Archives for category: Christmas

The Natural Cook, Tom Hunt

The Kitchen Orchard, Natalia Conroy

The Recipe Wheel, Rosie Ramsden

We lovers of cookery books spend time every year reading the Christmas reviews and roundups.  This year, for all my slogging-blogging, I was able to decide which books I really rated and approached the publishers for review copies.  I only asked for books I knew I would want to keep on my already over-filled shelves.  These are books I heartily recommend to readers… for this year, next year and beyond… really lovely books!

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Forgive the terrible photo– I won’t get a second chance until next year! But the taste? “Lush. Rich. Gorgeous. Velvety. Chocolatey. Very tasty indeed.”

OK, that’s my husband saying that, but you would say it too!

Over a year ago I began to contemplate making a tart with goose blood for Christmas.  I had read a reference to this as a food traditional to the particular region of what used to be called Montgomeryshire (now Powys) in Wales where I live. But already by that mid-December it was too late, replied our wonderful butcher to my enquiry, because the farm that had reared the geese had already finished the slaughter for Christmas orders and therefore wouldn’t have collected the blood.

(A strong reason, by the way, to support small butcher’s shops– because they are the ones who maintain real relationships with suppliers, where special requests can happen, even if in this case I was too late.  And if you eat meat, it’s so obvious that using as much of an animal as possible is the traditional as well as environmental approach which honours the act of sacrifice the animal unwillingly made.

Watch this wonderful film of a the making of this tart, I would suppose filmed by S Minwel Tibbott as I reckon the scene at the end is the same as that in the still photograph.  I love the way the woman in this clip wraps the Golden Syrup around her wooden spoon.  I love her cooking implements.  I love her apron.  I love the end-result.  How could I not have been on a mission?

I asked around among my friends who grew up in this area, and no one had any recollection of eating this fabled food.  One friend, the very lovely Dawn, daughter of farmers and beloved person in this town, remembered that her “Mum and Dad used to go to a nearby farm to help feather the poultry” and could recall the lady there shrilly shouting to her husband “Catch the goose’s blood , Fred!” in order to make the tarts later.   I wish I had a recording to share here Dawn’s hilarious imitation of that lady, which she enacted in the school yard as we waited for the kids one afternoon–  it’s the kind of sentence we maybe don’t hear much in this day and age.

I have friends Bea, Chris and Kate who are working very hard at a smallholding called Longhill to create a  farming enterprise with chickens, pigs, delicious market-garden vegetables and much more.  Bea mentioned to me that she was planning to raise a few geese and would be happy to support my interest in experimenting with the blood for next year.  And next year came, and Bea remembered her offer, and I found myself with 310ml of blood from 2 geese, which she had collected — “caught” — herself in a gallant and proficient moment of self-sufficiency (read, she’s learned how to do the slaughter herself, and strives to reduce the suffering).

Here is the goose blood as it was left on my doorstep (where it was covered, of course.)


With trepidation, I found the link that had set me on this path a year before.

“In mid-Wales, it was the custom to make goose blood tart when the farmers were killing a large number of geese at Christmastime. Oral evidence testifies that this cake was an essential part of the Christmas fare in the Trefeglwys district and similarly in the districts of Staylittle, Llanbryn Mair and Llangurig in Montgomeryshire. To date, however, there is no evidence to show that it was prepared in any other county in Wales.”

Serendipitously, Longhill is high in the Trefeglwys hills, and was bought from a family with a long history on that site of sheep, cattle, pigs during the war, and of course– geese for Christmas, which apparently many farmers in this area raised.  At the Longhill site, I coincidentally learned, they raised geese to dress and sell in markets in the south of Wales.  I learned from the former owner of that site that this practice stopped when one farmer, his uncle, whose diabetes was effecting his eyesight, blindly trod on a baby goose and killed it; this upset him so much he stopped raising geese at all.

So my Goose Blood Tart was destined to be part of a  renewed lineage of Goose Blood Tarts– I felt sure.

“The blood of about three geese,” read the instructions,  “would be put in a greased basin and boiled in a saucepan half full of water. Then the blood would be allowed to cool and set solid before it was rubbed between the fingers to make fine crumbs. Mixed with currants, flour, suet, salt , spice and golden syrup, it would be baked between two layers of crust on a plate in the oven.”

Here is my version of a “greased basin …in a saucepan half full of water,” an improvised bain-marie.  The blood was strikingly black and was grossing me out a little at this stage.


The blood thickened a little over the soft heat, but never coagulated or crumbled or clotted– Bea had added a little vinegar to preserve the blood until she could get to me, which was the right thing to do,  because blood is meant to go off really quickly, but perhaps it was that small element that changed the chemistry– which was fine in the end.  With no guide to quantities, feeling like a chemist or mad scientist, I added a few (maybe 3) tablespoons  each of flour and Golden Syrup, trepidatiously tasting and stirring, and of butter, as the only substitute for suet I could think of, raisins not currants which I didn’t have, a spoon of cinnamon and a good shake of “Mixed Spice”– and stirred, and watched condense, and slowly felt a surge of confidence that something right was happening.

