It is quite difficult to narrow down the subject of Christmas food and wine and write about it in a concise way. So, I have picked a few headings and will briefly write about them for your Festive reading pleasure.
Last year my Christmas blog post was titled CHRISTMAS DAY WINES, MASKS AND FOOD. Therein, I discussed choosing festive wines. Have a read if you like as, I won’t repeat here what I referred to in that post. Let’s kick on so.
Christmas Cake Around The World
Did you know that prior to the industrial revolution, Christmas would take place over a period of 12 days (ending on the 5th of January, I believe).
On the final day, people would eat a delicious fruit cake to wind down the festivities. That fruit cake would be the beginning of a new Christmas tradition - the Christmas Cake.
Christmas cake in England began as plum porridge. Now, the traditional English Christmas cake is made with moist currants, sultanas (golden raisins), and raisins that have been soaked in rum.
In Italy, Panettone, a slice of sweet sourdough bread with a distinct cupola shape, is traditionally eaten at Christmas. It contains raisins with citrus fruit and is prepared meticulously over several days.
A Scottish specialty is, the “Whisky Dundee”. As the name implies, the Christmas cake originated in Dundee and is made with Scotch whisky.
In the United States, some people give fruitcakes as gifts at Christmas time, but they are not called Christmas cakes.
In Germany, Stollen, a traditional German fruitcake, is popular. During the Christmas season, it’s also called Weihnachtsstollen or Christstollen.
In France, in Belgium, in Switzerland, in French Canada, in Luxembourg, and in Lebanon, a Bûche de Noël (Yule Log cake) is the traditional Christmas cake.
Christmas cakes are made many ways, but generally they are variations on classic fruitcake. They can be light, dark, moist, dry, heavy, spongy, leavened, unleavened and more. They are made in many different shapes, with frosting, glazing, a dusting of confectioner’s sugar or plain.
Feeding a fruitcake is the process of adding alcohol occasionally, to keep it moist and improve its flavour. Strong, flavourful spirits – like rum, whisky, and brandy – work best.
After baking the cake, skewer it with tiny holes and spoon some alcohol to let it soak. Once it's cooled down, "feed" it with an additional spoonful every 14 days until you get the desired flavour.
Christmas Food and Plum Pudding
The very first version of the pudding originated in the 14th century. The British made porridge called "frumenty" made of beef and mutton with raisins, wines, currants, and spices – quite a collection of tastes!
At that time pudding tended to be more like soup and was eaten in the time of Christmas preparation.
However, over the centuries, recipes evolved and started to include eggs, breadcrumbs, nuts, dried fruit, beer, and spirits, to resemble the puddings more closely that we eat today.
By the 17th century, Christmas pudding was known as plum pudding, despite the fact plums were never an ingredient – at the time, plum was used in reference to dried fruit of any variety.
From a personal point of view, I love telling the story behind the Green Acres Christmas Pudding. You see, both Paula's mother and my mother had their own recipes for plum pudding.
Angela’s recipe was very light and soaked up the whiskey. Sylvia’s was so dense, the whiskey sat on top and burned away with a soft blue flame. What we did in the bakery was combined both recipes to get where we are today.
The Green Acres plum pudding is so popular that we make a ton of pudding each year. We usually put an 18 month best-before date on it. However, we are sure though that if you put the pudding away and found it 5 years later, it would be better than ever.
Personal serving tip: Heat the pudding under the grill for about 3 minutes (or microwave for about 30 secs) and then serve with fresh cream, ice cream or custard.
Christmas Food and Mince Pies
While they’ve been baked for Christmas since the Middle Ages, mince pies haven’t always been the delicate, sweet little things they are today. Traditional recipes included mincemeat. Back in the day, mince pies were still a festive treat served around Christmas time, but they were filled with mincemeat, dried fruits, and a load of spices.
Here is our Green Acres recipe for Mince Pies (12 pies) from Head Chef Richie:
Christmas Wine - Mulled
Mulled wine was first drunk in Rome as far back as the 2nd century, when heating and spicing wine became common practice. Romans were able to bring these traditions of wine with them when they conquered and traded throughout Europe.
During all those centuries, grape growing, wine production, and most importantly, wine drinking formed an integral part of European cultural customs.
In modern-day mulled wine recipes, nutmeg, cloves, and sometimes a touch of port or brandy are typically added to a bottle of red wine. There are different interpretations of mulled wine around the world, but it is still a beloved drink and has become synonymous with Christmas.
Here’s the Green Acres recipe for mulled wine as prepared by Head Chef Richie:
Pairing Christmas Wine and Turkey
Every year, it seems that we get the question “What wine goes with turkey?”. In fairness it is a good question as many of us look forward to a week of leftovers and jaded palates.
One important consideration with Christmas Day is that the central dish is usually surrounded by a vast array of side dishes: mashed/roast potatoes, carrots, dressing, cranberry sauce, Brussel sprouts and glazed ham/bacon etc.
Choosing a wine for turkey may be your primary concern, but ideally nothing else on the table should ‘fight’ with the wine.
So, are there any specific wines to try? I’ll refer you back to the “cranberry sauce rule”. Try to find wine with a flavour profile like cranberry sauce, the traditional condiment for turkey.
Cranberry sauce is fruity, tart, with only a touch of sweetness at the most. There’s no scent of oak, no tannic astringency in cranberries, whether you buy them whole or jellied or make the dish at home.
Quite a few wines have this flavour profile, both red and white. Riesling, Gewürztraminer, and Chenin Blanc make excellent white-wine choices. For the reds, Beaujolais, a lower-alcohol Zinfandel, a generic Chianti, or a Côtes du Rhône will do the job too. I love a Pinot Noir with mine.
Of course, there is one way to view this pairing challenge - drop the whole idea of a perfect food-wine match and simply enjoy a wine that you really like.
Alternatively, just uncork a sparkling wine! In my last blog about Sparkling Wine, I state that sparkling wine goes with everything! Trust me, any dish you have on Christmas Day will pair with a sparkling wine. How much you want to spend on same, is up to you.
How about a Magnum of Wine?
A magnum of wine contains two 750ml (standard) bottles of wine. To me, nothing makes a statement quite like a magnum of wine. Magnums are still a little niche so a bigger bottle can become a conversation piece around the table. It is often really good value. Of course, it also offers plenty to share around the Christmas table.
How to Decant a Magnum
If you don’t have a decanter, any large jug will work. Ideally, I’d recommend investing in a good filter funnel. Pour slowly, keeping the bottle on its side to reduce the chances of transferring any sediment.
You can serve your wine from the jug. Alternatively, you could pour the wine back into the bottle – this is known as double decanting – for a little wow factor. I would also recommend rinsing out the bottle. There isn’t a strict time frame for decanting wine, but maybe decant a few hours before the meal, which gives you plenty of time.
Here is a good read from our friend and top Irish sommelier, Julie Dupouy from the recent Gloss Magazine publication, A Wine Editor’s Guide to the Best Bottles for Christmas Day.
As the advertisement goes – the holidays are coming, but for me, it can never come soon enough. It’s my favourite time of the year ... all about family, friends, good Christmas food and wine.
I’ll finish this post by leaving you with a music track I heard recently by Dave McPhillips called Christmas Wine – enjoy.
If any of the team in Green Acres can help you with your wine choices for the Festive Season ring us, pop in or shop directly online here: https://greenacres.ie/collections/wines
On behalf of my family, the Green Acres and Frank’s Place teams, I would like to wish you and yours a safe, peaceful, and enjoyable Christmas. We look forward to seeing you all in the New Year.
Talk soon - James