Cook’s books

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Kate Young writes about her literary-inspired culinary creations on her blog, The Little Library Café, which won a Guild of Food Writers Award in 2017. Ahead of her debut demo, she explains the many ways in which the books of her childhood have shaped her Christmas cooking

I spend most of the weeks before Christmas in the kitchen or with a book in my hands. As the festive season approaches, my attention turns to memories of my favourite Christmas stories—ones I’ll be revisiting over the coming weeks—and to welcome familiar Christmas foods. Christmas is, after all, a time for tradition.

Growing up in Australia, our Christmases were filled with prawns, with mangoes, and with our endless and increasingly desperate attempts to keep cool. In my favourite books I read about snow, roasted birds, and mulled wine with vicarious joy, imagining that one day I would find a way to spend a Christmas abroad and enjoy it in winter. Christmas in Australia holds its own inevitable charm, but there was always something about it that didn’t feel quite right, despite the fact that it was all I knew.

As I hoped all those years ago, I had my first winter Christmas in 2009. This year, I’m preparing for my tenth English Christmas. Leaving behind the Australian rituals was difficult, and I miss my family dreadfully, but I quickly built new rituals here, creating the kind of Christmas I so longed for as a child. I have always enjoyed December in London: visits to Neal’s Yard Dairy in Borough Market for the cheeses we eat on Boxing Day, to the Geffrye Museum to bask beneath the glorious tree, and to The Prince Charles Cinema to sing along with The Muppet Christmas Carol. I loved finding my first ‘real’ Christmas tree, carried home to Whitechapel for miles through the streets of east London.

Flaming puddings
During the time I’ve been here, I have taught myself to make turkish delight, inspired by Edmund’s sleigh ride with the White Witch in Narnia. I have roasted a goose on Christmas Day, in honour of the Cratchits—the ‘affordable’ bird back when A Christmas Carol was written, as the turkey 75 per cent of us will eat this Christmas was a luxury only Scrooge could afford. I’ve boiled fruit-laced dough in calico to recreate the flaming puddings in the Great Hall at Hogwarts, or in the Fossil household in Ballet Shoes. I’ve made buckwheat pancakes, like the ones the March sisters took to the Hummels on Christmas morning in Little Women.

I’ve crystallised slices of ginger, the type Hercule Poirot enjoys in The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding, and boxed them up as gifts. I’ve assembled trays of mince pies, the rich fruity ones consumed by the packet in Bridget Jones’s Diary and Behind the Scenes at the Museum, rather than the meat-filled 19th century ones in Jane Eyre and A Christmas Carol. I’ve baked batches of pepparkakor on Christmas Eves, the thin Swedish biscuits that Pippi Longstocking rolls and cuts out on the floor. In the absence of decades of experience with wintery Christmases, it’s in my favourite books that I found the template.

Join Kate for tips, tastings and recipes Friday 14th December in the Market Hall, 12:30-2pm