The celebratory food and drink at Christmas is one of my favorite parts of the season, so this Top Five consists of my perfect festive British spread. I must admit, it was difficult to whittle the list down! Cranberry sauce, brandy butter and sage stuffing all narrowly missed out, and where would we be without pigs wrapped in blankets?
So here is my fave five, not in any order of preference!
Blue Stilton Cheese
Only six dairies are allowed to produce this King of English cheeses, and yet strangely, due to its strict protected status, not one of them is located in the Cambridgeshire village that gave the cheese its name!
Stilton’s origins are hazy, but in 1724, Daniel Defoe praised the area’s famous produce and I can only agree. Crumbly and strong, it goes perfectly after a large lunch – just to settle the stomach before pudding!
Who could resist brandy-plumped fruit encased in a buttery pastry crust? I have my own personal recipe which includes cherries, almonds, figs, dates and, of course, plenty of whisky – all matured for at least six months. (I’ll post the full recipe on my Facebook.)
Even back in 1662, Samuel Pepys bemoaned having to buy in the pies as his ill wife was unable to make them, but thankfully she was back on the job the following year.
Of medieval origins, and originally including mutton, the English had a taste for combined sweet and savory pies, but by the later nineteenth century, beef suet was the only meaty addition to the dried fruit mix.
Many people consider this a gloopy white gravy, but a home-made bread sauce is wonderful and one of my faves. Thick, with plenty of spice, it’s lovely with cold turkey.
Milk, butter, bread crumbs, onion, salt, cloves, mace, cinnamon, pepper and bay leaf make this a luscious survivor of the medieval bread-thickened sauces.
I love a cup of mulled wine, but it’s mulled cider that really warms my gizzards. A descendant of the ancient drink Wassail, it was traditionally drunk in the cider producing South West of England as part of ‘wassailing’, a Medieval English drinking ritual which involved singing and drinking the health of apple trees on Twelfth Night in the hope of a good harvest the following year.
I’ll be making some Christmas Eve night…
Shortbread Petticoat Tails (Scottish only!)
This wedge-shaped biscuit sits innocently by the cup of tea, buttery and sugary, but after one nibble this once luxury item can quickly disappear!
Its origins have been attributed to Mary, Queen of Scots, who was said to be fond of ‘Petticoat Tails’, a thin, crisp, buttery shortbread originally flavored with caraway seeds. Various stories explain the name, but my favorite is that the shortbread triangles fit to a circle which echo the shape of fabric used to make a full-gored ‘petticoat’ during the reign of Elizabeth I. The ‘tail’ may have come from the word for the pattern which was called ‘tally’, and so ‘petticoat tallis’.
Who knows, but I will mull over its origins with a cuppa and another piece of shortbread…
Love, Emily x
Emily grew up in the north of England on a diet of historical romance and classical mythology.
Unfortunately, you couldn’t study Georgian slang or the Regency London Season, so she did the next best thing and gained a degree in Classics and History instead. This ‘led’ to an eight-year stint in engineering.
Having left city life, she now lives in a dilapidated farmhouse in the country where her days are spent writing, fixing the leaky roof, battling the endless vegetation and finding pictures of well-tied cravats.