In which your intrepid blogger returns to England for some home holiday comforts
VinoNYC is coming to you from the road this week, as I have been spending the holidays with my family in my hometown of Loughborough, Leicestershire. This has so far meant an awful lot of lounging, but I have also made room to focus on the more important task of refueling on some sorely-missed English holiday treats.
The snack cornerstone of any festive period in the UK is the widely enjoyed yet oft-botched mince pie. The recipe calls for a small dollop of mincemeat (rich, candied fruit held together in syrup) encased in pastry with a lid on and baked. Though it would seem no-one could cock-up this simple procedure, you’d be amazed how many bad mince pies I’ve been served in my relatively short lifetime. Though my Dad is partial to Tesco‘s iced-top variation, I prefer my mother’s mince pies which are never a let down (more fruit than pastry — not viceversa). These are typically served warm, sprinkled with powdered sugar and washed down with a cuppa (tea). And if you happen to be fireside watching Premier League highlights on BBC1’s Match of The Day all the better.
Christmas Day in my house usually begins with a glass of Champagne and a hefty wedge of panettone — as mentioned in a previous post, I have mine shipped from Florence by an elderly friend named Professoressa Fortunata Maria Lelmi, affectionately known as “Bibi”. Every year, Bibi sends us a Tre Marie Panettone Classico (universally considered the best on the market) which arrives via Poste Italiane with all the aroma of a bustling Florentine bar at breakfast.
It’s a hard task to try and pair wine with turkey and roast potatoes, but I think this year we got it about right, uncorking a bottle of Barolo 2004 Oddero with dinner. It had a slight twinge of caramel which I felt was the perfect festive accompaniment to the brussels sprouts and parsnips.
The meal concluded, naturally, with Christmas pudding — the rich, fruit-based steamed pudding (not to be confused with Christmas cake, which is a cake and not a pudding). My mother likes hers with liqueur-infused creams which I cannot stand. I prefer hot custard. When my grandmother was alive she would begin soaking the fruit for the pudding in alcohol around late-August. Mum sensibly doesn’t go to such lengths, but Christmas pudding is still my favorite English dessert, and if made correctly not at all heavy as its critics would have you believe. Traditionally it is cooked with an actual sixpence inside, the idea being that whoever finds the coin in their bowl gets to keep it. By the time I was little we had the metric system and the prospect of finding money in your food gets less attractive when you nearly break a tooth on a 20p piece. Nowadays I’m happy to report our Christmas pudding is free of all metals.
Boxing Day (December 26th) invariably means leftovers, though we had a nice roast beef, which we enjoyed with Montebetti 2007 Guido Gualandi. I’d never had Chianti with bubble and squeak before, but I felt it was a nice match. Next day I visited the Roman city of Leicester, which included a stop at Carluccio’s, the restaurant launched by the Salerno-born TV chef and writer Antonio Carluccio. This is the only place outside of Italy where I have ever found Campari Soda available in the bottle. I was so excited I decided to forgo my espresso for this very rare, very red treat.
Postscript: After a week of eating my parents out of house and home it was time to get back to work, so I departed for New York with a well-stocked suitcase in tow stuffed with After Eight Mints, Terry’s Chocolate Orange and PG Tips (“It’s the taste!”).
All photography by James Taylor.