Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Stuffed at Christmas

Right. That's it. No more shopping. Mrs D has gone out and bought so much festive grub that the supermarket shelves are empty, the checkout conveyor belts have ground to a halt under the load and the Dixonmobile has pinged a shock absorber trying to ferry the whole lot home.

We will have to survive on what we've got, although luckily what we've got would probably feed the population of a small Alpine principality into 2010 and beyond.

Even culinary items which some might consider quite counter-indicative to Christmas cheer – sprouts, dates and parsnips spring to mind – are oozing from under the pantry door at Dixon Towers.

It's a bit worrying when you start to consider how much of our traditional festive fare seems to come from overseas. Sprouts from Belgium, nuts from Brazil, swedes from Sweden, cabbages from Savoy, turkeys from Turkey – it's all some ghastly international plot to keep us regular over the Christmas period.

And at Dixon Towers there's one more ingredient to throw into the cross-cultural gastronomic mix – Mrs D's Polish Christmas Eve special.

This is an Anglicised version of the traditional Wigilia festive meal. Some of the more exotic elements of the original are substituted for more easily obtained ingredients. Your average Sainsbury's doesn't go big on carp, and your columnist vowed many years ago that he wasn't going to go out and catch one. But smoked salmon makes a reasonable and less bony replacement.

There's stuffed cabbage leaves, there's vodka, there's cheesecake, there's more vodka, there's prunes in chocolate and there's even more vodka, though not necessarily in that order. And then there's vodka.

There's even a curious ceremony in which the head of the household (i.e. your humble columnist) gets a spoonful of a dubious-looking concoction made of honey, wheat and poppyseeds and throws it at the ceiling. Whatever sticks is an indicator of what will be plentiful in the coming year. Whatever doesn't, ends up in the vodka.

But the metaphorical icing on the cake of all this middle-European bounty is the unpronounceable beetroot soup, barszcz. Just try saying that with your mouth full of szczupak.

Much stress goes into the preparation, for barszcz must be clear, red and tangy.

The tanginess comes from kwass, a pungent brew of fermented beetroot and rye bread which Mrs D started three weeks ago and is now sitting in the fridge, staring balefully at anyone who comes near it.

The redness comes from not boiling the soup.

The clarity comes from... well, let's not go into too much detail about the clarification.

Suffice it to say that you won't find methods like it in the pages of your average Jamie Oliver, and that Mrs D rarely manages to accomplish it without swearing.

It ain't half good, though. So Merry Christmas, one and all.

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