European Festival Food
Reprint released October (2009).
Click here to read review by Chrissie Walker -
Since the earliest times the people of Europe have gathered together, either as families or as whole communities, to celebrate their traditional festivals - their high days and holidays, their harvests, their births, weddings and funerals. At Christmas and New Year and Easter, and at the pagan festivals that preceded them, people ate the dishes sanctified by custom for those occasions. The best local produce was served at these feasts but often with the extra savor of the unfamiliar: exotic spices in cold northern countries, fish from icy Atlantic waters in the sunny south. Ritual and ceremony, some of it very ancient, accompanied the food. From all over Europe from Scotland to the Mediterranean, from Hungary to Cornwall, Elisabeth Luard has collected descriptions of these traditional feasts and festivals, many of which she has experienced first hand, and hundreds of recipes for the dishes appropriate to them. As well as being a unique and wonderfully readable cookery book, "European Festival Food" is written with the scrupulous attention to detail and authenticity that is the hallmark of Elisabeth Luard's cookery writing, the recipes are peppered with hundreds of fascinating anecdotes and little known facts about local history and folklore. Starting with December the book is organized according to the months of the year and so it importantly also reminds us of the cycle of seasonality that is now once again regarded as the natural and much more enjoyable way to shop and eat.
Sicilian Lemon Granita
Sicilyís convents, particularly those of Palermo, were famous for the preparation of sweet things for the many feast days of the Virgin. This bitter-sweet sherbet (a soft spoonable water-ice long enjoyed throughout the Middle East) has been prepared on the island since the days of the Romans, with ice from Mount Etna was used as the freezing-medium -. Indispensable as refreshment on summer pilgrimages.
350g caster sugar
About 1 litre water
500ml freshly squeezed lemon juice
Stir the sugar into a cupful of the water in a heavy-bottomed pan. Bring to the boil gently, stirring till the sugar-crystals have completely dissolved. Allow to cool, stir in the lemon juice and the rest of the water. For a stronger flavour, reduce the volume of water.
Pour the mixture into a well-rinsed baking tray, and freeze for half an hour. Scrape the firm part into the soft middle, and freeze again. Repeat every half hour till firm enough to form a spoonable slush. Either serve immediately in long, chilled glasses, or store in a lidded plastic container in the freezer (take it out of the fridge 20 minutes ahead of time and give it another scrape as soon as it softens).
Serve your granita at harvest-home or whenever you feel the need for a little sunshine. A measure of vodka or gin can be incorporated for the grown-ups - but donít overdo it or it wonít freeze properly.
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