Lighting Up Just One Small Corner

I am starting to pull together the menu for our ‘Mid-Winter Christmas’ cooking retreat at the end of this month, and have been thumbing through cookbooks for inspiration. Yes, we are close to the shortest day here in New Zealand, and many of us – regardless of our roots – have no problem associating winter with Christmas, even in June!

This ‘Christmas & Other Winter Feasts’ cookbook was my mums. In Dec 2021 my mum and dad were Christmas shopping in London’s west-end, and were in Fortnum & Mason, London’s luxury grocery store. Founded in 1707, it’s truly an emporium of delight – 6 floors of exceptional food & drink, with ambiance, service and hospitality to match.

Londoners like to joke that it’s their ‘corner-store’, referencing that it sells a bit of everything – as long as you are in a spending frame of mind. From salmon (smoked on the roof) to wild grouse (when it’s in season), possibly the world’s best selection of jams and marmalades, and the opportunity to create your own blend of tea from 80+ types, it’s not only how wonderful everything looks and tastes, it’s about how it makes you feel.

My mum eyed up the ‘Christmas & Other Winter Feasts’ book above, and when her back was turned my dad purchased it as a Christmas gift for her. It’s full of much loved, time-honoured recipes to match the winter traditions, not only Christmas, but ‘bonfire night’, outdoor ice-skating, Boxing Day walks and New Years Eve parties.

My Christmas experiences of long ago, the familial ones and the cultural and historical ones might not have felt meaningful at the time, but looking back it all feels so precious.

My mum, as it would turn out, had a major stoke in January, and died 10 weeks later, aged 78. The F&M cookbook has never been used.. and yet it somehow is so full of memories.

When mum died, we all at one time or another fell back on the same cliché – she had had a good life. Would mum have agreed? What does that even mean?

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