Why Nigel Slater’s The Christmas Chronicles and Stir-up Sunday are two of my favourite pre-Christmas traditions - Rosalind Erskine

It’s, somehow, mid-November and the festive season is starting to kick off.
My copy of Nigel Slater's The Christmas Chronicles is well-read.My copy of Nigel Slater's The Christmas Chronicles is well-read.
My copy of Nigel Slater's The Christmas Chronicles is well-read.

It’s hard to believe, but Christmas is only five weeks away, although I feel like July was only last month. But the imminent arrival of Santa is becoming more and more obvious.

From Christmas adverts, lights being switched on and finding the perfect party outfit, to shopping for Christmas gifts and stocking up on necessities such as advent calendars, selection boxes and a few chocolate oranges, there’s many things that mark the occasion. I’ve written a few pieces on my hatred of the cold, dark nights (though hats off to autumn, a season I love when I can get into it), so I am always on the hunt for things to look forward to during the winter.

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Christmas in itself is a reason to love the shorter, dark days, and the little traditions in the lead up to the big day itself all add to the excitement at, if nothing else, getting some time off work. In the past few years I have added a couple of new traditions to my November, which help me prepare, but also look forward to the busier December days that seem to fly in.

It’s fair to say that I have always enjoyed Nigel Slater’s work, including his easy-to-follow recipes that have been published in The Observer for just 30 years this year. But it wasn’t until I bought a copy of his 2017 book, The Christmas Chronicles: Notes, Stories & 100 Essential Recipes for Midwinter, in which I really began to appreciate his storytelling and seasonal recipes for this time of year, all of which, in this book in my opinion, have a comforting element about them.

There’s a fabulous Vice article that refers to Slater as a “food dad” and “an uncle you don’t entirely understand, but cannot help but love”, and I agree wholeheartedly. His cooking is approachable, with the occasional bit of spice. The cook himself has been known to be a bit salty in social media, once replying “sorry Helena, I’m not a f*****g travel agent” to a woman who asked him for advice on where to visit in his beloved Japan.

While he’s not one to give endless interviews, his cook books are personal, culinary journeys through a year or season, and The Christmas Chronicles is no exception. Starting on November 1, the book gives recipes, tips and an overview of Slater’s lead up to the busiest time of the year for the home cook. Recipes include the easiest and most successful Christmas cake I’ve made, which I tend to do on Stir-up Sunday. This is an old tradition I have adopted for about the past ten years, that former flatmates who had to deal with the kitchen mess and the unmistakable scent of Christmas wafting from the oven for hours – thank goodness electricity bills were cheaper then – will attest to. There are also simple soups, roasts, stews, stollen, and my dad’s favourite spiced chocolate cake.

The book ends in February, and I often find myself finishing it and realising that spring is not too far away. This comes with a sense of relief, but also of time well spent.



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