Jingle All the Way

Old Waverly’s sparkling holiday gala and Victorian Dinner blends holiday past and present

Story Jan Swoope | Photographs Luisa Porter

Photographed by Luisa Porter.

Photographed by Luisa Porter.

Beneath branches dressed for winter in twinkling lights, tradition takes a bow each December at Old Waverly Golf Club in West Point, Miss. With a nod to yesteryear, the club’s annual Christmas fête and Victorian Dinner, begun 16 years ago by owners George and Marcia Bryan, sets out to weave enchantment.

Each year’s celebration comes gift-wrapped in a fresh theme.

At 2011’s Jingle Bell Ball, dancers in swirling gowns, tuxedos and even tartan kilts made the most of mistletoe, as souvenir sleigh bells tied to each guest’s chair gave festive footnotes to the music of Randy Moore and the Fabulous Suedes from Nashville, Tenn.

Antique sleigh bells collected through the year by designer Steve Bengel and his staff were complemented by fresh greenery gathered from the Old Waverly grounds; American holly, English ivy, cedar, juniper and boxwood are among Bengel’s favorites. Transforming the stately clubhouse into a wintry wonderland is an intense collaborative effort that begins yearly on the Monday after Thanksgiving.

Planning the five-star menu begins almost the day after the previous year’s ball, for the annual Victorian Dinner is a focal point of the gala.

Designed around a main protein suggested by Marcia Bryan, a trial menu is developed, followed by a tasting.

Photographed by Luisa Porter.

Photographed by Luisa Porter.

“It’s very exciting because you can go a little over the top,” said Chef Markus Haeusler, then-head chef at Old Waverly for the 2011 event. “That is not something you can do on a regular basis, but for a very special occasion such as this, you can go up and beyond,” he continued.

At tables elegantly donned in Victorian-inspired linens, Jingle Bell Ball guests enjoyed appetizers of “devils on horseback” — cheese-stuffed dates, wrapped in bacon — roasted Southern pecans, and Camembert in phyllo cups, topped with candied walnuts.

A winter salad of arugula, watercress, cranberries and walnuts, topped with a bell-shaped poached pear and tarragon vinaigrette, preceded the entrée, Waverly filet mignon with porcini mushrooms, wrapped asparagus, potato pancake with piped potatoes and warm popovers.

The elaborate Christmas feast concluded with a dessert of lavender crème brûlée and chocolate delight.

“The food was marvelous, a sumptuous array,” said Ralph Null of Columbus, who, like other guests, praised the repast and ambience.

“I really appreciate that everyone put such a lot of effort and thought into making it all special,” said Marcia Bryan. “I’m very grateful for that.”

FROM BUTTONS TO BELLS
“Special” is an adjective often associated with the annual gala, in part because of its evolving themes.

“When we started, we wanted to mimic something that would have been done in Victorian times in this area,” explained Bryan, who takes an enthusiastic interest in each year’s event.

The inaugural celebration included Father Christmas and carolers in period attire. “Brenda and Sid Caradine were my right arm and contributed so much to that,” the hostess said of the Columbus couple she enlisted to assist in early years.

Since then, themes have evolved, ranging from “Buttons and Bows” to “Sugar and Spice and Everything Nice.”

For “Sew It’s Christmas,” Bryan’s own grandmother’s treadle sewing machine, complete with seamstress, greeted revelers near a tree decorated with hand-sewn garlands, patchwork quilting and embroidery hoops.

At “Color It Christmas,” area artists painted scenes throughout the evening and children’s holiday artwork was on display.

Arriving at an overall theme never seems to be a problem, Bryan said. Someone always comes up with a festive idea. There was no need to search far for this December’s central theme: Old Waverly is celebrating its 25th anniversary, so silver will dominate.

The jingle bells of 2011 were partly inspired by antique sleigh bells Bengel had, made by his cousin.

Along with their gift of a keepsake bell, guests received a printed history of sleigh bells. They date to ancient Roman times, but became part of our holiday vernacular with James Pierpont’s song written in the mid-1800s, “One Horse Open Sleigh” — or “Jingle Bells,” as most of us know it today.

Their very sound conjures up images of snowfall and winter and the entrancing smells of Christmas.

“We hoped the bells would be a bright reminder through the season, to bless the home,” Bryan said, “that when people heard them, it would be a happy reminder of the fun they’d had at Old Waverly.”


DUCHESS PIPED POTATOES

Yields 6 servings

2 pounds potatoes
Salt
1/4 cup heavy cream
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
3 egg yolks

• Peel potatoes and cut into chunks. Place potatoes in medium pot and cover with cold water.
• Add 2 teaspoons of salt and bring to a simmer. Cook until potatoes are tender, 20-25 minutes.
• While potatoes are cooking, melt 2 tablespoons of butter and set aside.
• Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
• When potatoes are cooked, drain them and put back into pot over medium heat; allow them to steam until all water is gone.
• Add 2 tablespoons of butter, nutmeg, black pepper and heavy cream. Mash potatoes until everything is incorporated.
• Add salt to taste and egg yolks. Continue to mash until mixture is smooth. Do not over-mash.
• Using a piping bag with a large star point, pipe potatoes onto a cookie sheet.
• Paint potatoes with melted butter.
• Bake in preheated oven until nicely browned, about 20 minutes.


POTATO PANCAKES

Yields 6 servings

4 large potatoes
1 yellow onion
1 egg, beaten
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons flour
Ground black pepper, to taste
2 cups vegetable oil for frying

• Finely grate potatoes with onion into large bowl.
• Drain off any excess liquid
• Mix in egg, salt and black pepper.
• Add enough flour to make mixture thick (about 2-4 tablespoons altogether).
• Heat 1/4 inch oil in bottom of heavy skillet over medium heat.
• Drop two or three 1/4 cup mounds into hot oil and flatten to make 1/2-inch thick pancakes.
• Fry, turning once, until golden brown.


LAVENDER CRÈME BRÛLÉE

Yields 6 servings

2 cups heavy cream
2 tablespoons dried lavender
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 pinch salt
8 large egg yolks
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar

• Place cream, lavender, vanilla and salt in saucepan and set over moderate heat.
• When mixture begins to simmer, remove pan from heat and let cool down to extract lavender flavor
• In large mixing bowl, whisk together egg yolks and sugar until light yellow and slightly thickened.
• Reheat cream, lavender mixture and pour into egg yolks, whisking to mix completely.
• Strain mixture through a fine sieve.
• Fill six 8-ounce ramekins or brûlée dishes with custard and place them in shallow roasting pan.
• Add hot water to pan to come halfway up sides of ramekins.
• Bake in preheated oven at 325 degrees for about 35 to 45 minutes or until custards are set up and tip of sharp knife inserted in center comes out clean.
• Transfer ramekins to wire rack to cool to room temperature, and then refrigerate to cool completely.
• To make topping: sprinkle sugar on top of each custard. Use culinary torch to melt sugar until sugar is golden brown.


TARRAGON VINAIGRETTE

1/2 cup honey
1/2 cup olive oil
1 shallot, finely diced
3 tablespoons tarragon vinegar
3 teaspoons tarragon, finely chopped
1 tablespoon lemon juice
Salt and pepper, to taste

• Mix all ingredients — except oil — together until combined.
• Add oil.
• Chill before serving.