How Victoria Hospital in Kirkcaldy served Christmas dinner for 1500

At the Victoria Hospital, Christmas 1987 are dining room supervispr Mary Haig, pupil nurse Tracy Drysedale and dining room charge hand Evelyn Hall.
At the Victoria Hospital, Christmas 1987 are dining room supervispr Mary Haig, pupil nurse Tracy Drysedale and dining room charge hand Evelyn Hall.

Christmas time 1987 and the country is getting ready for the big day.

The Pogues timeless classic ‘Fairytale Of New York’ is battling for, and would ultimately lose, the Christmas number one spot to the Pet Shop Boys with their so-so cover of Elvis Presley’s ‘Always On My Mind’.

Readying for Christmas at the Victoria Hospital in 1987; baker David Bathgate, cook Kenny Birrel and head cook Andy Vettrino.

Readying for Christmas at the Victoria Hospital in 1987; baker David Bathgate, cook Kenny Birrel and head cook Andy Vettrino.

ITV schedule a host of Disney films including Dumbo, Alice in Wonderland and Bedknobs and Broomsticks, with the turn of the annual James Bond film falling to the 10-year-old ‘The Spy Who Loved Me’.

Among this activity were the catering staff of the Victoria Hospital in Kirkcaldy who were preparing to dish up a huge amount of 1000 Christmas dinners across the festive period.

The previous year they served 1000 dinners to staff, a further 500 to patients, and prepared sandwiches for 45 individual parties.

The Fife Free Press visited the busy kitchen in the lead-up to Christmas day to find out what went on behind the scenes

The man in charge of ’Operation Santa’ was catering boss David Dickson who detailed his daunting task, one requiring a lot of planning and even more hard work.

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The FFP discovered that Christmas was not just a week of frenzied activity for the catering department – it began in autumn, and ended some time in the new year.

“We all pull together,” David said. “There is a lot of preparation involved from about the middle of October onwards, and it is all hands on deck.

“Days off are swapped around to let staff go off either before or after the Christmas period, rather than during.”

In 1987 the department was providing festive fayre on five days instead of three, as well as organising a special buffet for staff.

The menu offered all the traditional trappings and trimmings of any family dinner, including turkey, pudding, roast potatoes and sherry trifle ... not to mention Christmas crackers, though it wasn’t just about the big day itself.

The staff had also put together a special menu for New Year’s day too.

“We have to remember that people who are in hospital are too sick to go home,” David said, “and so we have to provide a meal which is as close to the food they would get there.

“We make our presentation a little bit different, provide nice napkins and crackers, and everything on the plate has to look that little bit special.”

On some wards, surgeons donned a chef’s hat and carved the turkey, while on others, entertainers brought a touch of seasonal music to the patients. And, of course, there were parties everywhere.

“The parties involve making sandwiches, cakes, sausage rolls, and ice cream and jelly.

“They are held in the afternoons, and, by the time three o’clock comes, we have all the foodstuffs prepared and sent to the ward in time to start afternoon tea for 250!”

To meet their culinary deadlines, the 75 staff would begin work at 6am and patients on special diets were included in the festive fayre, even if that meant cooking an individual meal on top of all other preparations.

David added: “Normally we do between 80 and 100 individual meals, and at Christmas the diets are sometimes relaxed, but some are quite strict and the patients obviously have to follow them closely, so we have to bear that in mind,

”Things have changed over the years and patients do give us compliments on the food we serve.

“There would be no reason to extend the Christmas menu to five days unless there was a demand for it!”