Q: Which books can I read to help me ensure Christmas lunch for 12 people goes smoothly, both in the kitchen and as far as family relationships are concerned?
Alex Preston, author, journalist and critic, writes:
There’s nothing quite so soul-repairing as sitting down with a really beautiful cookbook. So here’s what you should do in those hectic pre-Christmas days. First, get hold of the reissue of Ambrose Heath’s Good Drinks. Make yourself something really antique. I suggest milk punch.
Then plan your meal. We do the turkey as Nigella dictates – “spiced and super-juicy” – with veg as per the unimpeachable Riverford Farm Cookbook. For pudding, you’ll want to get hold of the gorgeous The Christmas Chroniclesby Nigel Slater. Finally, fix yourself another of Ambrose’s stiff ones – his glogg is excellent – and settle down, slightly squiffy, with two books that demand to be read as much as cooked from: Aaron Bertelsen’s The Great Dixter Cookbook and Skye McAlpine’s A Table in Venice, both objects of exquisite, effortless beauty that will render any familial Christmas angst more manageable.
We have young kids and the last few years I’ve been reading them Gillian Clarke’s The Christmas Wren before bed on Christmas Eve. It’s the most heartwarming, wistful tale, and I intend to read it to them for all the rest of our Christmases together. Robert Macfarlane initiated a festive reading of Susan Cooper’s The Dark Is Rising last year; it was my favourite book as a child and we’ll revisit it again this year.
Finally, if it all goes to hell, read the Christmas scene in Kingsley Amis’sEnding Up and recognise how much worse it could have been.