Recipe writer Rosie Birkett says: "One of the most stringent Christmas family rituals in the Birkett house was no presents before breakfast bacon sandwiches by the tree – with champagne for my parents and orange juice for me and my sister. The older I’ve got, the more I’ve appreciated that this particular custom had its roots in my parents’ Christmas Eve overindulgences rather than in anything more wholesome. But, to this day, not a present is opened before crispy bacon is splashed with worcestershire sauce and pressed between two slices of bacon-fat-dipped, squishy white bread – though now we don’t crack into the booze before midday.
This year feels all the more special as it will be our first Christmas in the new house and we will be hosting with help from mum, who has always been the grand dame of Christmas cooking in our family. Even though I’m doing the bulk of the cooking, mum can’t help but rock up with rich, homemade chicken stock to bolster the gravy, plus delicious cumberland and bread sauces. I’m not going to argue – who doesn’t want a bit of help with the catering?
However lovely it is bringing people together at this time of year, most of us also know how keenly Christmas can harness a sense of loss and longing for those who are no longer sitting around the table with us. It’ll be the 16th year without my dad, who was always the life and soul of the party, and without whom there is still a gaping hole in proceedings. I was talking to my friend, Ukrainian chef and food writer Olia Hercules, about Ukrainian festive traditions, and she told me about one particularly poignant custom that speaks to this beautifully: “One thing we do that is really sweet is we put out a plate of food and shot of vodka for those who have passed away, for their spirits.” This year, there will definitely be an extra bacon sandwich by the tree, and we might just have to pop the champagne to go with it, too.
I know you don’t need a bacon sandwich recipe, so here I’m sharing another family tradition: potted shrimp. We have it on toasted muffins as a starter on Christmas Day. It’s as much about the spiced butter as it is the shrimp – they need to be absolutely swimming in burnt-orange puddles of the stuff. I’ve switched out muffins for crumpets here, because the holes make them even better for soaking up that gorgeous butter."
6 crumpets, toasted
150g salted butter
1⁄2 tsp ground mace
1⁄2 tsp cayenne pepper
a good grating nutmeg
a pinch white pepper
1 lemon, juiced to make 1 tbsp, plus extra wedges for squeezing over
finely chopped to make 1 tbsp dill
200g brown shrimp
Melt the butter in a pan and then stir in the mace and cayenne – it will instantly turn a beautiful burnt auburn colour.
Grate in a little nutmeg, season with white pepper and lemon juice, then toss in the shrimps and dill, and warm them through. Spoon onto toasted crumpets and serve with extra lemon wedges for squeezing over.