When It’s Fondue Time in the Rockies
Every year on Christmas Eve, my family eats the same meal: steamed artichokes and fondue. It started as a New Year’s Eve dinner in the late ‘60s when my parents got divorced. I think my mom was trying to come up with something different to make up for my dad not being there.
In Montana, where I grew up, we didn’t get much of a selection of fresh vegetables in the winter, but my mom somehow found some artichokes. A few fondue recipes had circulated through Yellowstone County that year, so she pulled out an old chafing dish and borrowed a fondue pot. We had Cheddar cheese fondue, beef fondue and artichokes dipped in melted butter. Yes, there are a lot of heart attacks in Montana.
There are no family recipes for our Christmas Eve meal. My mom just steams the artichokes, cubes some French bread, heats up some Campbell’s Cheddar cheese soup and melts some good fresh cheese into it. Once or twice she added canned shrimp to the cheese fondue, but that idea didn’t go over too well.
For the beef fondue she cubes some steaks and heats up some vegetable oil over the Sterno flame of the fondue pot. When the oils sizzles to a drop of water, it’s ready. The flame can be lowered or raised to suit the cooking speed needed for the pace of the diners.
The fondue forks are color-coordinated so that we can all keep track of our own food. (I always got green.) One tradition at a sit-down fondue dinner was that if your bread or meat fell into the fondue, you had to kiss the person on your left. Growing up, this was a terrifying prospect, so I was always careful.
The artichokes were an exotic novelty. My mom showed us how to peel off each leaf, dip it in the butter and work our way down to the heart, which is the best part. As I ate my first artichoke, I remember wondering how people had discovered that this plant was edible. They must have been pretty persistent to get all the way to the heart.