26 . 11 . 18
Why I ate my Christmas tree…
Image by Carmel King, courtesy of Host of Leyton. Writing by Julia Georgallis
Come the end of the year, everything is wrapped in either sugar or bacon all in the name of some tiny human who was born on a specific day. We are encouraged to consume, consume, consume, give, give, give over the course of a month long period commonly known as Christmas.
Recently, however, it seems to me like we have gone wrong somewhere – was this month of mass consumption really how we are supposed to celebrate? The Northern Hemisphere has always celebrated something or other at this time of year. Flavour of the millennium is a baby who would live forever. But a few thousand years ago, we worshipped the light instead and the eternal passing of time and spent the dark winter nights trying to coax the sun back to us. It was a chance to have a party, to celebrate at the most depressing time of the year – which it still is, I suppose. We worshipped trees. Trees being symbolic of everlasting life. Especially the trees now commonly known by sight as the Christmas tree, part of the evergreen family. How much of the world looks at the evergreen – a plant that stays leafy all year round – is similar across the globe. Be they blue spruce or bamboo shoots, evergreens are revered and respected, sacred symbols of everlasting life, resilience and strength in the face of adversity.
In Greece, pine nuts are used for burials to represent eternal life. Apache Native Americans and Druids both associated pines and firs with the sun – The Apache would include pine nuts in their Sunrise Ceremonies and Druids would burn firs in the bleak winter in order to persuade the sun to show his face again. Eastern Europeans use evergreen leaves as door mats for guests to wipe their feet on protecting the house from mud and evil spirits simultaneously. In China, pine, plum and bamboo are known as the ‘three friends of winter’ – they are alive all year round and are associated with longevity. And of course, the Christmas tree (spruce and fir trees) decorates many homes in the Northern Europe during the longest, darkest nights of the year. Related to Christianity and everlasting life, placing trees indoors and decorating them actually has its roots thousands of years before Christianity had a look in. Jews, Romans, Egyptians, Saxons and Vikings would also cover their houses in evergreens as part of winter rites. So. Christmas trees. They’re a pretty big deal. We’ve loved them longtime.
Except, nowadays, there doesn’t seem to be so much love for these trees. I think now to the post-Christmas world. It’s nothing like the pre-Christmas world. Everything is bleak and glum. We’re fatter, we’re poorer, we’re still a bit hungover and must repent for all the fun we’ve had. And, to top it off, so begins the mass throwing away of millions of little trees – all that was joyful and hopeful instead now lines the streets, needle-less, stuffed down the backs of alley ways, damp and pretty damn sad. Which is where trying to eat your Christmas tree comes into the story. Rather than chuck away our Christmas tree, my friend Lauren and I decided to try eating them instead and used them as the basic ingredient for a series of supper clubs that we started running in Winter 2015/2016.
Many have commented that our ‘How to eat your Christmas tree’ supper clubs were nothing more than a gimmick (“what is this hipster shit????” reads a post after Vice’s article about us). I can see how you might think this, as most things to do with Christmas end up being a bit of a gimmick. But, the way the way to make people think about things, particularly important issues is through food – after all, our stomachs are our second brain.
It took work to make some delicious things out of Christmas trees. We tried whole bunch of different things. Blitzing. Smashing. Frying. We put some needles in a tea strainer and it tasted like wee. We made a weird grass flavoured scotch egg that made us feel really ill. But eventually, we got the hang of it. Our supper club revolves mainly around cooking with pine, fir, spruce and juniper, but also features olive and plum (plums are part of the ‘three friends of winter’ – Chinese versions of evergreens and olives are evergreen and also hold similar symbolism to the conifer). We cured, smoked, heated, baked and pickled needles and nuts, using inspiration from Scandinavia, Southern Europe, the Middle East and Asia. And the result was delicious, which is the most important thing to me. It was also important that non of our Christmas tree recipes were particularly difficult and could be achieved at home. And so I am really encouraging you, before you throw things away, to be curious and creative. Does this thing have to wind up in the dustbin? Can you replant it? Rehang it? Eat it rather than binning it? Put it on your face or in the bath? Don’t spend your whole life trying to reuse every last drop of everything because no one has time for that, but sometimes it would do the world a favour to think back as to why that thing was there in the first place and maybe dispatching it could be done in a more respectful way.