In recent years, Christmas has been a bit stretched. We all pulled this off by the pressure of buying endless things and putting on an amazing performance in gifting, decorating, and entertaining.

The worst of it is when it turns into a celebration of waste, expense, and ephemera. It’s characterized by panicky grocery trips, piles and plastics, as well as fractious tempers.

In our hearts we all want a festive season that’s the opposite of all that, particularly after last year, when we weren’t able to see the friends and family with whom we were hoping to spend Christmas.

To me, this Christmas’ essence is all about bringing people together.

Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and his River Cottage colleague of 16 years Lucy Brazier (pictured), share their advice for a stress-free Christmas

Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and his River Cottage colleague of 16 years Lucy Brazier (pictured), share their advice for a stress-free Christmas 

Some of this still involves planning and doing and buying — but those activities should always be secondary to the people themselves. A quiet, frosty walk with someone you love, a mince pie and a chat with an old friend, an indoor (or, better still, outdoor) gathering with neighbours to toast the season with a few special snacks laid on — these are the things that will truly comfort and enrich us after a long, busy, stressful year.

It’s enough to frame it with beautiful natural decorations and simple gifts.

There’s a tendency to hunker down indoors at this time of year. This is part of the attraction. A festive bonfire and outdoor Christmas Eve drinks can also be invitations. They are great ways to invite more people to your event without having to sit down for a three-course meal.

Lucy Brazier (my friend from River Cottage) reminds me that we should not overlook the season in which Christmas is set.

All of December’s beauty and abundance is part of the Christmas joy, no matter if you take it with you on sunny winter walks, bring it indoors in fresh greenery or buy bright orange clementines and Brussels sprouts.

Remember the simple pleasures, she bids us — the satisfaction in sending a homemade card or the joy of bottling up preserves and gifting them to others.

Now is the perfect time to enjoy meat. There are plump birds and tender beef to choose from. If you’re clever about it, a turkey can not only provide a sumptuous Christmas Day ‘turkey au vin’ (see recipe below) but a post-Christmas Day curry without any waste.

Hugh (pictured) said there's no reason why we can¿t have family and friends over to enjoy a fire in the garden at Christmas

Hugh (pictured) said there’s no reason why we can’t have family and friends over to enjoy a fire in the garden at Christmas 

This is the Christmas I want you to have. It is easy, natural, and joyous. The solstice turns into a season that allows for celebrations, but also gives time to relax and talk.

In these few special weeks, let’s put aside our concerns and come together with those we hold dear, to light the candles, pour a drink and share the good things . . .


Being outside in this season can be dangerous. But catch a day when the low winter sun makes the frost sparkle, the air is fresh or the first snowflakes fall and it’s enchanting.

We also need fresh air this time of the year. Encourage others to get outside and enjoy the outdoors.

Food and drinks are often the best way to make friends. Bonfires don’t have to be limited to November 5 — there’s no reason why we can’t have family and friends over to enjoy a fire in the garden at Christmas, too. Also, you can light up the grill or make a fire in the bowl.

A one-pot supper you’ve made earlier, such as a stew, curry or soup, can be reheated over the flames. The most beautiful time of the day is after darkness falls. You can add some magic to your event with fairy lights and blazing torchlights.

You can ask guests to dress appropriately for the weather. A cold night outside is so enjoyable. You can sit around the fireplace and chat while waiting for the stars.

Hugh (pictured) said making two dishes from one bird gives you a welcome head start on the big feast

Hugh (pictured) said making two dishes from one bird gives you a welcome head start on the big feast


Perfect turkey roasting is tough. You need to make sure the breast meat remains succulent and that the dark meat is properly cooked. The larger the bird is, the more difficult it will be. Then there’s the giblets and the gravy.

But I’ve found there is an easier way: two dishes from one bird that pleases everyone and gives you a welcome head start on the big feast. Plus, it helps tackle food waste, which can be a particular problem at Christmas time, when there’s a glut of ingredients.

If you wish, your turkey au vin will include legs, wings, neck, and gizzard. This allows the crown, which is the breast on-the bone, to be ready for Christmas Day roasting. This gravy contains the all-important liquor made from slow-cooked Au Vin.

Similar to classic coq au Vin, it is best made the morning before and stored overnight in the refrigerator.

Your butcher should prepare your turkey. You want the legs and thighs as drumsticks, the wings and the thighs whole.


On Christmas Day, fast roast the remaining turkey crown — this takes one hour and 45 minutes based on a 5 kg turkey — allowing perfectly cooked breast meat and golden roast skin to be served with the tender legs in their rich, winey gravy.

The turkey au Vin can be gently heated in the sauce. On Christmas Day, serve the leg, wing, and white meats from the crown to everyone.

It’s much easier to relax on the big day by getting the cooking done a few days ahead.

If there are fewer people, you can feast on the turkey au vin outdoors on Christmas Eve, or if you prefer to use the legs and wings for a curry, you could cook that in advance and either freeze it and save it for New Year’s Eve or bring that out for your Christmas Eve bonfire.

Hugh’s delicious turkey au vin 

Serves 6–8 (based on a 4–5kg turkey)

  • 3-4 tablespoons vegetable oil or olive oil
  • 250g bacon or pancetta, diced
  • 2 Turkey legs cut into drumsticks, and thighs
  • 2 turkey wings, neck and gizzard (if available)
  • 2 chopped onions. Peel and chop into cubes.
  • 2 large chunks of carrots
  • 4 celery sticks, cut to 3 cm lengths
  • Four garlic cloves crushed
  • Brandy 150ml Apple Cider
  • Red wine 500ml
  • 2–3 bay leaves
  • Thyme sprig
  • Sea salt, black pepper

Saucey toppings (optional).

