John C Adams Reviews 'Food for Feasts and Festivals'
Updated: Jun 8
Food For Feasts and Festivals by C J Jackson
(Harper Collins, 2001)
I love bringing my readers reviews of books they may not have heard of before under the heading 'Why Not Wednesday?'. Years ago, I stumbled upon this book in our town's bookshop. That was back in the days before Amazon became the go-to place to buy a book, when a small town like ours could support a high-street bookshop selling new titles.
Like anyone raising a family, there always seemed to be some national occasion in the calendar to celebrate. This often led me to rifle through my cookbooks finding recipes to pull together into a menu that captured the spirit of the occasion. I was intrigued by a cookbook that did this work for me, presenting menus ready collated for each of a variety of special occasions throughout the year. You can't always serve the same stuff over and over, at least not with my family.
The book begins with Christmas, a sensible move given that in western society this is the primary eating festival of the year. It opens with one of the most iconic emblems of the season, the Yuletide Log, and moves on to a menu for what in the UK is known as 'Stir Up Sunday'. This is the Sunday occasion some weeks before Christmas when the Christmas pudding and cake are traditionally prepared and baked.
After that, the book moves through the year from season to season, including both US and British traditions. So, for example, in October/November, Halloween menus that double as Bonfire Night offerings sit alongside a Thanksgiving menu and a St Andrew's Day dinner.
Some of the occasions featured are universal, such as a summer wedding buffet and an anniversary lunch. Others, such as a Whitsun lunch and Martinmas meal, are more specific to individual countries.
The book is centred around Christian traditions and, given that it is nearly twenty years old, I wonder if a volume prepared for publication now wouldn't want to include a more diverse array of festival, since non-Christian feasts and festivals simply aren't included at all. To that extent, this book is no longer the host in itself that it might have been in decades past, and it is fair to say that even twenty years ago it had a traditional, backwards-looking feel to it.
Notwithstanding that, I do enjoy the recipes and still find the menus helpful as a baseline for celebrating the individual festivals throughout the western calendar. I was certainly grateful for its suggestions when I cooked our family's Thanksgiving meal recently, given that Jim was here in the UK to celebrate with us and I wanted to get it right.
Nothing was overly technical and even though these were recipes for celebrations there were quite a few that were the kind of hearty food I like to serve my family, especially for children. At the risk of sounding slightly inconsistent on that score, some recipes were incredibly rich, but for feasts and festivals we are never going to eat like this everyday and in many ways total over indulgence is the whole point. If you don't feel really sick afterwards, you're not doing it right.
National festivals such as Christmas, Halloween, Bonfire Night and the Easter lunch are slow to change, something that this book recognises and supports. Over the years I have found it very helpful, and continue to turn to it as a source of inspiration every time I open my diary and see another feast or festival on the horizon.
Thank you so much for joining me for the second of three reviews on the theme of eating and drinking this week! The final review is on Friday. I'll see you then. In the meantime, please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section below.
Many thanks to photographers nas kamui, arnaiz campuzano and krmn777 for providing the cover images for this blog via freeimages.