The Pheasant Philosopher’s Christmas Diaries: The Big Festive Breakfast

I have always been a great supporter of the ‘Full English Breakfast’. It is one of the few meals that can be almost entirely locally sourced, at any time of the year. A legacy of the great Country House breakfasts which were at their height in the 19th and early 20th century, these were full meals, sustaining enough to take family and guests though a full days hunting with only a picnic type luncheon. The emphasis on breakfast was hearty English food, whilst dinner followed the more fashionable French style of cuisine.

Breakfast was a buffet style meal, buffets laden with everything from Devilled Kidneys, Kippers and Kedgeree through to game, meat and of course breads and cheeses. It was served between 9 am and 11 am, sound familiar? The American Brunch follows this pattern quite neatly, more substantial food than mere toast and cereal, and served later in the morning. So, could you say that the Victorians invented Brunch? Perhaps, but with a little controversy.

The festive period is a great time to go all-out for Breakfast, many of us are out and about during the day, nibbling a mince pie or sausage roll here and there, not really having time for a sit-down lunch so a decent breakfast hits the spot perfectly, also there is a wonderful ritual to Breakfast, a time to chat, sit around the table, light some candles and enjoy the present. Many people are off work between Christmas and New Year and these precious holidays, unlike others in the year, are almost always spent at home, surrounded by friends and family –  and with time on your hands.

Breakfast is also a good meal to get the children to help with, laying the table, easy recipes…perhaps Christmas muffins or homemade bread. Aside from the usual ‘Bacon and Eggs’ there are thousands of recipes suitable for a substantial breakfast, how about waffles with lots of different toppings, pancakes or Spanish Tortilla, baked ham and egg cups, roasted avocado with a little chilli on toasted sourdough, Turkish Shakshouka (spicy baked eggs often served with Merguez sausages) or Mexican Huervos Rancheros  (ranch style eggs) served with soft tortillas?  Or what about designating a different country to each breakfast and tour the world?

I have written about the classic British breakfast before, I have extolled the virtues of locally produced bacon and sausages, decent bread and free-range eggs, personally this combination never bores me, but with a little baking and a few festive touches any breakfast can be made an extra special and memorable experience.


The Pheasant Philosopher’s Christmas Diaries: Stir Up Sunday

Originating in the early 18th century, Stir Up Sunday is the day traditionally designated to undertake the making of the Christmas Pudding.

Always kept on the last Sunday before Advent, it is said that Stir Up Sunday originated from a passage in a sermon in ‘The Book of Common Prayer’ translated from the Roman Catholic ‘Excita Quarsumus’ and read on the last Sunday in November.

“Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people”

However, whilst I consider myself spiritual, but not tied to one particular religion, I see it as a day to have fun with the family, make wishes whilst stirring, and generally set the scene for the beginning of the Christmas festivities. It also allows at least 4 weeks for the Pudding to mature in a dark cupboard before being brought flaming to the table on Christmas Day.

Traditionally made with 13 ingredients to represent the 12 apostles and Jesus, my Christmas Pudding recipe is adapted from the doyenne of English cookery Eliza Acton, whose recipe was first published in the 1840s. Under the reign of Queen Victoria (1837-1901), with Prince Albert’s Germanic influences, Christmas became the spectacle it it today, with so many of our Christmas traditions filtering down from this, most famous of couples.

Although the roots of Christmas Pudding’s are deep set in The Middle Ages – where meat and fruit was combined with spices in many recipes – the sweet, sticky, boozy concoction we know and love today is very much a product of post-reformation Britain.

Packed full of moist vine fruits, suet, mixed peel, spices and, of course, booze – it is synonymous with Christmas Lunch and, love it or hate it, no Christmas meal is complete without it. Traditionally, every member of the household takes a turn to stir the pudding and make a wish. My Great Grandmother would take her industrial sized Christmas Pudding to the local brewery to be steamed in the great vessels used for brewing and my grandmother, who is now almost 108 still enjoys taking a turn stirring the pudding and making her wish.

Historically, a selection of silver tokens are stirred into the mix – most often a sixpence (silver is by nature anti-bacterial so no poisoning worries there, although it does make for somewhat of a choking hazard) and the finder of this would “enjoy wealth and good luck in the year to come”.

Christmas Pudding

Serves 6-8

75g plain flour (or gluten free)

75g breadcrumbs (I like to use wholemeal)

175g suet (beef or vegetable)

175g chopped figs

175g sultanas

50g diced mixed peel

1 large apple, grated

1 large orange, zest grated and juiced

150g dark brown sugar

1.5 tsp mixed spice

1/2 tsp sea salt

100ml Armagnac (or any spirit you prefer)

3 eggs lightly beaten

Method

Mix all the ingredients together in a large bowl, making sure that every member of the household gets to stir and make their wish!

