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Add a dash of British charm to your holiday table this year

Pirate O's Gourmet Market - English Christmas products (Gastronomic SLC)

As we head into the holiday season, feet up, and glasses full – I wanted to share a few of my own British Christmas traditions with you – all of which are available from Pirate O’s Gourmet Market. If you’re looking to shake up the Christmas spread this year, look no further than this idiosyncratic list.

Understandably this is the busiest time of the year for the Draper gourmet market, you can find out why in this first story I wrote about their heaving shelves of imported specialties. So let’s dig in, here’s how you can celebrate your very own Britmas, and delight your guests with weird puddings and hats. Yes, there are going to be funny hats…

Pirate O's Gourmet Market - puddings pies and shortbread (Gastronomic SLC)
Pirate O’s Gourmet Market – puddings pies and shortbread (Gastronomic SLC)

Christmas pudding

As I wrote about in this article on my formative years, English culinary tradition (I hear you at the back, stop that laughing) is one rife with puddings. Sticky toffee pudding, suet pudding, bread and butter pudding, black pudding – you can’t move for the things back in ol’ Blighty. As Christmas rolls around you can add one more to your pantry – Christmas pudding.

The ingredient list might be one that causes many Americans to pause, but I’d nudge the curious to try a spoonful. Which is also about as much as you might need. It’s a hearty, dense dome of a thing, cobbled together with a variety of dried fruit, arriving to the table steamed. When it comes to time honored traditions can keep your cronut, this treat is one steeped in Medieval heritage and technique. Wikipedia has a nice potted history of the dish, so I’ll skip the history lesson.

Many households in the U.K. prize their own traditional family recipe, one that’s prepped month’s ahead. Of course, we don’t have time for that though. The best way to dip your toes into this particular pudding, is to let someone else do the heavy lifting. Pirate O’s offer them in several formats, big family sized affairs ($20) to small palm sized puds ($5). You can also grab the custard or cream topping at the store too.

Mince pies

Another spiced fruit dessert, and another we’d also make from scratch as kids. If you want to give them a whirl yourself, they’re quite simple; the BBC’s Paul Hollywood has this recipe for you. These personal pies start with a shortcrust pastry before being stuffed with mincemeat. Which is another confounding U.K. thing none of us really understand. While “mince” in the U.K. is typically used to refer to ground beef, these handheld desserts actually comprise mincemeat; which is another sweetened dried fruit mix.

You can grab a quintet of the personal sized pies for $12 at Pirate O’s, and they require no cooking, though traditionally they’re served warm. Go ahead and reach for the microwave if you like. As you can see in the picture above, you’ll find them with the puddings – and the very hard to resist line up of shortbread.

And if you’re thinking, “Stu, you’re pulling my leg, no one seriously eats this much dried fruit”, I’d remind you that British high street bakery chain Greggs shifted 7.5 million of the things during a recent Christmas period.

Pirate O's Gourmet Market - Indian cooking sauces (Gastronomic SLC)
Pirate O’s Gourmet Market – Indian cooking sauces (Gastronomic SLC)

Curry

Wait, what? Contrary to the popular belief that fish and chips dominate the plates of Britain’s green and pleasant lands, the true champion is curry. Should you find yourself aghast at mounds of leftover turkey or ham – a curry is a welcoming host for all comers. Toss those leftovers into a simmering pan of curry and enliven those taste buds.

Pirate O’s offers a large selection primarily from two big names: Patak’s, and Sharwoods. Styles are myriad – tikka masala, korma, balti, jalfrezi to name just a few.

While nothing else will beat the labors of a carefully crafted from scratch curry, these sauces offer an acceptable shortcut for the exhausted Christmas chef. They can all be elevated by a few flourishes of imagination too. A dollop of coconut cream, sprinkle of fenugreek or dash of hot sauce. If you’re too tired to whip up a side of rice, go full Anglo-Indian fusion and pour that finished curry over the leftover roast potatoes. Necessity and invention and all that good stuff.

Pirate O's Gourmet Market - Christmas crackers (Gastronomic SLC)
Pirate O’s Gourmet Market – Christmas crackers (Gastronomic SLC)

Christmas crackers

Explosions, hats, jokes – what more could you possibly want. Christmas crackers then are fundamental accoutrements at the British Christmas table – place one for each guest. Before dinner begins, diners pair up and take it in turn to each grab one end of a cracker. A quick pull from each participant triggers the gunpowder, producing the titular crack. Yes gunpowder. In truth, the effect is a mild pop, rather than thunderous detonation. Pyrotechnics at the dining table though, come on, you know you want to.

