Elizabeth David was a cookery writer who led the British palate away from the grim days of stodgy, post-war rationing towards the adoption of a fresher, more Mediterranean diet. But she saved the most resonant advice of her six decade writing career for an observation on how to survive a typical British Christmas. Describing the festive period here as The Great Too Much that has also become The Great Too Long, David wrote:
A ten-day shut-down, no less, is now normal at Christmas. On at least one day during The Great Too Long stretch, I stay in bed, making myself lunch on a tray. Smoked salmon, home-made bread, butter, lovely cold white Alsace Wine. A glorious way to celebrate Christmas.
It’s hard to think of a more elegant recipe for a slatternly day in bed. The suggestion is the footnote to the introduction to Elizabeth David’s Christmas, which celebrates its 20th anniversary this year. Published posthumously in 1992, it marks David’s final work proper, in the sense that it’s substantially made up of previously unpublished original material compiled from notes towards a book she had been working on for many years. And it’s a quite delightful book.
There are reminiscences of early family Christmases in a vast country house, with servants manning the kitchens rather than a mother. Then she describes her first Christmas dinner alone, in wartime Cairo, where she worked for the Admiralty and where her Egyptian domestic help keeps setting fire to the NAAFI-issue pudding between each course, such is his excitement at this novel idea.
As to the food itself, there are things that have fallen from fashion but sound like they are crying out to be revived: a delicate tomato consommé, cream of mushroom soups, prawn paste, spiced beef, brined geese and ducks, a refreshing tangerine ice. Then