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groaning board noun (archaic)
A table weighed down with very generous supplies
of food and libation...
You've never heard it referred to as the Holiday Groaning Board you say? I've known this term since I was a child, not only because it was used at home when my Mom would dress the holiday buffet with fresh baked breads and pastries and wine, but because a very well-known restaurant in Basking Ridge, The Store, featured a Groaning Board as their Sunday brunch buffet on which they'd feature deliciously rare slices of tenderloin roast or a big beautiful sliced ham. It was the Groaning Board. It was a 'thing.' And in my family, we have been building Groaning Boards to entertain guests for as long as I can remember. Whether it's wine and beer alone, a featured mixed drink such as my Spiced Blood Orange Sour featured at last year’s Christmas progressive dinner, or a fun flavored cordial over ice such as Baileys or Kahlua, this party pit-stop is generally the first place guests are directed to. It's meant to serve as a brief pause to acquire that initial fill up of not only the glasses, but also a small plate of casual finger foods and filling snacks.
It was the groaning board. It was a 'thing.'
My mother is up to her entertaining guiles again. She solicited my help in turning her entire dining room, butlers pantry, and gallery into a GIANT multi room Groaning Board for her holiday tree trimming party. A tree trimming party is one of the most traditional activities to share during the holiday season. We invite others over to participate in this casual event so we have the opportunity to do some pre-celebrating with absolutely everyone. No set time to arrive required, more of a drop in event, and always so much fun because guests come and go in waves. The beauty of the Groaning Board is so people arriving at any time will find a fully stocked station of goodies. Additionally, they can help themselves...many, many times.
Last year, we started something new, largely by accident...cranberries. Big bowls of cranberries with threaded needles ready to be strung. You'd be shocked how many people will pick up the end and keep the garland going. We only had two bowls last year, but this year, five!
Mom features an array fresh and dried fruits and nuts alongside soft cheeses, chunked hot smoked sausages and kielbasas we score and throw directly on the grill, roast beef and horseradish crostini, and small-ish finger cakes and cookies. Just enough to get party-goers started for the real action inside, the tree. And all the table generally requires is some refreshing and replenishing here and there. For this, we may make up four or five platters of chilled sliced smoked meats and cheeses, a couple of olive, pickled garlic, and vegetable antipasto rounds, and assorted spreads and dips. Everything is kept cold in the pull-out drawer in the fridge. Refilling the giant bowl of icy cold shrimp for shrimp cocktail requires nothing more than six or seven gallon-sized bags stored in the fridge.
And then, there's the spiral ham, the smoked turkey breast, and the rare tenderloin roast, all served at room temperature, sliced thin and ready to go. We generally keep baskets of good seeded Rye bread and Hawaiian party rolls within reach of these carvers. They make for heartier bites. The emphasis of our Groaning Board is also on the booze. Costco is a great source for if you plan to serve hard liquor. There you can acquire large bottles of great brands at excellent prices. For us, we limit the hard liquor ingredients to a few really special cocktails and provide beer and wine liberally.
For drop-ins, she has always pulled out EVERYTHING Christmas she owns, whether it is tacky or not! In other words, space can always be found for that 1978 plastic garland of gold angels, or teeny, tiny Santa's which match nothing, best admired from a distance...
Regardless of the theme of your party, experiment with a Groaning Board. It's a lot more than a buffet, but a little less than a plated event. Yet for many guests coming and going at the busiest time of year for most of us, a welcome reprieve for the hostess. Folks will not soon forget your generosity with unlimited yummies abounding, and the fun they have watching others struggle with the tangled strings of lights.
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