Christmas falls at a good time for European wine-makers - the harvest is over, the wine is made. Wine makers can take time off for some good meals with their families. No French wine region does Christmas so splendidly, and so traditionally, as Alsace.
A sprinkling of snow, candles in windows, beribboned evergreen boughs decorating balconies of picturesque old houses - the streets of Colmar at dusk in December are as pretty as can be. For those in search of the old-fashioned charm of real Christmas markets amongst the wine villages, Kaysersberg has perhaps the most traditional, and nearby Eguisheim the nicest.
Baeckaoffa - a casserole of slow cooked beef, pork, lamb & potatoes
This is a dish that takes hardly any preparation, just an overnight marinade, and slow cooking, useful during harvest, warming during the winter, and great when you are busy in the run-up to Christmas.
Tradition has it that this was made on washing day. Not having their own ovens,housewives took their casseroles to the baker’s oven (hence its name) to cook during the day while they got on with the weekly wash.
The oval, glazed, earthenware casserole with lid, above, is made specially for this. The lid used to be sealed with a flour and water paste but you can just substitute tin foil.
FOR 8 PEOPLE
500 g (1 lb) stewing beef 500 g (1 lb) shoulder or leg of pork, boned
500 g (1 lb) shoulder of lamb, boned 1 kg (2 lb) potatoes 500 g (1 lb) carrots butter for greasing
FOR THE MARINADE:
4 shallots 2 onions 2 cloves garlic
1-2 carrots bouquet garni salt and pepper approximately 500 ml (15fl oz) dry Riesling
Cut up the meat into cubes. Put all the meat into a bowl with the marinade vegetables, peeled and chopped, the bouquet garni, salt, pepper and the wine. Marinate overnight.
Preheat the oven to gas mark 6, 400°F, 200°C.
Peel the potatoes and carrots and slice quite thickly. Butter the casserole. Put in alternate layers of potatoes, carrots and the different meats, seasoning as you go, until you reach the top. You can include the chopped onions, etc. from the marinade if you like. The final layer should be potato.
Pour in the wine from the marinade. It should reach about half-way up the casserole - add more if necessary. Seal with a sheet of tin-foil and put on the lid.
Bake in the preheated oven for approximately three hours, turning the heat down after the first hour to gas mark 3, 325°F, 160°C.
Serve the baeckaoffa with a green salad - anything else would be too heavy.