Christmas 2014 - FOUR: It's beginning to smell a lot like Christmas
Although it's not quite the most important event in the Christian calendar, the birth of Jesus does provide many a fine excuse for celebration, goodwill... and oohing and aahing at small children acting out familiar tales in schools all over the world.
I'm still waiting to let any religious faith into my life but I do selfishly embrace every opportunity to surround myself with my favourite people at this time. The need to escape the depths of winter is rather dismissed by central heating and piles of tasty tracklements but it's the sharing of moments with loved ones which produces the greatest satisfaction and warmth.
The making, giving and sharing of seasonal fare is part of that enjoyment but its preparation needs to be managed well. Completing the kind of activities below gives the chance to be found in more of the social situations rather than stuck at the stove.
'Stir-up Sunday', the informal term in Anglican churches for the last Sunday before the season of Advent, is a week in the past as I write. That's not going to stop me posting this until next year - it might still be useful for latecomers, the undecided and the just plain dilatory.... and it will be here for reference in December 2015!
All the items mentioned here were made (as usual) from recipes by a director of Norwich City F.C. who also writes cookery books. You have the same book, know that recipes are readily available online or go to your own family favourites so I don't intend repeating them here.
I wasn't aware of the biblical connection pertinent to puddings until getting 'Delia's Christmas' in the mid nineteen-seventies. There, to open the 'Christmas Puddings and Mincemeat' chapter, are the first words of the collect for the day from the Book of Common Prayer. Just for badness, let's take a look at those words - with a spot of added atmosphere from the Latin translation!
By Jove, I'm feeling completely adeste fideles after that!
This is the time of year when old festive favourites are admitted to the kitchen soundtrack. I'll give you the same choice as I gave myself. Both of these were looping through my speakers for most of the next 36 hours:
Praetorius - Lutheran Mass For Christmas Morning - YouTube
Merry Axemas - A Guitar Christmas 2. Full Album - YouTube
With Delia's trusted tome open on my worktop I started a busy weekend. Fruits had already been soaked (some mummified in alcohol!). Gradually a heavenly host of wholesome smells filled our house. Does anyone make Christmas Baking toilet freshener spray? - they should! The only thing I'd place above this on the festive aromas hit parade is what wafts your way once the turkey giblet stock is on the go on Christmas morning.
Despite my heathen tendencies I did offer up a small prayer that the oven might suffer no power-cuts or breakdowns. The reassuring whir of fans (oven and extractor) was accompanied by the disappearance of the outside world as all windows steamed up in sympathy with the puddings.
One main pudding and as many 'juniors' as would fit in the stock pan began their alchemy-altering eight hour journey. Meanwhile, texts, tweets and Facebook notifications are sent out to distant family so that they get a proxy stir and the chance to make a wish!
All sorts of duties here. The main one is to check off everything from the ingredients list as it is used. This year I completely failed in that respect and omitted the almonds! Thank you to all of you who are thinking, "Those cakes will still contain traces of a nut"!
With two cakes I have the option to cut a few smaller, gift-sized ones. Alternatively, you can copy me and take taunting slices into work to be produced at lunch or tea breaks until late Spring! You can see previous examples of my decorated efforts here: Christmas cakes — Cheoff
As with all the other recipes here, this is made truly special if you use proper wedges or 'caps' of candied peel. The ready-chopped tubs of mixed peel have a dull, lifeless quality by comparison. I'm fully prepared to challenge the tendonitis in my thumbs every time to slice up tiny chunks of these zingy, sherbert-like citrus explosions.
Our Christmas mincemeat is made in generous batches and gets used through the following year in muffins, quick fruit cakes and strudels.
CREOLE CHRISTMAS CAKE:
The suggestion that this is an alternative Christmas cake has never really been followed by us - we make it alongside the traditional cake as an extra treat... and damn the consequences!
The fruits above are sozzled for a week previously in four varieties of booze. As you can see, they have gone completely out of focus - nothing to do with my camera skills! The resultant cake is a slab of indulgence, so rich in deep, spicy flavours that the job of icing can be discarded. I love an ingot of this with a double espresso.
A hive of concentrated activity has produced staples for our celebrations. The cake will be fed with brandy before its final shroud of sugary almonds and white frosting. Other cakes, puds and jars will be unwrapped and unsealed very soon. The house is calmer for now. There are quiet rustlings of paper as we try to get ahead of ourselves and wrap gifts before Christmas Eve is upon us. Still much to do but for the moment I'll relax a little; enough to close my eyes, sniff deeply and conjure those glorious fruity, spiced remembered smells into my olfactories... now that's magic!