It is an ancient, basic and sacred activity for humans to come together to share food and drink.
However, the modern social trend tends to divide and segregate: whereas we would once come together around a central table in our homes or places in our community and eat and drink together whilst sharing our news, we now eat different foods at different times of the day in different places. Even a hot drink is isolated in that we all choose different beverages brewed individually in cups or mugs, often prepared at different times and carried away to consume while we work, walk or travel.
But, there is a unifying and quite magical feeling which surrounds a large jug or pot pouring steaming liquid into smaller containers which we are all going to enjoy together. It captures and focuses everyone’s attention simultaneously. We all relax, appreciate and enjoy together as a group activity.
Similarly, larger containers for serving in bulk are also becoming less common. To this end, I suggest that a most useful and appropriate gift might be a moderately sized or larger heat-proof jug from which hot (or cold) drinks might be served. Admittedly, tea tastes better from a tea pot, but otherwise, there are lots of drinks which can be served from a jug including coffee, hot chocolate or cocoa, and, especially welcome in winter, mulled wine. Even thinner soup can be poured into beakers from a jug, to be drunk and appreciated as it warms and nourishes us.
Nor does this simple social activity have to cost a lot. A cheap, seasonal but alcohol-free drink may be made by using fruit juice, (which also allows children to imbibe with the adults), while a pan of homemade soup, can be speedily assembled and cooked.
So, if you wish to give someone a really useful and meaningful gift this Midwinter season, please do consider getting them a jug – new or sought out in a charity shop – and perhaps the contents of their first use of it – either apple juice and spices or a packet of ground coffee, or a small selection of vegetables. Let us all invest in the simple but time-honoured and sacred act of coming together and sharing.
A truly thoughtful, useful gift.
There are many other ideas out there along similar lines. Please do share your ideas with me and everyone else – I would LOVE to see what you might come up with.
Happy alternative Christmas gifting!
Suggested recipes are below.
Spiced Apple Juice:
Assemble a litre box of apple juice (£1.69), an apple cut into slices, 8 cloves, a teaspoon of ginger, a teaspoon of cinnamon, a tablespoon of honey, (or alternatively brown or white granulated sugar) in a pan and heat slowly – gently simmer for a few minutes before serving. Very warming and tasty.
Spices may be purchased, 32 grams for just over £1 and might present an initial outlay, but will be be useful in many other winter recipes or for making numerous jugs of hot spiced fruit juice throughout the colder season.
You may prefer to use orange or clementine juice with a sliced fruit of the same kind. You may also like to use other spices such as all-spice, mixed spice or a little grated nutmeg. Adapt amounts to suit your own taste. Of course, if you wish to add a dash of wine or spirits to the mixture to give it that extra kick, that is entirely up to you.
Serves six portions – but can be divided to make just two or three – or even a single portion if you adjust the amounts of spice and sweetening accordingly.
Traditional mulled wine can be made by substituting apple juice with a bottle of wine, and adding 1/2 pint of fruit juice.
I am including this because it is one of the simplest, most comforting drinks for young or old alike – best consumed out of a thermos flask on a chilly winter walk, or when you get home after a tiring day.
Measure your milk – whatever kind of milk you prefer to use: cow’s, goats, oat or soya. etc., one mugful per person – into a saucepan. Add a teaspoon of honey and a quarter teaspoon of ground cinnamon per mug. Mix and bring not quite to boil before pouring into large, pre-warmed heatproof jug and serving. An extra shake of cinnamon or grate of nutmeg over the top can add that special touch.
Coffee for Four:
Your favourite ground coffee, a pinch of salt, a teaspoon of cinnamon, (or alternatively, a goodly pinch of cocoa), freshly brewed, (or even instant coffee, one generous teaspoon per person, with salt and cinnamon/cocoa and enough boiling water to fill three mugs or cups), and a mug of milk heated in separate pan. Pour both liquids into a warmed jug, stir and serve. Extra cinnamon, grated chocolate, or cream can be sprinkled/poured over the top of each individual mug.
Meat of vegetable stock, three onions peeled and thinly sliced, two or three sticks of celery finely chopped, four tablespoons barley flakes, salt pepper and a good knob of butter.
Bring all to boil in pan and simmer for 15 – 20 minutes – purify if you have a suitable appliance. A swirl of cream or a dollop of yoghurt can be added to each mug when served.
Cost: £1.30 for large pan of soup which will feed four – six people (depending on size of portions served), plus whatever fuel costs you incur for cooking.
Hearty soups may also be made similarly from mushrooms, tomatoes, green split peas, etc. See my ‘Eat Cheap’ booklet for more simple and economical recipes.