Regarding having no idea what quantities to use of all the other ingredients besides blood:  In a moment of confusion and mild panic I sought help from an internet forum run by the amazing, generous and very experimental food historian Ken Albala, who guided me to study the Sanguinaccio in Italy, a confection made from pig’s blood in the past and nowadays with a mixture of chocolate. (Thanks everyone in that group for your help and interest!)  This lead me to the amazing blog of Mister Meatball and his Sanguinaccio Dolce, and everything in my mind then clicked into place…

My concoction there on the stove was visually very similar to brownie batter and felt chocolately indeed.


Knowing I wouldn’t be making the tart for several days, I froze it, following Ken’s advice.

Later I looked into Ada Boni’s classic 1950 Talisman Italian Cookbook.  Her Sanguinaccio Neapolitan Style calls for a mere two squares of cooking chocolate– it’s interesting to trace the increasing use of chocolate through time in this dish.

It wasn’t until after New Years, actually, that I was able to arrange a time to invite the good peeps of Longhill to our home to eat the tart, which I tried to make to look as simple as possible.


By the time it was baked, the night had fallen and all the pictures I took with flash were gruesome (see above).  Never mind. We had a really lovely evening with laughter and candlelight, a kind of celebration of planning something for over a year, enjoying its fruition, the family who raised the geese, the woman who caught the blood, and the woman who was curious enough to try a recipe on a museum website.  How would you describe it?  Inside lovely pastry, a custardy, spicy, smoothe and very chocolately confection.  Were there an end to chocolate, it might even serve as a kind of post-apocalyptic substitute– albeit without the bitter, which one doesn’t quite aprreciate always with chocolate– or that opiate, in love feeling.   But they were on to something really good, those upland farm people of yore: their Christmas Goose Blood Tart is truly– and not in any bizarre or challenging way– truly delicious.  We agreed this could become a tradition.

And just to say:  The Wikipedia “Blood as Food” entry is pretty compelling, if I’ve stirred any interest in you.

New Lives for Your Christmas Tree, and Pine and Juniper Needles in General

The link above is a wonderful resource– great ideas for infusing oils, vinegars, fats, booze, spices, teas, syrups, and more.   Our Christmas tree happens to be plastic, something my husband found in a skip and eagerly rescued, and we’re all attached to setting it up and taking it down every year.   But we miss the scent and the naturalness and sacredness of a real tree.  So many things to do with conifer needles.  Looking forward to exploring the writings on this link in general.

Here’s another, if you are a high-end meat-eater, roast your lamb on a Christmas tree branch:

Christmas Puddings in the Age of Melt

This brilliant Christmas Cake was made and iced by Ladies Fauset– climate activists Claire and Sophie and their mother Barbara too. They made it to honour Phil Ball and all the Arctic 30, Greenpeace heroes who paid a price of imprisonment for drawing attention to Russian oil drilling in the Arctic. The cake is funny and celebratory and a kind of Christmas toast. Of course there’s also the pun — the problem with the ice(ing).  But when I saw the photo, the crack reminded me of that kind of anxiety that accompanies the knowledge that our world is in a state of change and crisis that is going to have quite some consequences.

Christmas is one of those holidays through which we mark time, years advancing, my children growing. Because I juggle with pessimism about the future, I hide the sadness to protect their innocence. We act jolly. But I feel time marching forward– New Years is stong for this too– when I want it to stay still, so we can stop ice melting and oceans warming and figure out what to do PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE!

My husband is a climate change campaigner, and so we speak often about the subject, about the future, but also about how people who know and don’t know deal with the knowledge of how serious a situation we find ourselves in, regarding the climate.

So I could only laugh when I realised the Freudian Slip of a Christmas dessert  George came up with for our Christmas dinner: Baked Alaska. It was quite delicious: a soft meringue baked in a hot oven around a store-bought Madeira Sponge wrapped around frozen foraged blackberries and home-grown raspberries mounded on a core of vanilla ice cream. It came to the table as a festive masterpiece, and spoke of the wish, The Wish, that something sweet and cold could stay protected and eternal beneath all our technological machinations.


(A brief read on Wikipedia told me that when the microwave was invented a Hungarian physicist and “molecular gastronomist” produced something the opposite, a “Frozen Florida” in which the meringue remained frozen but the inner liquor was heated. Oh the possibilities of climate chaos, and every weird combination of everything, everywhere.)

Meanwhile I bought a £2 (reduced from £4) Christmas Pudding, not because any of us  especially enjoy it, but because the brandy heated and set on fire makes the most beautiful dancing blue flame, something spiritual and numinous, sacred, magical,  heat and light in this cold dark time of year. I think we’ll light it tomorrow, because we haven’t done so yet tonight.

And I’ll say a little personal prayer of thanks to people who are putting their lives on the line, like the Arctic 30 did,  trying to guide a better future into being– and let myself feel  inspired and empowered by them to be ever more active and vocal.


