My daughter married a Brit – one whose family traces their lineage back several hundred years – so when they invited me to come and spend Christmas with them – I of course said Yes.
My daughter’s inlaws live in the tiny village of Sutton Courtenay. It’s is an hours fast train ride from Paddington station – but a universe away from the hustle bustle of London.
The village is very famous – Hubert Asquith, First Earl of Oxford, and one of the British Prime Ministers from before World War I was born and is buried here – as is George Orwell – who I must say I know better! But I’m not really here to see the sights – I’m here to eat – and eat extremely well I must say.
My Daughter’s In-Laws – who to save on typing we say call Jan and Craig – (which are their names…) do not live on an estate – and there’s nary a servant to be seen in the house – but never-the-less – they have gone all out to make sure that we have an amazing Christmas.
They picked us up at the Train Station – all smiles and Christmas cheer – and we drive thru the village admiring the lovely homes, stone fences, and what I’m now realizing are traditionally tiny roads. Their lovely home has at least 5 bedrooms up stairs – and 3 bathrooms. Downstairs there’s a kitchen, a lovely dining room with wood side-boards, a prep-kitchen with the dishwasher, a sun room that is serving as a 6th bedroom – and a living room/den with the TV – Wii machine – several sofas, and a warming gas fire. The garden is truly lovely – which despite the weather is so so pretty. It’s large enough to be divided into sections – a pool/meadow area, a graveled sitting area – and for my taste – an extremely large area of raised garden for growing vegetables.
From the front – you wouldn’t expect them to have such a spacious backyard – because their neighbors are very close – but the lots must be angled – because the backyard is quite a bit wider in the back than it is nearer the house. Behind the stone wall that marks the end of their garden is a public walking path – but because it is sunk about 2′ below the level of their garden – you don’t even see the tops of people’s heads.
I’m shown to my room – not fancy by any standard – but very comfortable. I’m sharing the bathroom with Thomas – the adorable 4 year old son of my daughter’s husband’s brother. We will be 9 this Christmas – 2 under the age of 4 (both the children of Jamin’s brother), Jamin’s brother and his wife, Jan and Craig, Adrienne and Jamin – and of course me. An odd woman at the table – but fortunately they don’t feel the need to bring in an additional male to balance!
Christmas Eve begins with a fabulous Norweign Christmas Dinner. Jamin’s brother married Charlotte, a gal from Norway – and they are doing all the cooking tonight. The table is lovely – a christmas centerpiece with candles and the placemats also have a Christmas Theme. They have 2 large warming boards – so the food is carefully being kept hot while drinks and seats are organized.
The meal is stellar. I love, love, love the very traditional preperation of Pork Belly. Charlotte went to the butcher to explain the unique cut required – and the effort definitely paid off. Tons of meat – and the fat has been crisped. The dish is called “Ribbe” – and trust me – it’s yummy.
There are an assortment of other dishes as well – Broccoli, fat fresh sausages that were brought here from Norway in Charolette’s suitcase, meat pies that were similarly imported, and a divine take on cranberry jelly called “Tyttebaer”. Yummy.
After dinner, we put on our winter jackets and grab long traditional torches. There’s a torch light parade tonight – starting at the school and gathering walkers as it goes to the church. We join about 1/3 of the way – lighting our torches from the torches of other marchers. At the church, they have built a bonfire, and they are handing out sheets of Carols. We join in with the several hundred other celebrants – sing heartily – and enjoy listening to the very ampped piano player! Of course the church choir is there – and often they can be heard over the crowd doing the descants.
We walk back home – tired, full – and ready for bed. Unfortunately – it’s only 7:30! There are no street lights in Sutton Courteney – and the sun sets early so it feels quite late. We sip tea, chat, and wait for the kids to call it a night. Then the serious work of present wrapping and placing under the tree begins. There are a zillion gifts! Thomas and Craig both have late December birthdays – so this is a combination party – and the number of gifts reflects that double holiday.
Besides – 9 people, if each person bought one gift for the other 8, that’s 72 gifts.
The tree is placed strategically about 2 feet off the ground (Thomas’s younger brother is 10 months old – and he is definitely in the pulling things off if he can stage). The presents form a mound under the tree – every 4 year old’s idea of the perfect Christmas.
In preperation for the arrival of Santa – tradition says that a glass of sherry and a mince pie should be placed by the fireplace. We forego that tradition – but it might be the only one that gets skipped!
We head off for bed – little kids get up early – and Christmas Day promises to start early and last late!
