The Pheasant Philosopher’s Christmas Diaries: just a little trifle, please!

Christmas is now the only time of the year I make trifle. Growing up it was a mainstay of my grandmother’s birthday and Christmas tables, but the tradition now firmly sits within the festive period.

There’s something wonderfully decadent about the layers of creamy comfort, the hit of booze and the digging down to the bottom for the jelly. Purists, of course don’t use jelly, just sponge, jam (or fruit), cream and custard. This historical favourite is familiar to many as the Birds Trifle…that little packet of magic which seemed such a treat.

Today, trifles have become rather fashionable again. There are so many flavour combinations which satisfy the sweetest tooth.

Every year I make a Southern Comfort and Mandarin Trifle, it’s  so simple and tastes amazing. I use trifle sponges and soak them in Southern comfort and the juice from tinned mandarins, then spoon over the fruit, a layer or orange jelly, custard and finally whipped  cream. I usually buy an edible gold spray for the cream as it catches the light beautifully and looks extremely christmassy.

For a taste of Eastern Promise why not try rose water or rose liqueur soaked sponge, fresh figs, lemon jelly and rosewater cream – a little cardamon in the custard lifts the flavour admirably too.

A delicious, more traditional trifle, is Madeira cake spread with raspberry jam, a few tablespoons of sherry or Amaretto, fresh raspberries, custard, whipped cream and a good scattering of toasted almonds.

Chocolate and Salt Caramel Trifles are very popular flavours these days too. Chocolate cake, Dulce de Leche, a gentle scattering of sea salt flakes, chocolate custard and cream topped with grated dark chocolate makes an extremely rich pudding (and a little dash of Tia Maria is always worth a thought)

One of the most decadent trifles is my Black Forest Trifle, again, no jelly here just good sponge, a good quality dark chocolate spread (or homemade ganache) lots of Kirsch, a jar of black cherries, chocolate custard and whipped cream finished with grated dark chocolate.


The Pheasant Philosopher’s Christmas Diaries: Down Memory Lane

Growing up in the 1980s there were so many things which ‘made’ Christmas. One of the main questions being, were your family ‘Team Quality Street’ or ‘Team Roses’? My parents were firmly ‘Team Roses’, whilst my paternal Grandmother was ‘Team Quality Street’.Of course, this was in the day when a tin of chocolates was really made of tin and extremely generously filled with all the family favourites – however, the Strawberry creams were always left until well after the new year though, and often consigned to the bin as they were far too sweet.

I always enjoyed visiting my paternal Grandparents in the run up to Christmas; the left hand cupboard in the G-Plan sideboard would be slowly filling up – there would All Gold, Black Magic, Mint Matchmakers, Chocolate Orange, Chocolate Brazil Nuts, After Eights (with their own silver plated ‘trolley’), a tin of Quality Street and some York Fruits, always the gift of choice between my paternal Grandmother (Nan) and maternal Grandfather, who was rather challenged in the tooth department – I don’t think anybody ever actually liked York Fruits – finally there were those little lemon and orange slices, covered in sugar, in a little round box.

My Nan’s Christmas Cake was generously enrobed with almost rock hard ‘snow’ icing, topped with a 1950s plastic Christmas tree, a gold plastic ‘Season’s Greetings’ sign, and a pink crepe paper ruff adorning its middle. There would be a Bird’s Trifle with multi coloured sprinkles and homemade Chocolate Eclairs, the tins for which, I still have in my kitchen cupboard.

My maternal Grandparents, who lived in a tiny Victorian cottage near Newport, then in Gwent, celebrated Christmas in a far more relaxed way. Grandma would make cakes and plenty of mince pies, they would roast a chicken and enjoy the TV – there were no Christmas Trees or decorations save for one or two made at school by myself. Christmas was kept quietly, a few treats would be bought but Grandma was, as is still at 107, very thrifty.

Today, with so much choice all the year round, we have perhaps lost the magic of those days, the annual traditions which signified the opening of the season – although even now I wait in anticipation for the first satsumas to arrive, I still buy the bag of mixed nuts – although the carved wooden bowl which would sit with the nutcracker on the nested G-Plan tables in my Nan’s front room is long gone – I am still partial to a Bendicks or Elizabeth Shaw mint, although my tastes have naturally diversified, and a selection box (always one of my presents from my Gran) still appears in my son’s stocking.

I think, at Christmas, we do try to cling on to nostalgia and tradition a little more, especially as we get older – even though things probably weren’t better in the ‘olden days’, it’s still a comfort, to us, to believe they were!