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Bringing Danish Christmas to West Berkshire

Risalamande in Reading: bringing Danish Christmas to West Berkshire

by Izzy Burton 01 December 2015

Looking for Christmas Eve dinner inspiration? Izzy Burton shares Danish Christmas traditions passed down from her relatives, including the hunt for the hidden almond in the bowls of creamy rice pudding.

The festive season is a time for getting on chairs and taking down familiar items from top cupboards and attics – my mum is the sort of woman who has ‘winter curtains’ – and the same can be said for Christmas rituals. Church might be visited for the first time in 364 days, neighbourly feuds set aside for a glass of mid-range wine and two weeks of intensively reintroducing yourself to long abandoned soap operas will pay off with the dramatic Christmas specials.

For my family, Christmas is also the only time of year we ever give a feeble nod to our ancestry and incorporate some European Christmas traditions into our celebrations. Mum’s Polish Catholic background was quietly dropped from the celebration agenda some years ago, presumably because their Christmas Eve meals are traditionally meat-free and my brother has a tendency to pointedly drape ham over any vegetarian meals he’s given. Instead, we annually turn to my dad’s side of the family and the traditions passed down by my late Danish great-grandmother, a woman who lived to be 102 years old and whom my mother always likened to Gary Oldman in Dracula.

We incorporate several aspects of the traditional Danish Christmas dinner into our meal: it’s held on the 24th, for one thing, Dad will valiantly attempt a pork dish under my mum’s supervision and whatever the main course turns out to be, it will usually be served alongside some red cabbage flavoured with winter spices. The best part of the meal has always been dessert, though, when my mum brings out bowls of cold, creamy Danish rice puddingrisalamande – and my dad places a shoddily wrapped gift in the centre of the table. One of these four bowls contains a whole almond, whoever receives it gets the prize and the fate of Christmas hangs in the balance: if my mum wins it’s no big deal, if my dad gets it then it’s essentially a Christmas rollover for next year, but if my older brother wins? Christmas is ruined.

Looking back, it’s unclear why I was so eager to win the almond game when my dad’s last-minute prize buying efforts were so monumentally pathetic. Once I received a book of gruesome stories he had deemed inappropriate and confiscated from me earlier that year, another Christmas I was awarded a Woody Allen DVD which I had bought but not watched and had gone missing from my room two days previously. My brother was the lucky winner of a ladies’ soap that didn’t fit in my mum’s Christmas stocking, while she was the envy of all of us two years ago when she was given a folded up twenty pound note from my dad’s pocket.

Risalamande has always appealed to my sense of greed. As a child I was cruelly indifferent to the rice pudding my mum used to spend a good hour or two making, seeing the eating as a mere endurance test to get through before, hopefully, winning the prize. As I get older the thrill of winning remains, but I find that I’m more and more excited about the pudding itself, with mounds of creamy, almond infused rice served alongside the traditional kirsebærsauce (cherry sauce) or, as in our house, a boozy fruit compote made with figs, prunes and lots of Port.

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Risalamande in Reading: bringing Danish Christmas to West Berkshire


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