Nigel Slater – The Christmas Chronicles: Notes, stories & 100 essential recipes for midwinter (4th Estate)
Much like cilantro, Marmite, and wasabi enemas, food writer (or as he puts it, a cook who writes) Nigel Slater can be extremely polarizing; people either adore him or despise him, with there being very little, if any, middle ground. I definitely fall into the former camp, and have every single one of his books, having followed his writings since my very first kitchen adventures in my late teens.
I was actually gifted this Christmas Chronicles book a couple of years back, and I’m rather embarrassed to admit that it took me until last week to even crack the spine, as it had become lost in the cookbook nook of our kitchen. Although it was first published back in 2017, I enjoyed reading this so much that I felt I had to write a little something about it for Good Food Revolution.
For me, Xmas is all about family and friends, and in particular sharing special gastronomic experiences with said family and friends; this book is all about that. Nigel Slater is a hell of a skilled storyteller, something that really came to the fore in his Kitchen Diaries Volumes 1 through 3, but this storytelling element has been alive and kicking in all of his writings since Real Fast Food way back in 1993.
I thoroughly enjoyed his introductory chapter here, explaining why the winter months have always meant so much to him since childhood, much more so than the (relatively) stifling heat of the English summer. These paragraphs of wistful memories and evocative scenes set the stage for the rest of the book rather beautifully.
For me, Slater has never been only about the food, but also about everything else that surrounds the complex rituals of dining: aromas, lights/shadows, decorations etc. Over the past two weeks I read his chapter on candles many times, once actually out loud to my family, so impressed was I with the sense of emotions that he is capable of bringing to something that most see as an afterthought.
I’m sure I’ll never think of candles (not to mention wreathes!) in the same way again, and that’s similar to what many of his writings have done for me over the decades, shaping the ways in which I conduct myself both in the kitchen and around the dining table when entertaining, creating my own unique rituals and traditions; and with the amazing candles he recommends, subsequently creating a substantial crater in my annual holiday budget, something that is particularly tight this year.
The recipes are all presented in the classic Nigel Slater style, interwoven with his (often tenderly romantic) personal recollections of Xmases past. Particular favourites of mine would include Roast Cabbage with Cheese Sauce, Pear and Pickled Radish, Pork Chops and Spinach Polenta, Braised Brisket with Porcini and Onion Gravy, and his entire chapter regarding the roasting of a goose. If I can get hold of one, we’ll be having goose for Xmas this year. The last time I had goose was around a decade ago when Chef Chris McDonald arrived on Xmas Eve with a fine goose ready for the oven. Great memories.
His chapter on New Year’s Day, titled “A new loaf, soup, and salad”, is an absolute delight for the reader. As with much of Slater’s beautifully written instructions/suggestions, often less is more, and this chapter perfectly encapsulates this particular philosophy of his.
Although it’s obviously a seasonal read, this may be up there as one of my very favourite Nigel Slater books, as I can see myself returning to this again and again.
It’s certainly going to be a staple this festive season, as once again his writings have given me so much inspiration.
(Five out of a possible five apples)