Every Christmas, when families converge on one household, one man inevitably comes out on top as the ultimate patriarch. He is turned to for advice, odd jobs and – as a reward for his innate masculinity – he gets to carve the turkey.
But what skills can help you rise to the top of the present pile?
Lighting a log fire
There’s nothing more satisfying than starting a fire from scratch – but it can be a delicate operation. If rushed, your sparks will fizzle out. Take too long, and your guests will start to give you the cold shoulder – literally.
Begin by laying a base of thick, dry logs. On top of these, add a small layer of thinner logs and then top this over with one or two layers of kindling. Air is important – around 1cm gap between the sticks is perfect.
Next, add a sheet or two of crumpled newspaper, and then light this at various intervals. Hopefully the kindling will catch, and then the logs but, if they do not, add some more newspaper to keep the flames going.
Cutting down a Christmas tree
There’s a time and a place for garden centres and Christmas tree lots, but nothing tops the macho feeling of felling your own Christmas tree.
If you have grown your own tree, it is likely that you’ve nurtured it throughout the years into the perfect specimen – straight and tall, with evenly-spaced boughs and the greenest of needles. But now to cut it down – without destroying all of that good work.
Get a friend or family member to hold the tree for you, about two thirds of the way up the trunk. Next, take a saw, kneel on the ground and start sawing methodically and rhythmically around 4 or 5 inches up the trunk. Ensure you cut all the way through – even when you think you could tear the rest off – and never lay the tree down, for that is when you start losing needles.
Roasting chestnuts on an open fire
Put away the baking tray, gentleman. The only way to roast chestnuts is, as Nat King Cole would attest to, over an open fire.
First, invest into a roaster – a pan that you can put into the fire. Long handled popcorn or chestnut roasters will do. Next, take your chestnuts, rinse them and pat dry. Score a small X into the flat side of each chestnut.
Build your fire (you should know how by now…) and let it smoulder down slightly. Next, put your chestnuts in the pan and hold them slightly above any flames for 25 minutes, shaking the pan every 5 minutes or so. A chestnut is fully roasted when the shell starts to open around the X, and popping noises emanate from within.
How to carve a turkey
Master the above, and you may be granted the almost ceremonial carving knife. The honour is yours, plate up the meat, say a Christmas toast, and then rest easy for the remainder of the day.
But, now you’ve been bestowed the responsibility of carving up the meat, don’t mess it up. Follow these steps and get Christmas dinner off to a flying start. Begin by facing the turkey breast side up and away from you, steady it with your carving fork and cut through the skin that connects one leg to the carcass.
Pull the leg off and repeat on the other side. Next, make a long, thin cut along the breastbone, and now carve each side until you have a plate of meat fit to feed your whole family.