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Christmas in July means something very different in the test kitchen than it does in the rest of the country. Our food editors aren’t throwing a holiday party in the middle of summer; they’re working on the December issue! Every year, they come up with new themes and innovative ways of approaching food and entertaining at the holidays. Brainstorming begins in May, followed by recipe development in June, and testing and shooting in July. Greg says, “The most challenging part is creating content that will compel people to try something new and different because the holiday meal is such a sacred thing for so many families. Some traditions, whether it’s a Christmas ham or a recipe that’s been passed down from generation to generation, are so strong that it’s almost unfathomable for people to break away from them.”
The 42 Burners crew has mixed feelings about their pre-Christmas. Sometimes the team will taste a whole menu together for a holiday entertaining story, which on one hand “feels special,” says Lindsay, “because we don’t get to eat stuff like crab legs all the time.” On the other hand, most holiday foods are the opposite of what you want to eat in July. Lindsay adds, “It can get so hot and humid in the test kitchen, and we’re making a crown roast and baking Christmas cookies. It feels odd to be working with peppermint and warming spices like nutmeg when it’s 90 degrees outside.” Another drawback is that it’s hard to hunt down winter ingredients, especially iconic Christmas ones like pomegranates and citrus that aren’t in season in July.
Meanwhile, Greg enjoys the process because “you’re so far removed from the holiday that it’s an exciting challenge to put yourself in the Christmas spirit.” He uses music to get into the holiday headspace during the summer ("A Charlie Brown Christmas" is a favorite for evoking that nostalgic, sentimental spirit). He also draws on other sensory elements of the holiday: “I find inspiration through color palette, like reds, pinks, and golds, or texture, such as a snowy landscape. Or I think about gingerbread spice, and that can spark an idea,” says Greg. He acknowledges that this can be hard to summon on summer days when all you want to do is be in a bathing suit at the beach, which is why he and the editors keep a running list of ideas throughout the year.
As for the actual holiday? Lauryn is so used to summer as the holiday season that the real thing can be a little disorienting or anticlimactic. She says, “I’m like this is happening again? By the time real Christmas rolls around, I want to go get sushi!” She does admit that Christmas in July helps the team get a head start on holiday menu planning. Recipes that the food editors have developed or tested often make it into their Christmas repertoires. Lauryn kicks the holidays off with rye-whiskey switchels and likes balancing out a rich winter menu with a bright, fresh escarole salad with lemon-and-anchovy dressing and an unexpected side of braised celery.
Riley cooked the rolled rib-eye roast and duck-fat roasted potatoes last Christmas, and provided that she’s not foiled by the humidity in her native Texas, hopes to make the showstopping brûléed vanilla-bean cheesecake with spun sugar this year. Lindsay’s looking forward to trying the equally alluring pavlova wreath. Greg skips the traditional Christmas goose or turkey and goes for a roast capon instead because it’s the perfect size for his family. Martha’s light-as-a-feather angel biscuits and chewy chocolate-gingerbread cookies have also become his new family traditions. Even after seven Christmas in Julys in the Martha test kitchen, Greg says, “There’s a long enough break between recipe development and the holiday that I’m always still excited to celebrate (and cook for!) the real thing.”
Watch Sarah whip up a super-festive pavlova wreath: