Planning large family meals for the Christmas holidays, I keep turning to Diana Henry. For one thing, in salt sugar smoke, her recipes often seem to me to suggest wonderful ways of adding glamour to home-grown and local produce. I wouldn’t have thought this could be possible with root veg but Diana’s middle eastern pickled turnips look spectacularly exotic on my windowsill, the juice from chunks of beetroot adding a gloriously pink hue.
Many of her Scandinavian recipes for salt-curing and preserving also seem perfect for relaxing Christmas meals as most of the preparation is done leisurely in advance. The preparation of her beetroot-cured gravlax doesn’t seem very labour intensive at all, yet look at the dramatically delicious result:
I have a jar of Diana’s Scandinavian pickled cucumber in a cupboard in readiness, am planning to dig up a root of horseradish (cleaned it’s handy to have in the freezer ready for grating for homemade horseradish sauce) to mix with creme fraiche and a squeeze of lemon to go with the gravlax. I’m very tempted by the crunchy russian dill pickles too.
When I talked to Diana Henry, her view that the Scandinavians “are so brilliant at bringing the countryside to their plates – using dill, you feel so much as if you’ve been walking through a pine forest,” struck a chord with me. I’m hoping that although my post Christmas day family feast will include a mix of home-produced and cooked ham, gravlax, some very English pickles along with the Swedish ones and some Irish soda bread, Scandinavian grandmothers wouldn’t be too horrified at my jumble of food traditions. Even some of my Autumn preserves, including elderberry pickle, elderberry gin and blackberry whisky, made from very English hedgerow fruit, may contribute to the meal. My feast may draw on recipes from many cultures, but as it brings the garden and surrounding countryside to a table of food gathered around by a large family, it does seem to have some Scandinavian spirit. As well as pickles.
And having baked some lovely Honey Hearts from Trine Hahnemann’s “Scandinavian Christmas” I think dessert may be Scandinavian inspired too. Although, can I find time to make Diana Henry’s purple fig and pomegranate jam – how fabulously festive does this sound, maybe with mascarpone mixed with a little vanilla sugar, greek yoghurt, meringues….