I’m woken up at 7:02 AM by squeals of delight – Thomas has seen the tree and gifts – and there’s no point trying to pretend to sleep in! I hustle downstairs – but things are well in hand. He’s allowed to pick one gift – the rest must wait until everyone else is up and about.
But first he wants to examine his Christmas Stocking. Like all the other members of the family – hanging at the end of his bed this morning was a huge Christmas Stocking. And this is not a tiny thing – nor a store bought packaged delight – nope – this is a huge sock carefully decorated, and lovingly stored year after year. The contents vary – Thomas gets some toys to play with, his younger brother gets two ‘duplo’ trucks, my daughter gets the calming tea she craves. And everyone gets a clemintine and a walnut!
Breakfast isn’t fancy – the big meal will be Christmas lunch. Eventually everyone has gotten up, had coffee or orange juice as best appeals to them – and we’re ready to open the gifts. Thomas takes a great delight in picking out the order in which gifts are to be opened – a bit heavy handedly picking ones with his name of course. But soon the pile of gifts has been descimated – and we are left with gifts galore for everyone. Thomas plays with his favorites – toys featuring the Octonauts. Daniel (10 months old remember) – is thrilled with the boxes – and anything his big brother is playing with!
I’m pleased with my gifts – a book I’ve never read called ‘Magician’, a box of bath salts – and best of all – a box of Rasberry Preserves from England Perserves. They have an Arch behind my daughters – and they make the best Rasberry Preserves I’ve ever enjoyed.
Lunch is eventually annouced – and what a lovely lunch it is.
Prize of place is a roast Goose – and it is awesome. The skin wonderfully crispy, the meat juicy and rich. There’s several popper’s at each place setting – plus a large Christmas Cracker. We begin by pulling our poppers and Crackers – sending jets of bright ribbon everywhere. Food is again kept warm on the side boards – there are carrots and brussel sprouts, roasted potatoes, peas, pigs in blankets (sausages wrapped in bacon), two different kinds of stuffing, and a fab gravy for the goose. Plates are heaped up for serious feasting – and the conversation is lively and laugh filled as we read the silly jokes in the crackers to each other.
After dinner there’s the traditional lounging time – which we spend playing board games, watching Thomas enjoy his toys, and racing Mario Kart on the Wii. The fire is lit – our tummys are full. It’s lovely.
There’s still another meal to go – after the kids are asleep – there are cold treats to enjoy – mince pies, fresh veggies of various kinds, nuts to crack – and some glorious cheese brought from London by my daughter. My contribution was to pay for the cheese – and to buy a loaf of fresh bread from the Little Bread Peddler who shares one of the Arches near Adriennes. There are 3 different desserts – all traditional Christmas treats. There’s a light and fluffy home-made Pavlova, a home-made Triffle, and two kinds of Mince pies. The Triffle is actually made with fruit grown in their garden last summer. My personal favorite has to be the Pavlova – but of course I had to try all three.
More conversation, more laughter – and time for bed.
Signing off – The Soup Lady
sounds really yummy. Our Christmas dinner…. assorted cheeses (vieux Mimolette, Mamirolle, Saint André, and a Vermont Bonne Bouche cindered goat cheese), foie gras paté, with a fresh baked baguette and a delightful 11 yr old Altus white wine; the main course was Herb crusted roast beef tenderloin, broccoli, mushroom rice pilaf, and a hearty Hautes-Côtes de Nuits to drink; desert was a fruit pie with ice cream, and a glass of Pedro Jimenez Sherry
Ah – a traditional Stowe Christmas – and I’m convinced completely delicious.
Great write-up. As another resident of Sutton Courtenay I might take exception with your claim we don’t have street lights. We do, at least down the High Street, but if you’re off on the back roads some kind of flashlight is essential at this time of year.
Did your daughter get her goose from Peachcroft Farm on the north side of Abingdon (or if from a local butcher that’s also most likely where they got it in the first place)? They really are excellent and a few weeks before Christmas you can see the fields full of both geese and turkeys. Also, I’d guess as you mention Neal’s Yard in another post that’s probably the source of the cheese, but Wells Stores on the same farm is also excellent.
Source of cheese was Neal’s Yard Dairy as you guessed. My daughter is good friends with the management team, having once worked there.
According to my daughter’s father-in-law, the goose came from Oxford Market (Fellers) and the fab Pork came from Crazy Bear Stadhampton)
Thanks for that. I don’t know the Crazy Bear farm shop but sounds like I should check it out. I do shop at Fellers on occasion and they look to be one of the few butchers that goes further afield for their geese, but they do some really good meat (mostly organic).