Our Solstice Shorts Festival is TOMORROW (21st Dec, 6.30PM GMT, Tickets via Eventbrite)
The festival spans the entire time any person might want to eat their evening meal, so we invite you to eat along with us. In reality I will be too busy to eat properly and will be picking at an excellent cheese board and pickles.
However, if I weren’t running a festival, I would be feasting, because that’s what you are meant to do at Solstice, alongside the lighting of fires (tick – in our house anyway!) and telling of stories (tick). The tradition is the feast before the famine of the coldest part of winter. In our Words From The Brink mode, it is the feast before we run out of things to eat because we’ve killed all the bees and nothing will grow… but in the mean time eat drink and be merry.
I always think a mead hall would complete the midwinter feast, smoky, dark, full of song – but that always makes me think of Beowulf and the monster at the door. I made mead once (beer made with honey, rather than that sickly liquor that passes for mead), it was a success!
This year’s climate crisis theme has also had me thinking about the cost to the planet of my feast. If what follows sound confused, it is. I’m a concerned amateur, not a food miles specialist.
I’m never going to voluntarily become a vegan, but I’ve been a vegetarian for 42 years (18th birthday, ostentatious prawn cocktail, 30 dead things…) and I’ve had pretty much the same festive winter meal since around then.
So I thought I’d share the recipes (or ingredients list at least), and the how okay with the planet is this worries, because that’s the monster at the door, isn’t it – or, possibly, inside with us.
I don’t bother with starters except in restaurants where generally the veggie option are more fun than the mains.
But if it’s going to be a feast, doesn’t it have to have more than two courses? (Why?) So no, no starter.
Cost to the planet Nil!
Nut roast. This is my older sister’s recipe, and my mum’s recipe for stuffing, so a family tradition.
The main ingredient is hazelnut. I have a pair of hazel trees in the garden which, if the squirrels ever left any, would mean this was pretty much the self-sufficiency gold star. But in principle, I could grow the ingredients myself.
I run two versions of this, one relies heavily on stale bread (tick, except it uses so much that you have to buy extra bread to let it go stale). The other uses chestnut puree and/or tofu (smoked) to replace the breadcrumb, and depending on the consistency can do away with the egg otherwise needed. Chestnuts can grow in this country, but in reality, are imported from France. Tofu, very bad on the air miles and the processing, but delicious in this recipe. Herbs actually picked from the garden (tick). Those eggs could be homegrown too, a neighbour keeps rescued battery hens. Our garden isn’t quite big enough to let them be free range, and the local foxes would be lined up with their napkins on, so no, no hens.
The Stuffing is lemon and celery, and makes the meal, in my opinion. More stale bread, celery, onions, lots of butter, lemon rind and juice. More garden herbs. In theory I could grow lemons and celery in the garden. In practice the lemon comes from Spain, the celery is local. Butter is the very devil though, isn’t it, and spoils the virtue of the meal singlehandedly. Oil doesn’t quite work, and I loathe all things coconut, so butter it is.
Sides: roasted veg Potatoes, parsnips, carrots -all seasonal and could be (and in some cases have been) grown in our garden. These can be cooked at the same time as the roast, which only takes an hour so doesn’t use too much power. Different recipes for each, involve parboiling, coating in olive oil and roasting at a high heat, but the carrots have a splash of wine and brown sugar and a handful of dried fruit added – a Persian recipe, and delicious, as well as being, unfortunately, a bit bad for the planet in terms of airmiles.
Red cabbage – either pickled, or Normandie style, cooked with apple and caraway seeds in a light tossing of oil. All could be homegrown; I have successfully grown a red cabbage (success rate was 1 in 5, mind you) we even have a couple of apple trees, though we’ve usually eaten them all long before solstice.
Pickled walnuts. One day I will try pickling my own, this is the food of the gods. No feast is complete without them. Walnuts can be grown in this country – but it’s a long wait from planting tree to first harvest!
We always have chocolate yule log, Delia Smith’s recipe, with some personal finessing. Of course, this is a gluten free recipe, so I make it alongside the Solstice Cake when we do the festival live. Essentially, 6 eggs, 6 oz of sugar, 1 oz cocoa (showing my age with my measurements). Yolks and sugar mixed til creamy, cocoa sifted and mixed ingradually, followed by beaten egg whites folded in very carefully. Bake on a big shallow baking tray, 20mins, roll up while still warm, then unroll, spread with chestnut puree sweetened to taste (icing sugar is best for this), and a spoonful or so of cream to get it to spreading consistency. Spread with whipped double cream, roll up, dust with icing sugar. Sugar processing not good for planet, although if beat sugar, can be grown locally. Cocoa airmiles, cream cruel to cows.
This is a light, flavoursome pudding-cake that you can face eating after stuffing yourself on mains. Otherwise skip dessert and have cake later.
We’d love you to share your favourite feasting recipes, and reflect on whether the planet can take you eating it.
Tomorrow: Solstice Cake.