The tug-o-war unleashes the cracker contents onto the tabletop; usually some sort of small prize or puzzle, a small sliver of paper with dad-worth joke – that must be read to an attentive table – and course, a folded up paper hat. Rock up to any British home on the 25th and you’ll be greeted by a beaming crowd appointed with multicolored crowns. That beaming? Just look for the empty bottle of Baileys Irish Cream. Another staple.

Bonus points: those toys and trinkets you’ll find within are the perfect way to disengage from the table’s conversation. When talk inevitably turns to subjects best left alone, “sorry, I can’t join in on this fun political debate, I have to figure out this small metal puzzle.”

At Pirate O’s head to the back of the store. During the holiday period the rear wall of the “pasta room” is adorned with multiple varieties of Christmas crackers.

Bite sized candies

Growing up, our own Christmas officially started when mum would reach for the big tin of Quality Street. An imposing metal tub not to be opened until festivities were deemed underway. In practice that meant Christmas Eve, lest the precious contents be devoured all too early. Inside, a bounty of shinily wrapped chocolates accompanied by a map of the treasures myriad. Green triangle, toffee deluxe and caramel swirl, just some of the names. The Telegraph handily ranked them here, so I don”t have to.

Bored? Waiting for the next cup of tea to brew? Endlessly flicking the TV channel in the hopes of catching anything but another re-run of James Bond? Reach for the tin.

Quality street, Cadbury’s Roses, Cadbury’s Heroes – Pirate O’s offers a few varieties of this holiday snack for idle hands. Several are offered in the aforementioned tin format around the $20 mark, with smaller cardboard sleeves about $10. The compact ones make for great Christmas gifts for friends and neighbors.

Go with the big tin. Our own empty vessels would ultimately be repurposed for a variety of applications. I think one has lived as “the button box” for several decades at this point.

English style trifle with Christmas crackers (Gastronomic SLC)
English style trifle with Christmas crackers (Gastronomic SLC)

Trifle

Finally, this piece de resistance, at least in our home, and another dish with plenty of history – going back to the Elizabethan era. I was recently asked if I had any major holiday traditions from back home, and if there’s one, it’s a lusciously layered trifle in the fridge – each and every year. Mum would always prepare one for the holidays, we do too.

The following recipe is our own, tweaked and trimmed from years of error and success. Less said the better about the dangerously flammable version one year that ingested a good half bottle of Grand Marnier. Ahem. Speaking of which the recipe below is infinitely reconfigurable.

Ingredients

  • Lady fingers, 10-12
  • Flavored gelatin mix, large 6 oz box, we used black cherry flavor these days
  • Can of pie filling, optional, we use a black cherry flavor
  • Booze, optional, we use 1/2 cup or to taste, Amoretto liquor in the one above
  • Bird’s Custard powder, you’ll also need whole milk and sugar to make the custard. Follow the packaging to make at least three cups of custard
  • Heavy whipping cream
  • Cadbury Flake chocolate bar

Of the above, custard, lady fingers, cream and that perfectly crumbly Flake can all be snagged at Pirate O’s.

Preparation instructions

Starting from the bottom up we have a base of lady fingers, followed by jello and pie filling, custard, cream, and chocolate. That first layer can be re-imaged however you like though, using boozy-adjuncts or pie filling. For best results you can make the trifle over two days, allowing each layer sufficient time to firm up before adding the next.

Here’s how we make ours:

  • Lay lady fingers at the bottom of a trifle bowl. Use enough to cover the bottom
  • Prepare the flavored gelatin minus 1/2 cup of water
  • Add the pie filling and booze as it begins to cool. If you’re going booze-free, prepare the gelatin with the full recommended amount of water
  • Pour the mixture over the lady fingers. Refrigerate until fully set, at least two hours
  • Prepare the custard
  • Let the custard cool fully
  • Pour custard on top on gelatin
  • Refrigerate and let set for at least an hour
  • Prepare the whipped cream according to instructions, sugar can be added, but it isn’t necessary
  • Carefully spread the whipped cream over the custard
  • Grate Flake over top of finished trifle

The trifle will keep for two or three days in the fridge, but you’ll have devoured it in plenty of time before that!

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4 thoughts on “Add a dash of British charm to your holiday table this year”

  1. Custard? On Christmas pudding? Madness. The proper accompaniment is cream which can be improved further by the addition of brandy.

    Don’t forget the extra pyrotechnics of lighting the pudding as you serve it. Singed eyebrows optional but likely.

    1. Yeah was always custard on pudding in our house, and most of the ones I know, might be a northern thing. Warmed minced pies with custard too. Just call it creme anglaise if you wanna be fancy 😉

      I think we did the set fire thing once or twice but with unimpressive results. I think you probably need to use Navy strength to really make it work, after all, they used to test that with gunpowder…

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