  • Add a dash soy sauce
  • 2–3 tsp strong coffee
  • Knob of softened butter with 2–3 tsp flour (for a roux)
  • ½–1 tsp redcurrant jelly

The oven should be heated to 140°C/fan 120°C/gas 2. Cook the bacon in 2 Tbsp oil on a skillet. Stir the bacon until it turns brown. Place the bacon in a saucepan or casserole that can withstand flames.

Turn the turkey pieces over in the fryingpan and brown them. You’ll need to do this in two batches. Move the turkey into the casserole dish.

Brown the celery, carrots, and onions in a little more oil. Place the minced garlic into the frying pan. Pour in the cider brandy and stir to combine. Add the hot alcohol to the turkey pot. Season with salt and herbs.

Bake the meat for about 2 hours in an oven covered. Or simmer gently on a low flame.

Strain the liquor into a separate pan so you can tweak your ‘gravy’. Add a bit more coffee and soy to give it some depth. But not enough that you cannot taste them. Add redcurrant jelly to add sweetness.

You can pour the thinnest jus back over your turkey. Bring to a simmer, and then add the roux. Whisk as you stir. It doesn’t take much to thicken the sauce, so go carefully.

Once you are satisfied with the sauce, drizzle it over your turkey. Let cool. The sauce should be kept in the fridge up to the Christmas celebration.



With the festive food and party mood that’s buzzing around the house over Christmas and New Year, it can be a little more challenging than usual to squeeze in some alcohol-free days and give an overloaded digestion a rest. So that’s when I ask kombucha, a Far Eastern fermented tea brimming with beneficial bacteria, to up its game, by adding it to a number of seasonally oriented and celebratory dry cocktails that your gut will thank you for.

These recipes are best made with tart, homemade green tea Kombucha. Or you can use a shop-bought version that is ‘natural’ or subtly aromatised, rather than heavily flavoured with spices.

Chilled Mulled Combucha

This lightly spiced, tangy kombucha blend is refreshing but still festive — a great ‘dry’ tipple for evenings when you or your guests aren’t drinking.

Serves 5–6

  • Fresh ginger, 2 to 3 x 3 cm
  • 1 cinnamon stick, broken in half
  • 2 cloves
  • 1 tsp honey or soft brown sugar
  • 500 ml kombucha, chilled
  • To serve, 5-6 star anise (optional).

To release the scent, smash the ginger using a pestle/rolling pin. Then tip the mixture into a bowl or heatproof container and mix in the spices. Add the honey or sugar to 500ml of boiling water. Stir and let it cool.

The infusion should be strained and chilled. Combine the infusion with chilled Kombucha once it has cooled. If you prefer, serve in tumblers with floating star anise.

Bucha Fizz

Replacing the sparkling wine in a buck’s fizz with effervescent kombucha creates a fruity, booze-free but nicely dry alternative.

One per person

  • 150ml Kombucha in a well-chilled bottle
  • 75ml chilled freshly squeezed lemon juice or clementine juice.

Put the kombucha in champagne flutes, add juice, and enjoy immediately

Green is easy: Bring the outside inside 

Here, LUCY BRAZIER, who’s worked with Hugh for 16 years, shares her top festive tips . . .


There isn’t always space on the dining table for all the food, let alone a table arrangement. Here’s how to solve this problem. The solution?

You will need strong twine to hang the branch, and florist’s wire can be helpful for securing decorations. You can also use a variety of size beeswax candles to cast different levels of light on your table.


Go on a winter walking trip with your friends and gather greenery for the wreath. Gather moss, holly, ivy, and fir to make the base. You’ll also need a 35cm diameter ring — you can buy this or make it yourself from wire, or even weave one using willow branches.

Once home, you’ll also need a hook (or person!) For wreath assembly, you will need a hook (or person!) You can cover the entire ring with mossy bits. Then secure it by wrapping the twine tightly around the moss.

You can make small bundles from your base greenery. Choose three types and then repeat until you reach eight or ten. The greenery should be able to cover the base without growing too far into the middle of the area or beyond the edges.

Each bunch should be attached to the wreath by using wire. These should slightly overlap.

You can now add more foliage, such as bay leaves, rosemary, and berries to the wreath by tucking it into existing wire.

You can finish the job with ornamental touches like seed heads or pine cones.


‘Paper’ napkins are not always recyclable — many actually contain plastic fibres. Linen napkins, which don’t need to match and can be picked up cheaply in charity shops, are better for the planet and so much nicer to use. Each napkin can be personalized with a ribbon and a personal name tag.

Plastic items, such as glitter, foil and small plastic pieces found in Christmas Crackers, can end up in the landfill if they are not recyclable. An alternative is to make each guest an envelope, with a handwritten joke, tiny gifts, such as seeds or sweet treats, and even a paper hat.

Adapted by RACHEL HALLIWELL from Christmas At River Cottage by Lucy Brazier and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall published by Bloomsbury, £22. © Lucy Brazier and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall 2021. To order a copy for £19.80, go to or call 020 3176 2937. Free UK delivery on orders over £20. This offer is valid through December 25, 2021.