Benjamin Franklin mooted that guests are like fish, beginning to smell after three days, which is uncannily similar to my feelings about Christmas fare, thoughts of which arrive like unwanted guests some weeks before, and some days after, the event. I have a regular yearly visitation from the ghost of Christmas past, the past being last year, who gently leads me to the lavatory where he leaves me to get used to the surroundings. The groaning board leaves me bored and groaning. Our traditional English Christmas Dinner menu is hidebound and inflexible, which two adjectives can very often be applied to the fare itself. Good Sense goes skiing at Christmas leaving his twin cousins, Quantity and Greed, in charge of the celebrations and they do a remarkably good job. Under their tutelage we quickly learn that we have a much larger capacity, for the carefully prescribed array of highly spiced, desperately bland and extraordinarily sweet food stuffs, than we had ever previously imagined. The religious side to the whole affair is often limited to kneeling, head bowed, over the largest bowl in the building. And so it will continue, even though magazine editors will gather in the coming summer to produce this year’s edition of “Christmas with a Twist” that, despite the new and delicious ideas put forward by food writers, will be a doppelgänger of that which has gone before. If only there were a “Great Escape”.
On a more optimistic note I should mention that I read in the blog, “French Letters”, of a delicious Salad of Duck Confit with Red Cabbage, Chestnuts, and Watercress which the author served as Christmas lunch. That does sound wonderful and I shall try it. This brings me to the point of this post which is red cabbage.
Red cabbage is not denied its rightful place in the serried ranks of bulging black bin bags, but it finds itself in that situation not through dullness but through excess. Like the other components of this glutfest, it is prepared in industrial quantities: which is a shame, as its colour is so apposite for the seasonal celebration as is the sweet, sour and spiced flavour. It does not suffer the slings and arrows that plague Brussels sprouts, turkey, bread sauce et al. It is a dish for all seasons, and one of which I have not yet tired. The recipe below is a favourite of mine and it is to be found in the evergreen “Classic Conran” by Terence and Vicki Conran.
I should make it clear that there are many individually good things about the traditional Christmas dinner; it is the unhappy combination, allied to the enormous quantity, of the individual parts that transforms a feast into a celebration of waste. Regiments of bloated black rubbish bags, brimming with sprouts, bones and stuffing, line the streets in the days that follow. They symbolise our distended bowels and pipes whilst acting as a direct insult to the hungry amongst us, although they probably remind food editors to knock up some recipes for ” leftovers with a twist”. Happily, our consciences are salved by warm and comforting memories of our donations to charity and we remember how moved we were by the sad pictures. I wasn’t sure whether to put inverted commas around “consciences” or “charity”, so I left them out.
Only another twelve months to go.