I applied for a review copy of this book at work last year, and then gave up on it before it unexpectedly arrived on the 22nd of December - by which time it was a bit late to write about it. Tonight though I'm halfway through putting up my Christmas tree, and it seemed like a good time to get it out and dust it down for a proper browse.
The Christmas tree is turning into a bit of an epic undertaking. Early success with a tree the right size for surprisingly little at Sainsbury's Homebase has since been met with setbacks. (It's 7 feet tall, a skinny Nordman fir for £20, they're really helpful in my local branch, and it's perfect for the corner of my sitting room, Best of all so far no hint of the aroma that we think was badger urine that last years tree smelt strongly of. The dog appreciated it but the humans did not). Unfortunately, the trunk was too slender to fit into my tree stand so I had to wait until today to get some wedges. Currently, the poor thing is relaxing after a prolonged time trussed up in a net, and has got as far as having some light put on it. Further decorating will commence after work tomorrow. It's still early for a tree.
According to Christmas at River Cottage (contains extensive notes from Hugh F-W as well as Lucy Brazier) it's about the only thing I am early for - and as a fan of the plan ahead approach that's a plus for me. There's no shortage of how to do Christmas books around, especially from food writers, and whilst I like having a few to choose from they do need a unique selling point to make the cut.
For Christmas at River Cottage it's the way it ties Christmas to a year-round lifestyle. Planning ahead here means what you're growing and harvesting across the summer that will be good in December - chutneys, jams, and liqueurs are all a feature (maybe ask for a quince or mulberry tree for Christmas if you have space for one). And then there's the cake baking, mincemeat making, and pudding steaming activities of October and November. There are ideas for making things, including good advice on wreath construction, and good dried herbs to give as gifts.
For the record, I'd be delighted to get a jam jar of dried lemon verbena, or indeed a wreath of rosemary, sage, and bay which I could hang in my kitchen and then store for later use. I'm a big fan of homemade mincemeat too - it's a lot nicer to cook with than the shop-bought sort, keeps well, and is an excellent way to use up leftover dried fruit from cake baking.
Lucy's thoughts on Christmas cake - don't save it for Christmas but enjoy it earlier in December is sensible - we've contracted 12 days of feasting into 1 maybe 2, there's a lot to get through and we should definitely do more to celebrate advent and the fun bits of the run up to Christmas to try and draw the season out again.
Beyond that, there are plenty of sensible recipes for parties, Chrismas day, boxing day, new year, and beyond. These include drinks (with and without alcohol) how to plan your events, use up leftovers, reassurance about asking for help and lots about reusing and recycling - all good stuff.
Altogether, I really like this book. It's reflect of you have, or want, an allotment. Plenty of no nonsense, cost conscious, sustainable ideas which don't feel like second best, and the whole thing is beautifully produced. Better late than never.