Mary is a breastfeeding mother, to state the obvious.  Lots of realistic depictions here.

All over the news: Pope Francis encouraged a woman shy to breastfeed her infant in public to feed that child, there and then.  To feel free and empowered to do it.. “Please give it something to eat.”  Comfort, always, and food, breast-milk so perfect nutritionally, in sweetness, in fats, in taste, in what it delivers immunologically and microbiologically and the nearness of warm loving skin, through which it’s delivered.  Lactation really is a miracle, and very beautiful, and the first food a mother can give her baby, and Slow Food, because a body makes the milk in the time required, and all about “Food Sovereignty” because a woman can decide, in a kind of beautiful dance with Baby, when to feed, how long to feed, how much milk to produce, not intrinsically tied to corporations or regulations or industrial regimes.

I remember the years when I was breastfeeding my babies, even as a non-Christian, feeling a spiritual affinity with Mary and the nursing Baby Jesus.  (And when you’re heaviliy pregnant, it also becomes possiible to deeply imagine the physical travail of riding into Bethlehem on a donkey, and the kind of anxiety that must have accompanied not knowing where one would spend the night.  (No one helped Mary give birth, did they– she did it alone, without a midwife?  I can’t believe I don’t know the answer to this question.)

The breastfeeding Mary powerfully symbolises love, and the addressing of hunger.  This wonderful article discusses how the symbol of the breast predates the centrality of the crucifixion as a symbol and  “the virgin’s nursing breast, the lactating virgin, was the primary symbol of God’s love for humanity…”

I always felt, as a breastfeeding mother, that there was a meanness and cruelty to the judgement that I shouldn’t nurse publicly, forbidding to the infant too, that we should go instead into a toilet or restroom for privacy.  Lactivists across the world are battling for a change in social outlook on this.  Yet– what if issues around breastfeeding became linked with food rights and food sovereignty and all the broad ways we are coming to define them.  I find it really powerful that Pope Francis has made these connections– drawing a wider metaphor about social aspects of food, from a crying baby who wants some boob, without a need to disentangle comfort and hunger — which exist together and can be answered together.

Lots to say really about the industrial food grid and the sacred time before child is on it….  but must go cook dinner for kids now, so will revise later  🙂 …

We have a family joke that cracks us up every year. We eat the children’s chocolates and replace brussel sprouts in the golden wrappers. One year my ingenious husband decided to wrap the chocolates reverse-ways, in the leaves of the sprouts which he’d carefully unfurled.  We gave those to the kids.  This is the merriment we create– HO HO HO.

Last year the prank stopped feeling quite as amusing when I began to contemplate child slavery in the cocoa trade, and realised Ferrero Rocher lacks Fair Trade or anti-slavery certification. Quite effectively petitioned by internet activitists, via Change.Org, the company Ferrero SpA has committed itself to  ensure the end of child slavery in its supply chains by 2020. (Read about it here )

2020?  2020?  Surely change can happen more quickly then this, even within the mega-complicated worlds of international agribusiness.  7 years from now, 8 years from the date of the petition– that’s so many childhoods stolen by trafficking and poverty and 16 hour days and beatings and all the horrors– and yes I know children in other parts of the world have to work and I’m not romanticising “childhood” but I do insist that equitable “development” seeks education and social justice as foundations for the hopes of the future.  And when we are talking about the pleasures and magic I seek to give my own children, as their own childhoods, it somehow matters all the more.  7 years: do we let this company off the hook for now, because it states a good intention?  That’s a question– I’m open to hearing interesting opinions.

Here’s a website that discusses lots of the issues around chocolate

So what should we do?  The mega business also produces Nutella about which today I saw a great and shocking graphic

There is so much politics in that map, between countries, labour markets, eco-systems, futures, commodities trading….  Looking at that map I mentally enquired about their relationship to palm oil, such a troubling ingredient in the unfolding story of processed foods, rain forests, climate change, agribusiness…  Apparantly Ferrero is a strong supporter of “sustainable palm oil”; whether this is a total corporate greenwash kind of notion I need to find out. (Readers, please advise!)  In fact, I realise there’s so much I need to learn about palm oil.

I know that all over the internet there are recipes for DIY Nutella, hazelnut spreads, chocolate spreads, raw cocoa spreads, all kinds of deliciousness that one could investigate while keeping a more ethical control over ingredients.  I could even forage cobnuts as the hazel , or acorns to substitute, for goodness sake, and and do a local-foraged-seasonal version!   I am currently contemplating whether I should try to make my own Ferrero Rocher bonbons to wrap in Brussel Sprout leaves. The exercise becomes rather elaborate, and maybe some of the humour gets lost.  I know we environmentalists (along with feminists) are accused of being humourless, and I see this happening in this very blog post!  Oh Friends, help me, it’s all so complicated….

a PS several days later– I’ve discovered a new blog, which I love, and he’s got a homemade Nutella recipe, and this is the one I will try first if I ever decide to give it a go:

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