There’s a a day each year, usually around the end of August on which I get my first autumnal feeling of the season. A leaf falling from a tree. The smell of woodsmoke. An unseasonably chilly morning. It’s a divine sensation. The increasingly cold weather brings with it a new energy after a stifling summer. When others are bemoaning the advent of long, dark evenings, frosted-over cars and the need to don multiple layers of wool, I’m looking forward to it all with barely contained glee.
Let me explain. Autumn does exactly as it’s meant to every year. The other seasons bring with them a certain amount of disappointment. Spring doesn’t spring early enough. Summer is never hot enough – or worse, too hot. Winter is never snowy enough.
Which brings me onto the other reason I love autumn. It’s when we prepare for Christmas – and the preparation is the best part. The big day itself is just one small element of the festive season; beforehand it’s an excuse to sip on too-hot mulled wine from paper cups, gorge on mince pies, spend whole days baking, share time with family or hibernate under a heavy blanket watching delightfully terrible made-for-tv Christmas films or indulging in a book.
This year’s book of choice is Nigel Slater’s The Christmas Chronicles. If it’s at all possible to fall in love with paper and words, then I believe I have done so. The writer and chef created a dedication to the cold months so perfect that I want to take up residence inside it.
Slater combines precious memories of childhood winters, festive facts, and accounts of the ordinary (an afternoon sweeping leaves) and the extraordinary (a Norwegian excursion to select the tree for Trafalgar Square), with a hundred mouthwatering food and drink recipes. Leave me among the pages of candle recommendations, plum puddings, frost fairs and hot apple cider, for I will be happy there from November, when he begins his notes on midwinter, right through until February.
It’s a handsome book. The grey hardback is simply decorated with bronze trees and inside is punctuated with evocative images of food and festivities. It has a ribbon page marker too, and who doesn’t love a ribbon page marker?
Grab a blanket, light a candle, make yourself a drink and let Nigel guide you through the season. Now excuse me while I go to set up some dried fruit for a snooze in some booze – I missed stir-up Sunday, so have some remedying to do.