What does December signify for you?
In The Almanac, I look at all of the festivities that mark each month in the UK, and in December the big one is obviously Christmas. But this is also the time where we have always marked a crucial moment in the turning of the year: midwinter, when we reach the longest night and start to turn the corner in the long climb towards spring. It is this wonderful contradiction, the darkest days that bring great hope. It would have been marked by feasting, fire, light and fun through the very gloomiest days of the year, and I love the parallels with Christmas. So, for me, December is a time for gathering together and feasting of course, but it also signifies that brighter days are coming.
The Almanac is a beautiful little guide to staying in touch with the seasons and being connected to nature. What can people look out for, either on their walk to work or exploring on the weekend, during December?
There will be a supermoon on December 3, a full moon that is closer to the earth and so looks particularly big and bright. Also look out for the Geminids meteor show on the 13th and 14th December, one of the most impressive meteor showers of the year.
In the day time you should listen out for robins, which are at their noisiest this month, singing to find their mate. December is a wonderful time for birdwatching on estuaries, as winter migrants have arrived and British natives join them for the rich pickings that estuaries provide. This is also a good time for an evening visit to reed beds in areas such as the Somerset levels and the Fens to see spectacular murmurations of starlings, huge, swooping, apparently coordinated displays of up to 100,000 birds.
For those of us who like to eat seasonally, how would you recommend making the most of what’s on offer this month?
Many of the winter vegetables are at their best after the first frosts, which increase their sugar levels. Jerusalem artichokes, carrots, beetroot, brussels sprouts and kale are all in season, as well as stored winter squash, borlotti beans and maincrop potatoes. Nuts are plentiful, and several brilliant cheeses are at their best now, including the Vacherin cheese from Switzerland and France, Stilton, Chevrotin des Aravis and Époisses. We are right in the middle of game season so you should be able to find duck, goose, grouse, pheasant, venison and wood pigeon from specialist butchers. This is also the time the best citrus starts arriving from southern Europe and the US.
What’s your essential recipe for the festive season?
Chestnuts! Properly roasted. It’s a little boring of me but I do think that chestnuts are usually best not roasted on an open fire, but cooked through in the oven. You can finish them off over the fire if you want a little characterful charring and smokiness. They are so delicious when done properly and such a disappointment when half burnt/half raw that i think it’s worth losing a little Christmas magic over this. Split their skins with a sharp knife across their backs and wash in lots of water (to allow water in that will turn to steam and separate them from the skins), drain and roast for 30 minutes at 200C/390F/gas mark 6.
The Almanac is a great read for those of us who live in cities but still want to feel connected to nature. As we look ahead to the new year, are there any tips you can share to help stay in tune with the seasons?
One of the things I wanted The Almanac to do was to provide ways for everyone to appreciate the turn of the year, whatever their interests, and even if they can’t get out and stride around remote beaches or scramble in woodlands. Different people seem to be finding different aspects of The Almanac that speak to them; so, a neighbour who loves wild swimming told me she is fascinated by the sea temperature charts, and a friend who always gets up early has said she loves tracing the year’s sunrises. For myself, even if I just know to step out and look for the full moon or a particularly visible planet, it helps me to feel in contact with the world outside my window, and I love to cook a meal using seasonal ingredients. These little things help me feel in tune just as much as a country ramble or a dip in the sea.
More about the author
The Almanac revives the tradition of the rural almanac, connecting you with the months and seasons via moon-gazing, foraging, feast days, seasonal eating, meteor-spotting and gardening. Award-winning gardener and food writer Lia Leendertz shares the tools and inspiration you need to celebrate, mark and appreciate each moment of the year.