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Book review: The History of Christmas Food and Feast

Book review: The History of Christmas Food and Feast
The History Of Christmas Food And Feasts
Claire Hopley
Remember When Publishing
RRP £25
Christmas is all about glitter, excess, colour and kitsch for me, so I was justifiably unsettled by the appearance of this unassuming little hardback. Black and white! Chapters and chapters of dense prose! Five pages in and reader, I was hooked.
Claire Hopley set herself a monumental task compiling over 500 years of Christmas history into a form which is concise, erudite, and most of all, compelling. Her own words are supported by quotes from timely literature, folk songs and rhymes, photographs and figures and recipes.
With the recipes, Hopley has aimed to stay historically accurate, whilst rendering dishes more than acceptable to the modern palate. Thus, she offers calves liver and bacon cooked with newly-trendy verjuice, and a Syrian chicken with a white wine and almond sauce and pomegranate seeds.
Tasty stuff indeed- and it's fascinating to consider how food trends are so cyclical, as are the ways we choose to celebrate. Over time, Hopley informs us, Christmas has gone from a Bacchanalian feast of excess to a Puritanical abomination- and back again. Economics, politics and religion have all shaped the festivities we take so much for granted each December.
Hopley weaves her absorbing tale ingeniously, referencing everything from 14th century poems, Shakespearian plays and Dickensian stories, right through to modern depictions of Christmas from Bridget Jones' diary. The book is split into chronological chapters, but throughout are scattered nuggets of information- the symbolism of holly, perhaps, or how carols evolved.
A series of colour plates enliven the story- all well-captioned, showing artwork, carvings, Christmas card scenes and even an old Quality Street advertisement. That said, even for a Doubting Thomas such as myself, the prose is colourful enough on its own... And, speaking of Doubting Thomases, did you know that in some nativity plays, Mary's midwives assumed the role, questioning the miracle?
The History Of Christmas Food And Feasts was clearly a labour of love for Hopley , and the phenomenal work put in has yielded a volume to be treasured, read thoroughly and revisited year after year. A real treat to savour curled up beside a roaring hearth as the festivities take hold.
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13 December 2010
By: Zoe Perrett
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