In the run up to Christmas, the nation becomes bird-brained. At least, many of us have birds on the brain. When you think of Christmas dinner, can you – like me – smell the sweet smell of roasting turkey? Or perhaps goose? Can you smell that warm, comforting, childhood-memories-evoking scent of meat cooking merrily away in its own juices, stuffed full of stuffing, so tender that it falls apart in your mouth? Can you almost taste your Christmas bird, swimming in gravy, perhaps with a splash of cranberry sauce to boot? If you aren’t salivating right now then congratulations: you’re a better person, and vegetarian, than I.
To understand my dilemma, and how much of a hypocrite my nose makes me, I’ll have to take you more than a decade into the past. Shut your eyes, count to ten, spin around in your desk chair if possible, and boom!
The year is 2002. It’s nearly Christmas. Having already given up red meat but still on the dinner time war path to persuade my parents that poultry wasn’t fair game, I bring home a Christmas poem I had written in school and, with the diabolic smile of a scheming child, hand it to my mother. The other children in my class wrote about presents and Santa and snowmen – nice, wholesome festive themes for ten year olds. I wrote a delightful ditty titled ‘Axed’ about how turkeys don’t get to enjoy Christmas because they’re all brutally murdered beforehand. In my quest for control over my own diet, I had become a vege-scare-ian.
I made a fuss about fish, I cried over chicken, and I refused to shut up about the happy frolicking animals that our dinners had formerly been. I had gone rogue cop. I didn’t care about the collateral damage. Feelings were hurt. Meals were ruined. My little sister still can’t eat turkey. So since I’ve spent the last ten years telling whoever will listen that, generally speaking, I’m a follower of the Animal Farm ‘four legs good, two legs bad’ philosophy and prefer the company of animals to most humans, the way my mouth insists on watering at the smell of roasting Christmas turkey is awkward at best.
I have therefore decided to take preventative action against my olfactory system and spend this year finding the perfect scent anecdote to poultry, that will have my mouth watering without my morals wilting. This quest might be a bit odd by the middle of summer, but for now, deep in the January post-festive slump, cooking more Christmas food just seems like a genius idea.
So I give you our first contender for Yuletide taste-bud heaven: Jamie Oliver’s mushroom, chestnut, and cranberry tart.
That photo, although effectively documenting how pleased with myself I was, (and I was pretty smug to be honest because I even made the pastry from scratch – excuse me while I polish my domestic goddess halo) does not really do justice to the food. Let’s zoom in for a closer look…
The intense earthy flavours of the wild mushrooms and chestnuts, combined with the sweet tang of the cranberries, and the creamy cheese and carrot filling, is pretty damn awesome, but when you factor in the redcurrant jelly gravy – oh, my, god.
I decided that I enjoy all things dairy too much to follow Jamie’s vegan recipe, so used cream cheese in the filling and butter in the pastry, as well as scrapping the gluten free plan and using normal flour. But it’s nice to know that a healthier option exists, and I imagine it would be just as delicious as a vegan, gluten free recipe. (In Jamie we trust.) This is going to be an incredibly hard act to follow, but I have eleven and a half months to investigate whether it’s going to be my next Christmas dinner. Here’s to Christmas if not every day then at least every few months!