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Christmas with Dolly Parton

This country music legend loves to cook for her family—especially at Christmas.


Y’all know how much I love singing and writing music and acting, but I bet you didn’t know another one of my loves—cooking! When I’m not touring you’ll find me in the kitchen, my favorite room in the house, stirring up something here, chopping up something there.

Like a lot of you, I cook for the week ahead and freeze meals. I love canning my own tomatoes and peaches too. So when Christmas comes, you bet I’m in a happy frenzy.

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My mouth waters when I just think about my holiday dishes—tasty biscuits (perfect with my pecan chicken salad), savory pimento cheese sandwiches (cubed dill pickle gives it tang), luscious pies (if you’re a pecan lover, wait’ll you taste my butterscotch pie crust) and, of course, my signature chicken and dumplings.

Sorry, but that recipe is under lock and key. It was Mama’s specialty and now it’s mine. I remember being at her side, standing on tiptoes, waitin’ for when she’d let me drop the dumpling batter into the steaming-hot chicken pot with a big old spoon.

Then there’s the ham. There was always a holiday ham ever since I was a bitty thing growing up with my 11 brothers and sisters in our two-room Smoky Mountain cabin. We knew how hard Daddy worked to raise his hogs and how much love Mama put into preparing them for the smokehouse.

Back then we’d wake up on Christmas morning to find our stockings filled with some apples or oranges and hard candy. We loved our hard candy! Daddy whittled us new toys. We sang all the Christmas carols, our voices ringing throughout the holler.

It was Mama’s job to read aloud the Christmas story from the Bible. I can hear her even now: “Behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream….”

Sure, I miss those times. But I’ve created some new traditions of my own. About a week before Christmas, I host what I call Granny Night. I helped raise some of my younger brothers’ and sisters’ children, and they started calling me Aunt Granny.

So come Christmastime I’m Granny Claus. I get all gussied up in a red velvet Santa suit. (You don’t think I’d miss a chance to wear a costume, do you?)

I load up the table with all kinds of homemade goodies: thumbprint cookies, Hello Dolly bars, walnut candy and kettle corn. Then I come in carrying a big sack of presents. “Ho ho ho!” I belt out. The kids go crazy. I don’t know who has more fun, them or me.

I like to do things big. At Dollywood in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, not far from where I grew up, we decorate every inch of the place with lights for our Christmas festival. Our little white clapboard Christmas Chapel glows like the star in the east.

By the way, near the chapel is Aunt Granny’s restaurant, the one place you can get my chicken and dumplings.

This year our special holiday musical is Dollywood’s A Christmas Carol, based on the Charles Dickens classic. I wrote seven new songs for it and I’ll even be on stage in a new-fangled way. They made a hologram of me playing the Ghost of Christmas Past. What a twist on a classic!

Of course the message of divine redemption will always stay the same.

On Christmas Day when our family gathers around the table, we’ll bow our heads to say grace, thankful for the food before us and for the best gift the Lord ever gave us, each other.

Now, if you wouldn’t mind, please pass the biscuits, and maybe save some room for dessert. Merry Christmas, y’all, from my kitchen to yours!

Try Dolly’s Hickory-Grilled Ham recipe for yourself!

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