'One Christmas was so much like another, in those years around the sea-town corner now and out of all sound except the distant speaking of the voices I sometimes hear a moment before sleep, that I can never remember whether it snowed for six days and six nights when I was twelve or whether it snowed for twelve days and twelve nights when I was six.'
From 'A Child's Christmas in Wales' by Dylan Thomas (1914-1953)
I’m going to have two Christmases this year. One here in Cornwall with my best beloved, very grown up, restrained and quiet, and then another in Yorkshire a few days later, which will be a good old blow out with my lovely nieces aged eight and ten, lots of food, drink, pressies and general rejoicing. So I’m getting the best of both worlds.
Martin Amis says then when you get older, a great palace of the past opens up inside you like a lost continent - and it's true. I have been thinking about Christmases past and the traditions you make for yourself. Christmas doesn’t really start for me until I’ve heard a live performance of Messiah, that first chord really opens the season. I might have already made the puddings and the cake but only Messiah presses my ‘go’ button.
The first Christmas dinner I ever cooked myself was when I was a student. I went to Oxford market and bought a goose, cooked it for all my boyfriend’s housemates then at the last minute picked up a red hot dish and took all the skin off the inside of one hand, so I spent the party in the Radcliffe Infirmary being treated for burns. Not a good start.
Then when I was married the first time, we lived in a house that was a perfect place to celebrate; with lots of space, an Aga and big open fires. So celebrate we did; starting with a big party for all our work colleagues, then family staying for the holiday – games and evenings round the piano, loads to eat and drink and healthy outings to walk it off. It sounds idyllic and it was, even though sometimes all I wanted was an elegancy of champagne and a little smoked salmon just for two.
Later, when I first lived with my second husband, my brother in law sent us a goose. I kept it in the utility room for a couple of days and on Christmas morning thought – ‘well it smells a bit rich but it’ll be OK’ so I put it in the oven and we went for a long walk round Bolton Abbey. When we got home the ‘rich’ smell pervaded the house, and when we came to carve the bird, inside the chestnut skin there was – nothing! It was so high it had completely rotted away inside the skin. So our Christmas dinner was the vegetables and the stuffing which I had had fortunately cooked separately and the smell lingered in the house for months....I was mortified.
I have a little repertoire of things I try and always make; a cooked ham glazed and sticky, caramel oranges, red onion marmalade, ginger parfait –I live with a non Christmas pudding lover, cherry and walnut mincemeat and a cake of course. I truly love Christmas cake – especially with a piece of cheese on the side – Wensleydale if you can get it. My cake recipe is Delia’s – for conventional stuff she is totally reliable. However I try and have a bit of fun with the icing.
This year inspired by the success of the stained glass window biscuits I made for the Christmas Fair ( see the BBC food website), I’ve been playing around with melted boiled sweets. It was great fun. I bought a bag of cheap glacier mints and crushed them, put them on silicone baking parchment then melted the shards in the oven for about four minutes. When the ‘ice’ was cold and hard I broke it up and stuck it onto my already iced cake. If you’re worried about the mintiness – it seemed to fade after I’d cooked the sweets. I then frosted the edges of the ice with gold lustre powder. I really liked it, so then I did another one using fruit sweets to make it look like broken stained glass, a matching ribbon completed the picture.
I hope your Christmas preparations are going well. More soon.