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The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - SEVEN DAYS | EATING OUT - Aoife McEl­wain

ED­I­BLE CAROLS Food is big part of Christ­mas, so much so that a few key dishes and ed­i­ble treats have made it into some of our most beloved Christ­mas Carols.

Thought to be orig­i­nally from France, the English version of 12 Days of Christ­mas first ap­peared in 1780 as a mem­ory for­feit game in a chil­dren’s book called Mirth With­out Mis­chief. It wasn’t un­til 1909 that English com­poser Fred­eric Austin ar­ranged it over a tra­di­tional folk melody and worked in the stand-out verse of “five golden rings” that we all love to sing. You could theme an en­tire day’s eat­ing on this Christ­mas carol alone. The eight Maids a-Milk­ing might pro­vide the cheese for Christ­mas snack­ing and the cream for Christ­mas pud­dings. The six Geese a-Lay­ing would be de­li­cious roasted up for din­ner (es­pe­cially if you’re feed­ing a crowd), while the three French Hens could pro­vide the eggs for a Christ­mas Day break­fast of creamy scram­bled eggs and smoked salmon on toast.

Not to forget the par­tridge in a pear tree, which could make an ap­pear­ance on your Christ­mas ta­ble by way of a roast par­tridge and pear salad with cress and cran­ber­ries.

Then there is the evoca­tive “chest­nuts roast­ing on an open fire”, the open­ing line from The Christ­mas Song defini­tively sung by Nat King Cole. Nat is singing about the sweet Euro­pean chest­nut, as op­posed to the ined­i­ble horse chest­nuts which are more com­mon in Ire­land. is an Ir­ish spe­cial­ist sup­plier of fruit and nut trees, and I learn on its web­site (frui­tand­nut.ie) that the “ear­li­est record of chest­nut cul­ti­va­tion is in Theophras­tus’ En­quiry into Plants, writ­ten in

Fruit and Nut

1990s pop war­blers Wil­son Phillips

the third cen­tury BC, but it was the Ro­mans who pop­u­larised them all over North­ern Europe.

Fruit and Nut host work­shops run in col­lab­o­ra­tion with the Ir­ish Nut Grow­ers As­so­ci­a­tion (irish­nut­grow­ers.ie) on how to grow your own nut trees, in­clud­ing for the sweet chest­nut va­ri­ety. Just think, in a Christ­mas in your fu­ture you could be adding your home­grown roasted sweet chest­nuts to a plate of but­tery brus­sel sprouts, topped with crispy ba­con. Yum.

For sen­ti­men­tal rea­sons, my favourite Christ­mas al­bum of all time is Hey Santa! (1993) by Wendy and Carnie Wil­son from Wil­son Phillips. Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow! is the sec­ond track, in which the snow “doesn’t show signs of stop­ping / and I’ve brought some corn pop­ping.” Place a few cloves of gar­lic, two sprigs of rose­mary and a large knob of but­ter in a saucepan. Melt over a medium heat and pour over freshly made pop­corn, be­fore kick­ing back to lis­ten to the rest of Hey Santa!

A more con­tem­po­rary ref­er­ence is Run-DMC.’s Christ­mas in Hollis, the 1987 sin­gle about sea­sonal cheer in their home­town of Hollis, Queens. Pro­duced by Rick Ru­bin, it sam­ples Frosty the Snow­man, Jin­gle Bells and Joy to the World. Darry McDaniels aka DMC raps: “It’s Christ­mas time in Hollis, Queens / Mom’s cook­ing chicken and col­lard greens / Rice and stuff­ing, mac­a­roni and cheese.” Back in 1983, DMC de­clared his love for the dish on the track Sucker MCs from their first al­bum. The dish’s in­clu­sion in their Christ­mas song surely ce­ments the long-last­ing sig­nif­i­cance of his mother’s clas­sic cook­ing.

Rock­ing Around the Christ­mas Tree is a clas­sic Amer­i­can carol, and the dessert ref­er­enced in the song re­flects its roots. “Later we’ll have some pump­kin pie and we’ll do some carol­ing,” sings Zooey Deschanel on She & Him’s 2011’s A Very She & Him Christ­mas.

“Figgy pud­ding” is a par­tic­u­larly pleas­ing phrase to sing, and there are plenty of op­por­tu­ni­ties to do so in We Wish You A Merry Christ­mas. In Ire­land, we know figgy pud­ding as Christ­mas Pud­ding, a fruit cake rich with spices and cur­rants that is doused in brandy (or what­ever you’re hav­ing your­self) and set alight. It’s a recipe im­ported from Eng­land, and ap­par­ently dates back to the 16th cen­tury.

A recipe we’ll be look­ing to for guidance this Christ­mas is Theodora Fitzgibbon’s Tra­di­tional Christ­mas Pud­ding, re-pub­lished in Donal Ske­han’s bril­liant 2014 book The Plea­sures of the Ta­ble: Re­dis­cov­er­ing Theodora Fitzgibbon, a culi­nary trib­ute to the food writer whose cook­ery col­umn in Satur­day’s Ir­ish Times ran for 20 years. Find the recipe on­line at bit.ly/theodor­a­pud­ding.

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