Growing up, one of the things I remember most about Christmas is the food.
In our household, for most of the year, we never had fizzy drinks, sugary cereals, cakes or sweets. I would like to be able to say this was because my dear mum was ahead of her time in recognising the need for good healthy nutrition and realised that sweet treats weren’t the best thing for us… In reality, we were basically on a budget so treats were saved for special occasions!
There was no bigger special occasion than Christmas.
This was the time of the year when all of my siblings and I actively volunteered to help mum with the grocery shopping, rather then moaning about it, because it was the Christmas shop that meant we could have all of the things we wanted all year and put them into the shopping trolley without my mum even giving us a second look. It was a big part of Christmas for all of us.
Thinking back, the Christmas food shop was a little like the moment in the movie ‘Charlie And The Chocolate Factory’, when they enter the edible garden and little Charlie’s eyes are full of awe and wonder and he doesn’t know what to go for first!
We would all have a hand on the shopping trolley guiding it around the supermarket laden with all kinds of goodies, from ham and beef joints to tins of biscuits and boxes of Snowballs (anyone remember those?).
We were even allowed special drinks and everyone got to decide which one they wanted (mine was 7up), and we were allowed to choose special Christmas breakfast cereals too (I picked Sugar Puffs!) . When we would get home, the kitchen and pantry would be full to the brim with treats galore – but nothing could be touched until at least Christmas Eve.
Christmas morning would see myself and my siblings rising at about 4am to open presents. This was a saga in itself as one of us always took turns to sleep in with mum on Christmas Eve night, since my dad had died, and trying to quietly get out of her bed in the middle of the night without her noticing was always tricky! (We still laugh about that today.)
Once that was achieved and all our presents had been opened, I would have my first breakfast of sweet sugary cereal. I would have waited a whole year for it and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Later in the morning we would pop around the corner to visit an aunt of ours who didn’t have children, and she would make us our second breakfast of wholesome steaming hot porridge with full fat milk and brown sugar sprinkled on top. Delicious (and filling!).
Christmas lunch always started with mum’s homemade vegetable soup made with all fresh vegetables and loads of lentils and barley. Wholesome and full of goodness, I loved my mum’s soup. I remember when I moved away from home and I was planning a visit I used to ask my mum to make her soup for me coming home. She always made it the day before because it was even nicer the second day!
The main course of our Christmas lunch was something to behold.
There were usually three kinds of meat to choose from: turkey, beef, ham.
In fact you can get all the meats you need in one festive hamper from Green Seasons delivered direct to your door. Easy and convenient!
All of these meats usually ended up on our plates all at the same time, accompanied by potatoes (both roasted and creamed), parsnips, carrots, Brussels sprouts (I know people are divided on Brussels sprouts, personally, I love them), turnip, swede, peas, cauliflower… The list goes on and on. All of it drowned in a flood of rich, thick gravy.
It was heaven and, as a child, it felt like we ate until we were blown up to the size of Violet Beauregard, ready to burst. I am smiling now as I think about it.
All the grown ups would have a glass of something of their choice, either wine or beer (Christmas was the only time of year we ever had alcohol in our house) and we would all have a glass of our chosen fizzy drink!
We felt so spoiled and secretly wished that every day could be like Christmas. Mum was sure to remind us just how lucky we were to have all the delicious treats we had and, even though we were just children, we knew it ourselves. We really did feel lucky, if only because we didn’t get treats like this at all the rest of the year. Ahhhh, some Christmas traditions should go on forever!
Dessert, as you can imagine, was just as important to me. We always had a traditional steamed Christmas pudding (I love rich fruit pudding and cake) all smothered in thick creamy custard. We never ever had brandy butter though, I don’t know why?
After a hiatus of a couple of hours when games were played (by the children) and naps were taken (by the grown ups) mum would do a light tea for everyone: more slices of the meat joints, sandwiches, some salad and then slices of Christmas cake and, mum’s favourite, puff pastry mince pies all washed down with pots of tea.
We were never disappointed it was over at the end of Christmas Day, because, for some reason, we had the tradition of doing Christmas Day all over again on Boxing Day! Did anyone else do this? Everything apart from the presents that is.
