You know you've seen The Red Lion Inn before. Maybe it was in Norman Rockwell's famous painting of Main Street in Stockbridge on a snowy afternoon . . . or perhaps it was only in your imagination when you were daydreaming about a perfect Christmas in a fine old country inn. This is precisely what a New England hostelry ought to look like: a big old place (originally built in 1773; rebuilt after a fire in 1897) with a broad front porch and a comfy parlor where Staffordshire china, Colonial pewter and 18th-century antiques establish a historical mood. In fact, The Red Lion is such a favorite destination for holiday travelers that many guests make their Christmastime reservations a year in advance.
Surrounded by the Berkshires and cross-country ski trails, well-equipped with ponds for ice skating, the village of Stockbridge sparkles with winter spirit. As Christmas draws near, The Red Lion Inn becomes the centerpiece of a nearly magical vista of illuminated ornaments, Christmas trees, even real sleigh bells tinkling along Main Street on the crisp December nights.Wreaths adorn the doors on all 100 guest rooms of the inn. In the lobby, a locally grown Colorado spruce is trimmed with ornaments from around the world. Small trees along the roof of the front porch are strung with lights that give The Red Lion a nightly halo. The decorative piece de resistance goes on display in the Pink Kitty Hall: a confectionery miniature tableau of Stockbridge's Main Street - six landmark buildings, all made of gumdrops, frosting and candy canes, surrounded by more than 100 one-gallon jars of candy and an all-candy Santa Claus!
Throughout December, the lobby resounds with music of the season: carolers, local children's choirs, bell ringers and a harpist.
In the formal dining room and more intimate Widow Bingham Tavern, Red Lion guests choose their dinner from a menu of such Yankee fare as Boston scrod, sirloin of venison, Indian pudding and the far-famed house specialty - roast beef with Yorkshire pudding popovers.
A typical grand Christmas feast begins with Zoa's Fruit Jelly, a festive gelatinized salad chock full of cranberries and walnuts, or perhaps with a bowl of the inn's luxurious cream of tomato and cheddar cheese soup, which is served with slices of luscious lemon bread. Then you might want to move on to the almighty dry-aged Black Angus prime rib, which is accompanied not only by the hot popovers but also by rosemary-roasted potatoes and whipped butternut squash. To conclude such a meal, the dessert of choice is pecan pie, then finally The Red Lion's celebrated "buttermelt" cookies. After that, sip a hot toddy or relax on the porch or in the lobby and listen to the carolers sing: This is the kind of Christmas dinner of which fond memories are made.
Now available! Nearly 200 of the most-requested recipes from this column, all in one book, "A Taste of America." It includes Jane and Michael Stern's favorite restaurants, as well as photos from their coast-to-coast eating adventures. Available in paperback, it can be ordered by sending $9.95 plus $1 for postage and handling to Taste of America, in care of the Deseret News, P.O. Box 419150, Kansas City, MO 64141.1990, Jane and Michael Stern
(Universal Press Syndicate)
Zoa's Fruit Jelly
1 packet unflavored gelatin
1 cup canned pineapple juice (not fresh)
1/2 cup lemon juice
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
1 cup finely chopped cranberries
1 cup finely chopped apples
1/2 cup broken walnuts
1/2 cup green grapes, halved Mix 2 tablespoons sugar with gelatin. Heat juices and water. Stir into gelatin mixture until completely dissolved. Refrigerate 30 to 45 minutes, stirring occasionally, until partially set.
Mix apples and cranberries with 1/2 cup sugar. Let stand 30 minutes. When gelatin is partially set, fold in apples, cranberries, walnuts and grapes. Pour into a lightly oiled 1 1/2-quart ring mold and refrigerate until completely set.
Unmold on a pretty plate. Garnish if desired. Serve with whipped cream.
Makes 6 servings.