Food & Wine's Weirdest, Wildest, Most Wonderful Holiday Covers of All Time

A deep dive into 45 years of December covers yielded gilded '80s excess, a suspect Santa suit, an eyeless bear, a flaming duck, and aspirational recipes galore.

Food & Wine covers

Over the past 45 years, Food & Wine has published December issue covers that range from ornate to playful, with food that spans everything from a golden ramekin of creme brulée (1985) to roast duck engulfed in fire (2018). Here, we walk down memory lane and explore some of the most unforgettable holiday covers from each decade.

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December 1978

Food & Wine December 1978

Food & Wine launched as an insert in the March 1978 issue of Playboy, and that swinging, swigging ethos remained front and center with a snifter of some no doubt potent liquid. The bay leaves (so far as we can tell) on the bonbons are a mystery, though.

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December 1979

Food & Wine December 1979

The end of the '70s was apparently for the birds. We're gonna go ahead and assume it's the magic of taxidermy keeping that li'l guy from taking a nibble out of the icing-decked partridge in the pine tree.

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December 1980

Food & Wine December 1980

W Peter Prestcott, Food & Wine's longtime Entertainment Editor, was dressed as Santa Claus, feeding a stuffed deer. Per a note inside the magazine, he's on a "cake break," sharing a piece of his Bûche de Noël from Vienna '79 restaurant in New York City with his fuzzy pal.

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December 1982

Food & Wine December 1982

Despite the cover line touting holiday entertaining, these wine-baked pears were part of the kickoff of a column touting calorie-reducing techniques — in this case, using a clay pot to, in theory, eliminate the need for any cooking fats. Holly jolly, y'all.

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December 1983

Food & Wine December 1983

A lamb crown with gilded frills and an awkwardly tournéed "vegetable melange" somehow feels era-perfect, but should a person opt for more opulence, a Sweetbread, Kidney, and Potato Saute with Butter-Glazed Snow Peas is the suggested alternative.

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December 1984

Food & Wine December 1984

With an over-the-top display of caviar, blini, and Champagne, this is where F&W’s love affair with elegant extravagance began.

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December 1985

Food & Wine December 1985

A golden ramekin of "sensual" creme brulée, a celebration of "voluptuous" foie gras and a feature called "Food Fantasies of the Rich and Famous" (featuring Julia Child, Jeremy Irons, and Koko the gorilla) are basically the edible manifestation of the Wall Street "Greed is good." era.

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December 1986

Food & Wine December 1986

Is it a food magazine cover or a Duran Duran album cover? Who's to say?

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December 1988

Food & Wine December 1988

When we think of Julia Child and holidays, we definitely think of desiccated lemon wedges, roe blobs, and Studio 54 lighting.

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December 1989

Food & Wine December 1989

Accompanying this "Hearty Holiday Ham," as the associated story was called was a feast of Blushing Applesauce, Sweet Potato and Butternut Squash Puree, Cauliflower and Broccoli with Cream Sauce, and Chocolate Orange Mousse. It was, however, a feast of lies and deprivation. The "cream sauce" contained no actual cream, just milk, the puree was bereft of any oil or butter, and the applesauce "blushed" by dint of fresh or frozen berries, but no added sugar. The '80s were truly at an ebb.

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December 1990

Food & Wine December 1990

Perhaps in response to the excess of the '80s, holiday covers in the 90s pictured simpler foods. Several different kinds of Christmas cookies appeared on covers, all gorgeously decorated.

Here, 1990, “A heavenly puff pastry angel.”

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December 1992

Food & Wine December 1992

In 1992, a little girl jammed a cookie into the maw of an eyeless teddy bear. Oh, the merriment.

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December 1994

Food & Wine December 1994

Nothing sings holidays quite like taupe, tan, beige, and greige.

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December 1996

Food & Wine December 1996

Oh huzzah! We were apparently on parole from color jail and allowed a tight range of sunset colors with our cookies.

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December 2001

Food & Wine December 2001

Look, we were all going through a lot as a nation and honestly, this makes sense. Here's your squash; take it and be grateful.

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December 2004

Food & Wine December 2004

As we moved headlong into the New Millennium, the 2000s signaled a moment for huge roasts. Two pork roasts, two beef roasts, and a beef tenderloin are just some of the centerpieces that graced the decade’s covers.

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December 2006

Food & Wine December 2006

That pork right there is the brainchild of a young upstart named José Andrés, back in the days when he was just saving the holidays and dinner, not the whole entire world.

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December 2007

Food & Wine December 2007

More meat. So much meat.

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December 2009

Food & Wine December 2009

Seriously, could we possibly interested you in a green vegetable or perhaps a carb of some sort?

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December 2011

Food & Wine December 2011

The 2010s showcased beautiful, albeit less formal, presentations, to reflect a more casual entertaining style. Furthermore, holiday covers began to reflect the understanding that people of widely varied cultures and religious traditions have major holidays in December. From a spread of cocktail snacks featuring bites like pickled spiced beets and chile-toasted almonds (2015) to Hanukkah sufganiyot (2017), this was a decade with something for everyone — including a duck on fire (2018).

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December 2015

Food & Wine December 2015

Wait one second, there's nary a roast nor a crown in sight! Are we sure it's even a holiday?

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F&W Cover December 2017

The aforementioned sufganiyot were handcrafted by chef, author, and TV host Andrew Zimmern after a transformative trip to Jerusalem during the Festival of Light.

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Food & Wine December 2018

There maaaayyyy have been some kerfuffle in the office debating if this flambé was too extreme for the cover. We're so ducking happy the hotter heads prevailed.

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December 2020

Food & Wine December 2020

Did we include these Brown Butter-Cardamom cookies just so we could say the word "Spitzbuben" with wild abandon? 2020 was rough and we had to get our kicks where we could.

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December 2021

Food & Wine December 2021

Still in the thick of a global pandemic, it just seemed fitting to bury our faces in a big ol' bundt, specifically Vallery Lomas' Cocoa Cola Bundt Cake with Amarena Cherries.

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December 2022

Food & Wine December / January 2022

In 2022, there's talk around F&W HQ that this seafood tower makes for not just the best holiday cover we've ever published, but the best cover we've ever published. Twenty years from now, it's quite possible that the sentiment will have aged just about as well as those oysters, but we're choosing to live in the present and savor this moment.

For more retro F&W joy, read These Holiday Recipes from the Food & Wine Archives Stand the Test of Time.

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