We would have the same Christmas dinner and treats throughout the day, as we had on the big day itself. After two days of that, I was about ready to go into winter hibernation! Happy, content, and very full.
If I had to pinpoint my strongest memories of my Christmases growing up it would have to be the bacchanalian feasts that we had with all the treats we were only allowed once a year. They lasted for the two days of Christmas Day and Boxing Day and felt like the central part of the festive season.
As an adult, things are no different.
Throughout the year I try to keep an eye on what I eat, most of the time, so I try not to have too many treats in the house. At Christmas time, however, it is a whole different ball game! Just like when I was a child, I like to fill the house with every kind of treat imaginable. I start early treating myself though, not like when I was a child, no waiting for Christmas Eve for me.
When the weather turns cold I love nothing more than a good hot chocolate after a day out doing my Christmas shopping. After gently warming some milk in a pan with a couple of spoonfuls of Whittard of Chelsea luxury hot chocolate I then stir it with one of their chocolate spoons to get that real chocolate kick in their and then sit back with my feet up and enjoy! Mmmm.
If you really want to add something a little extra to this and make it truly indulgent try using single cram instead of milk and stir in your luxury chocolate powder from Whittard of Chelsea with their 73% cocoa chocolate spoon and then add a pinch of chilli powder and a touch of nutmeg. Perfect for those really cold afternoons after a long walk, trust me you will love it!
As such, I believe in having a wide selection of drinks to offer (I only do this once a year, just like mum did, so I am always happy to push the boat out). As such, I make sure that I have some good quality wines, spirits, beers and ciders on offer.
If you have a friend or relative who really enjoys a glass of cider, I highly recommend Vilberie Medium Dry cider from the Apple County Cider Co. in Monmouthshire. Made with 100% apple juice using the robust, fruity, bittersweet Vilberie Apple this lightly sparkling cider has a refreshing crisp dry finish.
Personally, at a party I prefer a good cocktail, perhaps a gin and tonic or a Vodka Martini. I don’t drink a lot, but when I do I prefer to drink less but make sure it’s really good quality.
A well made G&T goes a long way and, in my opinion, it all starts with the quality of the gin.
6 O’Clock Gin is one such quality gin made in Bristol. It is refreshingly smooth with the clean taste of Juniper Berries and is so called because the seafaring great grandfather of the head distiller traditionally enjoyed his gin & tonic at 6 O’Clock every evening.
Now that’s a tradition I would be happy to carry on throughout the year and not just at Christmas!
Speaking of alcohol and drinks. Giving bottles of booze as a gift is something I often do and often receive as well. Sometimes its is difficult to know what is good quality when it come to wine specifically.
I don’t know about you but I often shy away from buying expensive wines as gifts as I don’t know enough about wine to know whether or not the wine is any good and I don’t want to insult the person to whom I give the wine as a gift if it turns out to not be very good. Well there is a solution for that now!
A brilliant company called Drinks In Tube have come up with a way of allowing us all to sample expensive, great quality wines in an easy and affordable way. They have created sample sets of red wines, white wines or mixed boxes containing glass tubes each filled with 100ml of a variety of wines that come from some of the best wineries in the world.
They even include tasting notes for each wine including information on the grape variety, info about the winery, tasting notes and suggestions of what foods to drink it with. A perfect gift for the would-be wine connoisseur in your life or just a great opportunity to try-before-you-buy with some top quality expensive wines.
They don’t just do wines though. They have the Butlers Tray as well which gives a variety of spirits to taste including a super smooth V.S.O.P cognac and a sweet and delicious Butterscotch Vodka, mostly from micro-distilleries. Great to have at home if you want to treat a guest (or yourself) to a taste of something very special.
Well whatever I end up buying on my Christmas grocery shop I will still be thinking back to those days as a child and the excitement of it all, just filling the trolley with all manner of treats without giving a second thought. Grown up or not though, I’ll still be adding in those sugary breakfast cereals, well it’s tradition, and it is Christmas after all!
Happy shopping (and eating!),
Until next time,