Yule, or the period around the winter solstice, is a traditional pagan time for sharing food with family, friends and the wider community. Whether you are having a party, a small family meal or planning to surprise your work colleagues with some festive treats, you can take inspiration from the season for the food that you prepare.
Mid-winter feasts were a means of using up foods that had been in storage for some time and that may not last until spring without spoiling. It was also an opportunity to dispatch one or two animals in order to make the fodder last longer for the remaining livestock. Sheep and cattle, animals that do not generally eat human food scraps, would have been chosen above pigs or poultry.
While a traditional roast dinner is a favourite holiday meal, it does take a lot of preparation and precision timing. If you are entertaining guests, you may want to spend more time with them than in the kitchen. An alternative main course is to serve up a hearty stew with a rich gravy. This can be prepared and left to cook in a low oven.
Grain would have been available, as would other dried fruits, meats and nuts. Baking your own bread will fill your home with a wonderful aroma, and you can experiment with different flours and additions. Savoury scones, either with cheese or dried herbs included, can be served with the meat stew as an alternative to bread or dumplings.
Preserving summer fruits in alcohol is a great way to make them last, and if you choose decorative bottles or jars, these make perfect Yule gifts. Apricots and peaches go well with brandy. Any red berries can be preserved in vodka, and slices of orange or tangerine go really well with whiskey.
If you are thinking of giving cookies as gifts for Yule, or perhaps taking some in to your workplace to share, you can add a pagan touch to these too. Simple shortbread circles can be decorated with runes either piped or painted onto plain icing. Dried cranberries soaked in the alcohol of your choice can be added to oat cookies for a very adult treat.
Many of the common Christmas symbols relate equally to Yule, particularly the evergreen holly. You can colour some fondant icing a deep green cut out small holly leaves. Ice some cup cakes with white icing, and then place 3 holly leaves on top with a couple of small red sugar balls for berries.
A traditional Yule log makes a great centrepiece and a good alternative to a heavy Christmas cake. You can purchase a chocolate Swiss Roll or make one yourself.
Place the Swiss Roll onto a flat board and mix up some butter cream with a couple of ounces of cocoa powder added. Spread this over the cake, making horizontal ridges in the icing to resemble tree bark. Sprinkle a little icing sugar over the top to make it look like frost or a light dusting of snow, and add any cake decorations you like such as a robin or a holly sprig.
Whatever foods you choose to serve at Yule, try to use seasonal ingredients rather than those imported from warmer countries, and limit the man-made ingredients you use. Work with the land rather than against it.