It's wet (and thankfully after the sticky weather of the last few days) cold outside, I'm feeling distinctly low, and am procrastinating. What I should be doing is hoovering, dealing with quinces, and writing book reviews - in no particular order. Not hoovering doesn't matter very much, but the quinces have a shelf life, and I've promised reviews to other people.
Instead I braved the elements, picked up a huge bag of newly wind fallen quinces - because despite not having done anything with the first lot, the idea of just leaving them to rot seemed wrong, and bought a book. The book was very much an impulse purchase, it's the Fortnum and Mason Christmas book, not officially published until next week, but Waterstones had a copy, and it's a such a mood lifter I couldn't resist.
I should have resisted because money is currently a bit tight and I've bought a lot of books, including cookbooks, this month already (those two things are not unrelated). Whatever, sometimes a bit of mild extravagance is good for the soul, which is why I love Fortnum and Mason so much in the first place.
I think I fell under its spell long before I ever saw the place, probably reading Dorothy L. Sayers, and anyone else who referred to hampers, hams, and other luxurious food stuffs. Something of that old fashioned glamour still exists, and that's exactly what Tom Parker Bowles captures in his books for them. They're big on nostalgia, but that works for me from a shop that always makes me feel like the Provincial Lady up in town for the day.
It's why in this book a shopping list of Christmas staples (which would bankrupt most of us) is charming rather than irritating. My Christmas won't feature caviar or foie gras, it will have marrons glacé and good coffee. I'm on the fence about pickled walnuts, but absolutely behind pork pies (from Melton Mowbray, obviously), and I'm enjoying reading about all of them. There's a lot to read about traditions in here too, as well as quite a bit of innovation - it's a book it's easy to get lost in when you have other jobs to avoid. It's also reminded me that I'm not very familiar with Tom Parker Bowles writing at all, which is clearly my loss, because he's a fun companion here.
As for recipes - well reader, until today I'd never drunk cocoa but a recipe for a sloe gin hot chcolate which used a ridiculous amount of it has changed that. I played about with it a bit - added a spoon of soft brown sugar to just take the bitter edge off, upped the amount of sloe gin for more of a kick, and stirred in single cream rather than topping with whipped double (wasn't going out again) and the results were delicious. Comforting and grown up, still pleasingly bitter, and definitely luxurious. I'm very happy with this. I'm looking at a recipe for a pineapple tarte tatin with vanilla, star anise, and cinnamon that looks great. A mulled wine cured salmon recipe sounds great too. The game section is good. There's a chestnut, almond, and Rum cake I like the sound of - and so on.
There's some excellent looking vegetarian and vegan recipes as well, and did I mention the Edward Bawden illustrations? It's a wonderfully indulgent sort of book that I think is going to brighten up the winter months considerably. It also looks more useful than the first Fortnums Cookbook - or at least there's more in here that I'll make. Finally, don't be put off by the Christmas label, other winter feasts make up the bulk of the book and there's a lot to love in here.