Though our family has never been religious we take advantage of the season and enjoy our version of Christmas which is all about family, food, presents, games and Dr Who or a new movie on TV.
When Brian and I were first married, we went to my mum and dad’s for Christmas Day, and Brian’s mam and dad’s for Boxing Day (26th December for my leftpondian friends) because 26th was Mam’s birthday and also Brian’s maternal grandparents’ wedding anniversary. (No it’s not a typo. My mum was Mum and Brian’s mam was Mam.)
We had our first child, in late November. She was only six weeks old at Christmas, so we went once more to my parents’ home. The year after that we figured that it would be nice to have our own family Christmas in our own home, so my mum and dad came to us, along with mum’s maiden-aunt-ish cousins, and Brian’s mam and dad. There were always people floating through at Christmas – both family and friends – and I usually ended up doing Christmas dinner for twelve or fourteen people. Always a turkey and a ham joint with all the trimmings – sausages wrapped in bacon, bread sauce, two different kinds of stuffing, brussels sprouts with chestnuts and bacon, roast potatoes, roast parsnips and honey-glazed carrots. I always did prawn cocktail for strarters (and still do) because I make a cracking cocktail sauce with a secret ingredient that is utterly yummy. (Okay, the secret ingredient is horseradish!) I always have a Christmas pudding on hand, but we’re generally too stuffed to eat it. This year I’ve bought a sticky toffee Christnas pudding from Marks and Spencers, so I hope we don’t end up wasting it.
Thinking of Christmasses past, Brian’s grandma cooked her turkey nose-down in a new bucket bought specially for Christmas. It kept the breast meat very moist. I’ve never tried that, though I did cook my turkey breast-down in the pan one year. Yes, it was moist, but it looked like a road accident. When I was very young we never had a turkey at Christmas (a bit too expensive, I suspect). I remember we had a capon one year, basically a big chicken!. We didn’t have a lot of money in those days. Dad was going to night school while working in an office job. When he got his first management job, one of the perks for the senior staff was a Christmas turkey. It was an 18 pounder and we didn’t have a tray big enough to cook it in. We borrowed one from the local butcher, but the turkey was so big it hung over the edge of the tray and wouldn’t fit into the (coal-fireside) oven until we cut a leg off. I must have been about eight, but I can still remember Grandma kneeling in front of the oven trying to shove the turkey into it! What a tarradiddle!
We’ve always loved Christmas in this house, with an open fire and plenty of room for the biggest Christmas tree we can fit in the car. Our kids are grown and flown now, and it’s lovely when they can come home for Christmas, but we don’t expect it or get upset if it doesn’t happen. Ghillan and her husband, Ian, have two lovely kids, but they live south of London and so a family visit has to allow a day for travelling either side of the visit itself. This year Ian doesn’t have enough time off work for them to drive up here, enjoy a few days of Christmas and then get back again.
Our son and his wife are even further away, in Blacksburg Virginia, where he’s an assistant professor at Virginia Tech State University. He was in the UK for a conference in November, so came home for a pre-Christmas visit, but it will be next May/June before they both manage another visit.
Family Christmas with the kids and grandkids will be by Skype, this year. We have friends coming for Christmas dinner, and my mum, who is almost 95 and getting a bit frail, will be there.
We went out and bought our Christmas tree a few days ago, but haven’t put it up yet. Brian hauled the decorations out of the loft, so we’re on the verge of being ready.
I spent today making the last batch of apple jelly from our own (small) apple trees. This batch was apple and red wine, but I’ve also made apple jelly with: port wine, white wine, rose, mulled wine, cider, and just for Christmas dinner I’ve made a batch that’s simply mulled apple jelly with loads of mulling spices and extra cinnamon and cloves. That will be lovely with Christmas dinner instead of the usual cranberry jelly, which I’m not so keen on. I made apple sauce, too.
When I checked the cake box I found one of last year’s Christmas cakes, iced and ready. Since I put a lot of brandy in my chrissie cakes, I figure it will still be fine to eat, though we might need a hammer and chisel for the icing. To that end I’m in the process of making a Guinness fruit cake as a back-up. It’s lovely and moist and fruity. It’s one of those where you boil up butter, sugar and fruit in a can of guinness and then leave it overnight for the fruit to soak up the liquid. Then you whack in eggs and flour, give it a good old stir and bake. It’s best if you wrap it in foil and keep it for a couple of weeks before eating.
Presents? Well, we’re trying to go easy this year – at least for the adults – though I am sending a box of stuff down to Ghillan and Ian for the grandkids. I always think Brian is difficult to buy for and he says the same about me.
Will we have a white Christmas? We live nearly a thousand feet up on the edge of the Pennines, so if anyone is going to get snow, it will probably be us, but that’s OK. Our back garden looks magical when it snows, and we don’t have anything to draw us out of the house unless we want a snowball fight.
So that’s us for Christmas this year. If you want to add a little cheer to my Christmas, you can buy my books, for yourself or for friends. That would be wonderful. Or there’s just about time to order an Artisan CD – either contemporary songs, or Christmas ones.
I’d like to wish you all merry Christmas, happy holidays, or the seasonal salutation of your choice. Be safe, be happy, be kind.
Here’s a recipe for you.
Guinness Fruit Cake
900g (2 lb) mixed dried fruit
225g (8 oz) butter
450g (1 lb) dark brown sugar
1 generous teaspoon ground mixed spice
1 can (440 ml) Guinness
3 large eggs
340 g (12 oz) self-raising flour
2 tablespoons whisky or brandy – optional
- Put the fruit, butter, sugar, spice and Guinness into a large saucepan, bring to the boil and simmer for 10–15 minutes. (Smells delicious.)
- Remove from heat and allow to cool. (I usually leave it overnight.)
- When cool add the eggs, beating well. Fold in the flour. Stir in the optional whisky. (Doesn’t need to be so complicated – just chuck in eggs, flour and whisky and give it a good stir.) It should be dropping consistency (if too thick add liquid of your choice).
- The origional recipe says to turn the mixture into a buttered and lined 20-cm (8 inch) diameter round cake tin, but that makes it very deep I find this quantity makes two generous sized cakes, or use a bigger tin – say a 9 inch one. Bake in a preheated oven (160°C/325°F/gas mark 3) for 1 – 1½ hours. (That’s how it was passed on to me, but I find it takes much longer – maybe up to 2½ – 3 hours. Smaller cakes need a shorter cooking time if you divide it into two. I’ve also made great muffins with this mix.)
- The cake is cooked when a skewer into the centre comes out clean. Leave the cake to cool in its tin for 10 minutes before turning it out onto a wire rack.
- When cool, wrap in foil and hide at the back of a cupboard for a couple of weeks. It’s a great moist alternative to a traditional Christmas cake. As well as serving as cake, try warming a slice up in the microwave and serving with a dollop of custard, cream or ice cream.