As one of Ireland’s most celebrated food writers, Georgina Campbell is a food expert to listen to. She has eaten at the best and worst Irish eateries, crafted her knowledge and skill and become one of our most respected foodies. If anyone can give us Christmas tips to take note of, it’s her.
What is your first food memory of Christmas?
The baking preparations. I described it in the Introduction to my book The Best of Irish Breads & Baking (1996, paperback; still in print and available online from Ireland-guide.com as well as from bookshops)
Can you tell us a little about your Christmas celebrations, and what it means to you?
No surprises here, it’s all the classics: family reunion – not only people coming home from abroad, but just having the time for those of us who live in the same area to see more of each other, have outings like a day in the Wicklow Hills (lunch at the Roundwood Inn!), going to the panto, and enjoying all the traditional games and pastimes.
Do you follow your mother’s recipe for Christmas dinner or have you evolved?
Basically it is ‘my mother’s Christmas’ but it does evolve and did every year even when my parents were coming to stay every Christmas. For example, we started off with a very English/Scottish tradition when I came to live in Ireland, but Irish specialities like smoked salmon, brown soda bread and spiced beef soon became part of the tradition.
What unusual addition is unique to your Christmas feast?
Jerusalem artichokes. My father always grew them and they were an essential part of the Christmas dinner for as long as I can remember. I’ve always grown them too, and no Christmas is complete without them. They take a bit of time, but everyone loves them. [See recipe below]
What are your top three tips for a person cooking their first ever Christmas dinner?
· Keep it simple: do as much as possible beforehand, share jobs around the family if possible and try to factor in time to enjoy yourself with your guests.
· Plan carefully and weigh up/count out portions (eg vegetables) so you know exactly what you’re doing when serving up.
· Serving is the stressful bit and you need plenty of hands, so rope in as many helpers as you can for that crucial time when everyone’s sitting down.
What are your top tips for cooking roast turkey?
· Get the best quality fresh turkey that you can, preferably a traditional breed, free range.
· Ask the butcher to keep the giblets for you (they are often removed) and use to make stock for the gravy. The liver can be used to enrich the gravy, or use for paté – or keep it in the fridge and use separately the next day to make a warm salad if you prefer.
· Have as much as possible ready the night before. Health & safety recommendations are for a turkey to be stuffed just before cooking and that is probably a wise precaution. However we have always stuffed the turkey and got it ready for the oven the night before, which makes Christmas morning much more relaxed. The crucial thing is to add the weight of the stuffing before calculating the cooking time – and allow plenty of time for cooking. Avoid packing the stuffing too tightly, so heat can penetrate more easily.
· Keep the breast meat moist by spreading generously with butter before covering with strips of streaky bacon and finally protecting with foil
· Make a proper gravy – it makes all the difference
For more details, my traditional Christmas Menu and a range of mainly traditional recipes see ireland-guide.com
What is the secret to the perfect honey roast ham?
Using Highbank Orchard Syrup instead – it’s even better than honey!
Whole Glazed Ham
Perfect for feeding a crowd over Christmas and the New Year, a whole ham looks wonderful and will provide several meals over a busy period. For easier carving as well as impressive presentation, a ham stand is a great help, allowing access to the joint from all angles.
1 x whole Irish ham, preferably free range, about 5kg/11lb bone-in
1 large carrot, roughly chopped
1 or 2 sticks of celery, chopped
1 onion, quartered
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
1 bay leaf
whole cloves, to garnish
3 tablespoons Highbank Orchard Syrup or honey
1 tablespoon Demerara sugar
2 teaspoons wholegrain mustard
½ teaspoon ground cloves
Rind of 1 orange, coarsely grated
· Soak the ham in cold water if necessary (ask your butcher).
· Put the ham into a very large pan. Add the vegetables, peppercorns and bay leaf and cover well with cold water.
· Bring gently to the boil (this will take at least an hour). Start timing when the water comes to the boil and simmer gently for about 3 hours. Check regularly to make sure that the water is just trembling throughout the cooking time and scoop off any scum that rises to the top. When cooked, the skin will peel away easily.
· Preheat a hot oven, 400°F/200°C/gas mark 6.
· Remove the cooked ham from its liquor (save the stock for soup). Allow to cool for a few minutes to make it easier to handle, then carefully cut off the skin with a small, sharp knife. Score the fat lightly into diamonds.
· Mix the glaze ingredients together and spread the mixture evenly all over the surface of the joint. Stud each diamond with a clove and bake in the hot oven for about half an hour, until the joint is nicely brown and glazed, basting occasionally if necessary. Serve hot or cold.
This recipe is included on one of Georgina Campbell Recipe Christmas Cards . 10% of profits from sales will be donated to Temple Street Children’s Hospital. A celebration of traditional Christmas food, each of the five A5 size (148 x 210mm) cards in our collection features a popular dish on the front and the recipe on the back. Inside, a brief seasonal greeting allows plenty of space for a personal message. Pack of 10 cards, €10 (P&P free within Ireland, other destinations €3.60)Bulk orders welcome and can be personalised (minimum order 50), further details on application.