A Cool Yule with Pickled Pair

Pickled Pair shows you how to create the coolest of yules without even having to venture north of the Parkway. A little bit vintage, a dash of the homemade, and a whole lot of local.


In the first of Pickled Pair’s festive posts, it’s all about the tree and what goes on it. She’s got decorations aplenty straight from the kitchen. Just add a glug or three of mulled wine.
Most of the year we are regular, ordinary folk. We are nice and polite. We help mums with pushchairs. We queue. We are British, for heaven’s sake! Yet when the tinsel comes out a strange madness starts to creep in. Here we are, trying to hold in the panic as we work, party, shop, cook and decorate. Elves, it is time to reindeer this all in! The coolest of yules is right here in your hands.
You don’t need lots of dosh (although a few chocco coins won’t go amiss), just a bit of time and imagination – YES, you do have the time. Think of it as an investment, one you’ll be topping up each year. There’s no theme to a cool yule – it’s all about creating your own little traditions, ones that unfold slowly, returning like old friends year after year. They are familiar and comforting and over time will tell the stories of your life.

So let’s get our festive yule on and start thinking trees.
I used to live in Germany so for me a tree has to be real. Potted or super-size, big pillowy branches, or spiky little needles, I love them all. I find the scent and sight of a real tree, weighed down with my favourite decorations and adorned with twinkling fairy lights, just magical. Luckily for us lot in Sheffield, we have some great Christmas tree growers and fantastic places to find one that will suit you. Here are some of my favourites:
•Whirlow Hall Farm Trust, S11 (you need to order but you have the added bonus that all profits help the wonderful work of the trust).
•Rhinegold Garden Centre, S6 (also has a fab café with amazing cakes).
•Horsfields Plant Nursery, Pot House Hamlet, S75.
•Ecclesall Woods, S11.
•Outside JH Manns, Fishmonger, S11.
•Tree Amigo’s, Fargate Christmas Market, S1.
Of course, you can pick up a tree from all the main garden and DIY centres but there is something so much more romantic when you make a special trip with the family and buy locally. I used to have an old Moggie 1000 (called Florence) and loved putting the hood down and then man-handling the tree onto the tiny back seat, weaving our way back home unable to see anything other than the road in front! I wear my big sheepskin car coat (the only time it gets an outing) and hang a lovely clove-studded clementine from the rear-view mirror.

With the tree sorted, what on earth to hang on it? Fear not, I have some really simple ideas so all you need to do is get the mulled wine on and invite some friends over to help and raid your larder.
First Up – Sunny Delight. We all love satsumas, clementines and oranges at Christmas, don’t we. Bursting with vitamin C they are brilliant cold weather nourishment. But they are also a staple for your cool yule. Pop down the Moor Market or Ozmen’s, London Road and get yourself a big bag of the orange lovelies along with plenty of cloves and cinnamon sticks. If you are in the market look out for some nice oddments of ribbons (I’m a bit partial to Nordic red and grey, and also a little magpie so I collect bits and bobs all through the year).
Your first decorations are done in minutes: tie some ribbon around the clementines and stud the gaps with cloves, then just pop a few back in the fruit bowl. Add some walnuts and hazlenuts and you’ll have a festive looking bowl of goodies that smell as delightful as they look. Hang one in the car too.
Next, to the oranges – you’ll need three or four medium sized ones. Slice them whole as thin as possible and then lay them on a baking sheet, or if you have one, a rack above a baking sheet. Pop them into a really low oven (100°C at most) and leave them for several hours to dry out, turning them over half way through. You want them to be pretty dry to the touch (they’ll carry on drying on the tree). Using some plastic-coated green garden wire, make little hooks and push one end through the top of each ring so that they hang by the peel. Use the other end to hang it on your tree. Position them in front of a twinkly fairy light and they’ll shimmer like stained glass. I also scatter them over my festive table and windowsills along with fresh cranberries and little zinc and white ceramic stars. Store in a tin and your little amber jewels will keep and dazzle for years to come.


Berry Christmas. Cranberries are perfect for garlands. Buy a couple of bags (Beanies, Filthy Gorgeous and of course, Moor Market, will all be stocking these in December) and get your plastic -coated garden wire out again. Don your apron, put on some Kyle Eastwood and get stranding (threading each cranberry top to bottom). In an hour or so you’ll have two really long garlands. Make them a good bit longer than you think you’ll want as they shrink as they dry. Hang them somewhere warm and let them dry out naturally (just keep nudging them together as they dry out). They should be dry enough after two or three weeks for you to weave gently around your tree. These strands of loveliness will keep for a good few years too so pack them away carefully.
Spice up your Spruce. I like to wrap bundles of cinnamon sticks with some narrow ribbon and then hang from the tree like little presents. I like to think they add scent to the tree but really it’s more about looks than smell.
Get your Cones on. Free from all good pine forests. Collect, dry and then spray from the underside with some gold or white spray paint (Pinders Art Shop, Moore Street is useful for this) and then bring out the old faithful (you got it – the plastic-coated wire) and tie around the bottom kernels fastening them to branches on your tree (they look best when they look as though they are nestled into the branches).
Et voila!


Now you have some good tree basics that will see you through for years and all for around a tenner. If you do nothing other than string some simple little fairy lights, you’ll have a beautiful tree. Add to this, though, a few carefully chosen decorations each year and your tree will start moving into the realm of magical.


My tree decorations go back years. The first year, as well as my home-made beauties, I also splashed out on some plain gold and red baubles (a few dramatic super-size ones, the rest more modest). Over the years, I’ve added little salt-dough decorations from Prague, tiny angels from Dilsberg, molten glass from Salzburg and papier-mache from Cheltenham. The latest additions are these fantastic wire-work stars made with vintage paper from Solo Gallery, Sharrowvale Road a couple of years ago, and this year a couple of little birds I picked up from CollardManson on Devonshire Street. Each year they come out it’s like meeting up with old friends again – so of course it is only right to chink with a glass of the bubbly stuff.
Like folklore, I think every tree has a little story to tell. What’s yours?


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