Blog: Re-ignite a Culinary Christmas!
I look back rather fondly on the mild, occasionally menacing, culinary competitiveness between families and friends over the Christmas period. Who made the fruitiest Christmas cake, the greater selection of stuffings or the better brandy butter? It almost guaranteed that there was some form of Christmas cooking going on in every household throughout the UK. No doubt in some cases harmonious and organised and in others a bit more chaotic and combustible. But then that’s what we Brits thrive on isn’t it, a bit of stealth competitiveness to stir us into action.
Everyone wanted to produce a showstopper of some form. It was a matter of pride. The two ways to achieve this were either to be armed with a secret ingredient and sheer determination or to cook something, such as beetroot gravy, that no-one else had really thought about. Defeat was only acknowledged when the dish somehow gained the victor’s namesake - Aunt Mavis’ cheese straws, Uncle Tom’s roast potatoes. This festive familial and neighbourly top trumps has been the fuel for fictional characters and domestic comedy for decades. Occasionally stressful at the time, Christmas was always the reliable source of comical stories for generations.
I have noticed that the Christmas competitive culinary spirit now seems to exist only really between supermarkets. Who sells the best pre-stuffed turkey,
who sells the crispiest ready-made roast potatoes and who makes the most value for money mince pies.
I think this is a bit of a shame. As much as we are all told to have a break from the kitchen, make it easy for ourselves, I can’t help wondering if making a bit of effort for one another is really what Christmas is all about? The adrenalin fuelled collaboration of creating the Christmas dinner. Who is bringing what, who is cooking what, who is loudly slamming kitchen drawers and rattling cutlery to emphasise how much work they are doing?
Is there really as much satisfaction to be garnered from the knowledge that your mince pies came from a German supermarket chain and were cheaper than other chains and apparently taste better? What are we doing if we are not elbowing each other out of the way in the kitchen anyway? If all the food is ready-made and just involves popping it in the oven. Does it really mean we are going to spend more time playing board games and catching up with family and friends or does it mean that the television is on watched by a few, while others gaze downward at tablets and phones.
Creating a Christmas feast from scratch should be fun, cheaper and involve less food waste. Ultimately it is just a big British roast dinner shared between family and friends. With some alcohol-soaked fruit cakes and puddings thrown in. Don’t be persuaded that it is too much hard work, too complicated and that the simple solution is to ‘treat’ yourself to overly processed cheap carbohydrates. It’s not a grind, it’s an exciting experience that gives and provides for others. For this to be achieved it does involve some planning and some delegating but the process is surprisingly rewarding and festive.
If time is tight and you end up doing a last minute supermarket dash, you could do what a friend of ours did when a family drama meant she completely forgot to do anything about the Christmas meal. On Christmas Eve, she telephoned her local butcher and greengrocer, explained her predicament and said “Deliver everything I need – you decide; I just want the perfect Christmas meal.” We hear it all turned out wonderfully.
So enjoy creating your Christmas feast. It doesn’t have to be perfect. Enjoy the whole experience from sourcing your British ingredients to planning your dishes and cooking times; from making and baking, chopping and slicing to washing-up and drying. Involve everyone. Re-ignite that festive competitive spirit - make your yule log longer. There will be tears, tantrums and classical comedy moments that will hopefully culminate in a friend and family festive feast. Memories made, to evoke in the future.