Christmas with Fergus Henderson
The kids are hyped up, Dad is into the spirit, and Roger Moore is on the telly. It’s Christmas at Fergus Henderson’s house.
Christmas is a moveable feast and has taken a turn for the better since we’ve taken control of the reindeers’ reins.
The musk of game roasting, the port decanter full, walnuts, the gnaaah of Stilton, bowls of fruit, corks popping, a chill in the air heightening the appetite. The turkey is being stuffed with a chestnut stuffing. Stuffing is a kind of jazz thing. As long as you have the essentials – chestnuts, sausage meat and apples – the rest is improvisation. Think about the stuffing’s role in life and just follow that vibe. (I have an image of a generation who will try stuffing their pyjamas into the chicken’s bottom not knowing what should have been there.)
Red Burgundy is breathing, over-excited children are being sent off to wrap presents, the first snowflakes winnow their way down. It is going to be a white Christmas. Quick, turn on the radio, it’s the King’s College Choir carol service.
Make stock for the gravy, with turkey giblets. Brandy butter needs to be made too. There’s a slight tingling on the liver as you mix the butter, brandy and sugar together. Pick the sprouts – very sobering, with freezing water trapped in the leaves.
Oh damn! The drain is blocked and the plumbing hasn’t yet dealt with the festive season. My sister is threatening to leave the home because of some argument with mum, which has been exacerbated by Christmas tensions.
Supper is pheasant cooked in cream and Calvados. Next comes a little Scottish wine, my jovial father’s name for malt whisky. “Well, I don’t mind if I do.”
Christmas morning… ahh. The little darlings are hyper on natural adrenalin and mum has already put the turkey in the oven. No wonder people think turkey is a dry bird. The poor thing doesn’t stand a chance.
The Christmas pudding is a wonderful thing: suet and fruit left to mature for a year, during which they break down into something dark and delicious. No sign of any Penicillium forming, nothing that a healthy splash of brandy can’t deal with. Put it on the stove to steam away, a few bottles down already.
Twenty-four hours into Christmas and all is remarkably well. The bird is carved at the table, your plate is groaning, your stomach taut, and the prospect of Stilton and Christmas pudding yet to come is overwhelming. There’s something daunting about a plate full of turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, bread sauce (the best bit), roast potatoes, sprouts. It almost defeats you before you’ve started, but eat you do, going in for seconds and yet more eating. Don’t forget to drink and drink. This one lunch will keep you in cold turkey and Christmas pudding (which is very good fried in butter) and Stilton for days.
I fall off my chair into a slumped position with eau de vie to help digestion, hoping there will be a James Bond film on TV. Roger Moore’s dulcet humour might be all the excitement my battered frame can take at this point.
Uncle Charles is on the phone from Australia, lighting the barbecue. The youth are waxing their surf boards, suntan cream is liberally applied, a snowman doesn’t stand a chance. Let’s open a few more cold beers.
Is that Father Christmas taking the shade under that tree, an Esky by his side? He’s taken off his red jacket, using it as a cushion for his head, he’s kicked off his big boots and he’s sporting a fine pair of flip-flops.
It’s a funny old world.
ILLUSTRATION ANTONIA PESENTI
This article is from the December 2011 issue of Australian Gourmet Traveller.