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Cider and Chestnuts: Festival Helps Foodies Prepare for Christmas in Britain

The Christmas Foodie Festival will showcase traditional British holiday foods. (Photo by Britain on View/Visit …Mince pies. Mulled wine. Pudding sprigged with holly, doused in brandy and set on fire. The winter Foodies Festival, the UK's largest celebration of food and drink, explores these and other Christmas traditions December 1-2.

The festival, best known for its outdoor summertime extravaganzas, moves into cozier quarters at Yuletide. Carol singers will spread cheer as scents of hot cider, roasted chestnuts and turkey with trimmings fill the Edinburgh International Conference Centre in Scotland (10 a.m.-6 p.m., £10, free for children under 16).

Chefs' demonstrations account for much of the event's appeal. Jeff Bland — the chef at Edinburgh's Balmoral Hotel, who has retained his Michelin star for a decade now — will create one of his signature dishes. He's known for making easy-to-cook contemporary creations on the Scottish TV program "The Hour." But his showcase restaurant, the Balmoral's number one, veers more toward duck croquette, venison with beetroot and blackberries, and North Sea halibut on Israeli saffron couscous. The opulent dishes nicely match the restaurant's golden velvet banquettes and red-lacquered walls from Hong Kong.

Bland will pass the festival's flambé torch to other northern superstars like Neil Forbes, Scottish Chef of the Year 2011, and "Great British Menu" show contestant Mark Greenaway, just to name a few.

Mulled wine is a popular winter beverage in Britain. (Photo by Ingrid Rasmussen/Visit Britain)

Attendees can don aprons, too, with six hands-on lessons daily tackling topics like cake decoration and Christmas canapés. They can also shop the 100-vendor-strong farmer's market and discover holiday tipples such as Persephone's Dram Punch, which blends pomegranate soda, chamomile tea and cucumbery Hendricks Gin. Discussions of beer and wine food pairings are among the many drink-related events (this is Scotland, after all) as is a seminar called "A wonderful history of alcohol in medicine."

Lavish as the recipes and artisanal products may be, the festival goes far beyond pretty place settings and gourmet groaning-board buffets. In Britain as everywhere, food is about culture, and that's even more true at Christmas. As Chef Forbes points out: "Food is about so much more than just easing our body's hunger, it's about easing our emotional hunger too, and it brings us together."

by Amanda Castleman

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