a small bottle of perfume or a comb-and-brush set, so we bought the coolest things we could find: a pair of bell-bottoms and a tie-dyed jacket. We didn’t have a clue. Anybody who sees me today on stage knows my taste in clothes is, well, a little left of center.
Mom was surprised at the size of the box. She opened it, stared at the pants and jacket and started to laugh. She thought we were playing a joke on her. When she realized that we were dead serious, she was horrified.
Luckily, all our cousins thought the clothes were as cool as Frank and I did, so we managed to save a bit of face. I learned one thing that night: If there’s a generation gap, clothes may not be the best gift to close it!
The Tuckers always exchanged presents on Christmas Eve. One year when I was about 8, we stayed up very late. All of a sudden there was a big thump on the ceiling of the trailer. My dad said, “It must be Santa coming early!”
We ran outside, and on top of the trailer sat a play-by-number organ. I couldn’t believe it! I kept looking at the sky to see if I could catch Santa flying away. Later, I realized that my brother Don had slipped out for a while.
Our Christmas dinners have always been traditional — ham, turkey and dressing, peas, corn, green beans, mashed potatoes. A couple of years ago I hired a caterer to cook a holiday dinner. The food couldn’t have been better. But it wasn’t the same. It was like the year we loaded a Christmas tree, presents, the whole works, onto my bus and spent Christmas in Lake Tahoe. It was fun, but it wasn’t home.
These days, when I pay for the food we eat on holidays, I wonder how we could afford meals — let alone presents — when I was little. Remember Merle Haggard’s “If We Make it Through December”? The words of that song are very real, but as a child I never felt anything but loved and provided for.
A Holiday Meal From Country Music Stars
Collin Raye’s Italian-Style Pot Roast
“I love pot roast,” says Collin Raye. “That’s what I always ask for during the holidays or any other time. I especially like a roast that makes a great late-night sandwich, and this does.”
- 1/4 cup chopped prosciutto
- 1 large onion, chopped
- 4 stalks celery, chopped
- 1 clove garlic, finely chopped
- 1 Tbsp. butter or margarine
- 2 Tbsps. cooking oil
- 4 lb. beef chuck roast
- 1/2 tsp. black pepper
- 1 cup beef consomme
- 3 bay leaves
- 1 1/2 cups water
- 1 clove garlic
Instructions: Preheat oven to 275 degrees. Saute prosciutto, onion, celery and minced garlic in butter until onion is translucent. Set aside. Heat oil in 5-quart roasting pan and brown meat on all sides. Pepper meat thoroughly; add consomme and bay leaves, cover, and cook for 1 hour, occasionally checking to see that the consomme does not cook away. Remove from oven, adding water and prosciutto mixture, and bake for an additional 2 1/2 hours or until meat is fork-tender. Serves 4.
Garth Brooks’ Carrot and Raisin Salad
“At our house, we’ve been learning that `good for you’ doesn’t have to mean `bad-tasting,’ ” Garth Brooks says of this easy side dish that comes in handy at the holidays.
- 1/2 cup raisins
- 2 cups shredded carrots (4 medium)
- 1/3 cup low-fat yogurt
- 1 Tbsp. honey
Combine ingredients, mix well, cover and chill until dinner’s ready. Serves 4-6.
Barbara Mandrell’s Mother Mary’s Corn Pudding
Barbara Mandrell’s family looks forward every year to this delicious corn pudding, a specialty of Barbara’s mother, Mary.
- 2 Tbsps. butter or margarine
- 1 onion, chopped
- 2 15 1/4-oz. cans corn
- 2 Tbsps. corn meal
- 2 Tbsps. all-purpose flour
- 3 cups half-and-half
- 4 eggs
- 2 Tbsps. fresh parsley, chopped
- 1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
- 1/3 tsp. dry mustard
- 3/4 tsp. salt
- 1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
Place rack in center of oven and preheat to 350 degrees. Butter shallow 2-quart baking dish. In skillet, melt butter over medium heat, add onion, and cook until softened — about 5 minutes. In baking dish, combine corn, corn meal, flour and onion/butter mixture. In bowl, combine half-and-half, eggs, parsley, Worcestershire sauce, dry mustard, salt and cayenne and stir into corn mixture. Place large roasting pan in center of oven rack with the baking dish in its center, and fill roasting pan with water half-way up sides of baking dish. Bake 45-55 minutes, until center of pudding is just set and top is golden. Cool in roasting pan for 10 minutes, remove baking dish from water and serve. Serves 8.
Pam Tillis’ Sweet Potato Biscuits
There’s nothing like sweet-potato biscuits served with honey on a cold day, and Pam Tillis’ family recipe adds something special to this holiday meal.
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 tsps. baking powder
- 1 1/2 Tbsps. light brown sugar
- 1/4 tsp. salt
- 3/4 cup shortening
- 1 cup mashed cooked sweet potatoes
- Buttermilk as needed
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Sift flour, baking powder, brown sugar and salt together into large bowl. Cut in shortening until dry ingredients are crumbly. Stir in sweet potatoes and mix, adding buttermilk to get suitable rolling consistency. Roll mixture out 1/2-inch thick on lightly floured board. Cut biscuits and place on greased baking sheet. Bake 15 minutes, or until golden brown. Serves 12.
Daryle Singletary’s Southern Pecan Pie
One of Daryle Singletary’s favorite desserts is pecan pie. “Christmas dinner wouldn’t be the same without it!” he says.
- 1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
- 1 1/2 tsps. all-purpose flour
- 3 eggs, beaten
- 1 1/4 cups light corn syrup
- 1 1/2 tsps. vanilla
- 2 Tbsps. butter or margarine, melted
- 1 cup shelled pecan chips
- 1 tsp. grated orange rind (optional)
- 1 prepared pie crust
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. In a large bowl, mix brown sugar, flour, eggs, corn syrup and vanilla. Stir in butter, pecans and orange rind if desired. Pour into crust and bake for about 45 minutes, or until middle of pie is browned. Let cool before serving. Serves 8-10.
Connie Smith’s Strawberry Cake
“Years ago, I bought a birthday card for my daughter and on that card was a recipe for strawberry cake,” says Connie Smith. “Over the years, I changed the recipe, and now it’s definitely mine. I don’t really have a recipe for the icing — I just mix a little strawberry juice and melted butter with some powdered sugar until it looks like it’ll run down the cake without being *too* runny!”
- 1 package white cake mix
- 2 1/2 Tbsps. flour
- 1 small package strawberry Jell-O
- 1 cup salad oil
- 3 large or 4 medium eggs
- 1/2 cup cold water
- 1/2 small package frozen strawberries (thawed)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine cake mix, flour and Jell-O. Add oil, then beat in eggs. Add water and strawberries and mix thoroughly. Bake in a greased and floured Bundt pan for 40 to 50 minutes. Serves 12.
Text and Recipes From: A COUNTRY MUSIC CHRISTMAS, by Cathie Pelletier, Patsi Bale Cox and Jim Glaser. Copyright @ 1996 by Cathie Pelletier and Nashville Books. Published by Crown Publishers, Inc.