Chef Alex Rushmer on why he’s setting aside novelty this Christmas in favour of tried and tested festive foodie customs
For sheer indulgence, the festive period really is the most wonderful time of the year. And since I’ve been penning this column, I think I’ve covered just about every angle possible.
A brief flick through my mental library of previous articles confirms that not only have I written about the obvious topics of Christmas dinner (naturally), breakfast, the leftover sandwich and ‘several ways with cold turkey’, I have also shared thoughts on how to cook a turkey like a pro; the Swedish Christmas Eve feast; and shamelessly trashy – yet essential – yuletide foods. Plus several other topics I can’t quite recall, but no doubt have been written up by countless others as well.
Essentially, what I’m trying to say is that most Christmas food writing (mine included) is as cliched and inevitable as a satsuma and a bag of chocolate coins nestling in the toe of a stocking. I say this not with an air of disappointment, but rather with the same satisfaction as pulling out the box of decorations and seeing a much-cherished Santa figurine or favoured bauble. It is comforting to read (and write) about Christmas food.
It warms the soul and prepares the belly for gluttony
It creates an air of excitement and anticipation. It warms the soul and prepares the belly for several days of shameless gluttony. At a time that relies on tradition to create an air of magical comfort, embracing the familiar is as satisfying as pulling a woollen jumper (garish pattern optional) over your head.
But I also yearn for novelty. There are too many things I haven’t yet tried and I’m not ready to weld myself entirely to an unyielding yuletide. Of course, there is turkey and stilton and port and smoked salmon and champagne and Quality Street. But there is also venison and vacherin and gin and oysters and English fizz, not to mention far better chocolate,
to indulge in.
Personally, I find it difficult to reconcile this desire to respect the traditions that, as a family, we have embraced over the years, with a wish to try new things and create the potential customs of Christmases yet to come.
The only way I have discovered to square this particular wreath is by extending the festivities for far longer than is usually deemed sensible or, in some cases, acceptable. Indeed, our forebears were shamelessly and enthusiastically good at this. Rather than seeing the 25th as the culmination of the seasonal celebrations, it was historically viewed as nothing more than a springboard for almost two weeks of feasting and indulgence, finishing up on the Twelfth Night with even more food, pints of mulled cider and yet another fruitcake – an approach I can fully endorse (apart from the fruitcake).
With that in mind, I am now happy to embrace a Christmas Day menu that exudes familiarity and comfort and reminds me of past feasts and festivities, safe in the knowledge that there are at least a couple of dozen more eating opportunities that lie ahead before the season of goodwill officially ends.
And who knows, maybe next year I will even be tempted to give wassailing a go.