Pour into a greased pudding bowl – I use a 21 cm Pyrex bowl – cover with a dampened new tea towel or muslin then tie securely with string.

Place on a trivet in a large lidded pan and pour water 3/4 of the way up the side

Bring to the boil and then simmer gently for 4 hours, topping up the water when necessary

Cool and store in a cool, dark and dry place – I keep my pudding in the bowl, in a large tin – you can ‘feed’ it with spirits but if you are planning on bringing it, flaming, to the table too much additional alcohol can prove dangerous.

On Christmas Day, repeat the steaming procedure for 1 and 1/2 hours then serve with your choice of Brandy Butter, Custard, Cream or Vanilla Sauce – not forgetting the obligatory sprig of decorative Holly!


Christmas Markets and Making Merry – All the fun of the festive fair!

This week heralds the beginning of the Christmas Market season and we are spoilt for IMG_5471choice in Monmouthshire, Herefordshire and Gloucestershire. I really enjoy visiting Christmas food festivals, they help get over the post Bonfire Night hump and provide the ideal excuse for a cheeky mulled wine or two, not to mention huge present shopping potential .

I have chosen five of my favourite (most) local festivals to take you through to the big day; already we have seen a couple of frosty mornings so here’s to winter and all it throws at us. These are not purely food festivals, many offer local crafts, musical entertainments and great street food; everything you need to get you into the festive spirit.

Abergavenny Christmas Fair  10th December 

IMG_7449The largest local Christmas Fair, Abergavenny Food Festival always holds the banner high when championing regional and artisanal produce. Two weeks before Christmas Day will find the Market Hall, and surroundings, packed with delectable festive delicacies, an excellent time to stock up on foodie gifts, drinks for those  Christmas Parties or nibbles for surprise guests. As always, expect the best of the best; it’s a great place to stock up on Christmas Sprits whilst putting you in the Christmas Spirit. There are several workshops and feasts taking place too, so please see the website for more details.

The Forest Showcase Christmas Food Festival 26th November 

This year’s Forest Showcase Christmas Festival is to be held at Beechenhurst Lodge in the IMG_7709heart of The Forest of Dean, a fairytale setting for any Christmassy event. There will be stalls, demonstrations, workshops, live music and children’s activities. Tickets cost £3 for adults and £2 for children, family tickets are also available. Expect local cider, festive bakes, local meats and cheeses and a plethora of yuletide goodies.

The Hereford Food and Advent Market Hereford Racecourse 2nd and 3rd December 

“The Hereford Food and Advent market will be a fun festive day out for all the family. Held at Hereford Racecourse on the 2nd and 3rd December 2017 from 10 am – 4pm. Cost £2 entry for adults and £1 for children . FREE parking.
We have a huge variety of food and drink suppliers and live music, where you can have lunch under a covered marquee area, and enjoy the German Christmas market atmosphere.
You can browse and purchase all sorts of Christmas gifts and visit Santa in his grotto. ( extra charge of £5 will apply )
Also available will be free craft workshops for adults and children, included in the entry price.
In addition we have a children’s creative workshop, run by The Creation Station where they can have fun with plate art, and Christmas baubles . Please visit the website and Facebook for details of The Christmas Keepsake Workshop.
Also available are fabulous Christmas wreath making workshops with Debbie from the Hibiscus rooms.”

Gloucester Quays Victorian Markets 16th-26th November, daily until 7pm

Gloucester Quays is a prime example of thoughtful regeneration. The docks, once one of fullsizeoutput_41athe busiest in England, went through a period of decay until being reborn as a fabulous tourist attraction offering everything from pubs, restaurants and bars through to designer shopping and even canal boat hire. The Victorian Christmas market is very beautiful, the little wooden booths offering gifts, regional foods, mulled wine, arts and crafts. It’s a lovely place to visit as dusk falls, when the Christmas lights reflect off the calm waters of the dock and, with a glass of mulled cider in hand you can explore this, most historic, of sites.

Taurus Crafts Christmas Markets  2,3,9,10,16,17th December Free Entry 

Taurus Crafts, near Lydney in Gloucestershire is part of The Camphill Village Trust, a charity which offers support and a community environment to people who may struggle with everyday challenges. Founded in Scotland, in 1939, the charity aims to help all, regardless of disability and its Taurus Crafts based community is a testament to its success. The Christmas Fair offers a holistic festive approach; food, drink, gifts, crafts and Christmas trees can all be found alongside music, choirs and activities. Full of little workshops and unusual, quirky stalls, Taurus Crafts is a really lovely place to pass a few hours being at one with Christmas, sipping hot chocolate and tucking into one of their delicious homemade cakes.