'Christmas Days' Is A Feast Of Stories — And Food

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Author Jeanette Winterson has wrapped up a holiday present between two covers. Christmas Days is a book of 12 stories and just about the same number of recipes.

Winterson — author of Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit — tells NPR's Scott Simon that food is a place of sharing. "It's where we come together to be with our families and friends, you know, to have the seasonal row at Christmas," she says. "And when I was putting this book together — because this is really a knit-your-own-Christmas book — the stories were straightforward enough, I thought, I'm going to have 12 stories. And then I suddenly remembered that so much of my life has been about either making meals or sharing meals with people that I've loved ... and so every recipe has a story around it."


Interview Highlights

On her mother's mincemeat pies

My mother, the late Mrs. Winterson, was a flamboyant depressive. But she particularly loved Christmas — I don't know why, it was like she had an injection on the 21st of December and suddenly she was happy for the season. And she made the most fantastic mince pies, with a proper, crispy dry pastry, full of the mincemeat she made herself in the autumn. And I've always followed that recipe and copied it and so of course it has to be in the book.

On the story "Christmas in New York"

It's because I'm married to a New York Jew and I said to her, look, when I write these stories I'll write one for you that's in New York. In fact there is a Jewish one in there as well called "The Glow-Heart," because my partner, being Jewish, doesn't believe in the afterlife at all. And sometimes, you know, when we talk about it she says "I don't even know why this is interesting," and I say, "Listen when we die there's going to be a split second, and it's 50/50, and one of us is going to say 'oh shucks, I got it wrong,' I don't know which way it's going to fall because you don't know and I don't know!" So for her, I wrote a story about a ghost coming back to speak to his grieving partner, because we all know what it's like to grieve and to feel lost at Christmas. It's a story of hope, but it's also a story that recognizes the pain and the sorrow that many people will experience at this time.

On a good holiday recipe

You could always try Dad's Sherry Trifle. That's quite an easy one to make ... trifle is a gorgeous dish, but people get it wrong because the base of it is a sponge cake ... You get yourself a sponge cake, but it has to be old. Chuck it in a bowl and then pour on top of it some sherry, which is best, or some brandy — some liquor of some kind — and of course the dryness of the cake soaks it up without it disintegrating. If you use something fresh and fancy from the shop, you just get a soggy mess, it's disgusting ... So you get that on there and then you put some jelly on the top, you can get just a jelly cube, you know, put hot water on there out of the hot tap, make yourself a jelly mold, let it set in the fridge. Layer of jelly on top of that, layer of custard on top of that. And then you put some fruit on there if you want to be fancy ... Cover the lot in cream and, you know, little bits of decoration, and you've got a fabulous holiday trifle.

On whether the holidays are a time to hope for happiness

I think we're always optimistic for love and happiness, aren't we? I mean, we think we're cynical and we've seen it all, we're living in a post-truth world and we can't trust anyone, it's just all spin. But our hearts aren't that much different. We hope for love, we hope to receive love, we hope to give love. You know, we'd prefer to forgive our friends rather than go on hating our enemies. And I think Christmas is a time when you really can reflect and think, okay, what can I put right? What can I do better? Can I hold my head up in the morning and look myself in the eye? That really matters. So I think we need to use this season really to reflect on our lives, and just pull back a little and have that little bit of time to think about change and to think about love.

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