28th February 2019
It just wouldn’t be right to keep Christmas cake beyond the end of winter, that’s to say, beyond today because:
Oh frabjous day, calloo callay
This is the last day of winter and I woke up predictably gloomy because I said I would yesterday – and I always keep my word. Madame, however, seemed very motivated and after a morning tidying up the garage, (OK man cave if you must), in the pouring rain – we loaded up an unfeasibly large number of wine bottles, which in truth we were never going to fill with home made wine, along with a car load of other junk and took it all to the tip where she unloaded the wine bottles as silently as possible in order to avoid us being breathylized as we left. I should add that after years of austerity, living on a stipend in the parishes, we have developed an ethos of hoarding anything that might even conceivably become useful at some point in the future. Therefore no hawk-eyed scavengers ever follow us to the bins to filch our pre-loved belongings. When I say junk I mean proper ram-stamped rubbish!
Shortly afterwards we finished some repurposed leftovers from roast belly of pork – turned into fabulous soup – we do live well – Madame took me off into town where we spent a pile of money on new walking boots ready for our next trip to Snowdonia. I loved my old ones as if they were my children, but they were worn down to next to nothing after hundreds of miles of tough walking and in truth they’d always been a bit lethal on wet rock. Socks followed swiftly – why is it so hard to buy socks and pants for yourself when you are a man? I can’t remember the last time I ever bought any without being escorted to a shop. It always seems criminal to put them in the bin when you might get a couple of days more out of them (see paragraph above!).
During this whole time there was not so much as a raised eyebrow from her angelic goodness. No labels were examined, no cheaper alternatives even hinted at – I should have smelt a rat but I was completely oblivious. Then we walked around to the Louise Bourgeois exhibition. She is probably the most important artist of all – for me. There is something about her work that puts me straight back on the couch in analysis, and breaks down my barriers as if I’d just arrived in Robin’s room. I constantly have to surreptitiously wipe away tears when I’m around her work. Next, to Waitrose and ten scallops with a bottle of nice wine. By now I knew something was up, but it felt good so I wasn’t arguing. “This is nice” I said as we went through the checkout. “I thought you needed cheering up” she replied.
Which is how we came to celebrate the last day of winter with a cup of tea and the very last slice of Christmas cake. Tomorrow is a whole new season.
It was raining and blowing a hoolie all day yesterday – in fact it’s been like that since the weekend. The wind insinuates itself through every tiny gap in the windows, soughing away gently as if we were out at sea. What with the accompanying rain, this series of south westerly gales is bringing the sea to us I suppose, so there was no chance of getting up on the allotment to finish making the raised beds that would make it possible to get up on the alloment in the rain. There’s a horrible circularity about that statement!
Anyway I’d been putting off making the Christmas cake for ages, preferring to be outside in the fresh air. That was one reason, but there was another – the ancient Kenwood Major blew up last year while I was making Christmas puds, and the thought of all that arm ache was rather holding me back.
It didn’t exactly blow up in the conventional sense. I noticed a peculiar smell, the sort of smell you might expect from burning ancient flour, fat and fluff deposits along with a couple of overwintering weevils – the normal kitchen kind of smells. Then there was smoke, but because I’m a man I pushed through the pain until flames appeared from one of the air inlets. Then I pulled the plug out before Madame called the fire brigade and I decoupled the cake mix from the deceased machine and carried on by hand.
It was something of a revelation, I recall, to discover that you could make a rich fruit cake without spending twenty minutes hunting through the cupboards looking for missing parts, or half an hour hand-washing all the dirty bits before losing them again for another year. My son rescued a dead Kitchen Aid from work and repaired it and I confess to a pang of cooks’ envy when I saw it; but yesterday I made the Christmas cake almost by hand. I did use the little electric whisk to beat the eggs and the sugar butter mix, but even that handy little gadget threw cake mix around like a terrier digging a hole on the beach, and in the end I went back to a balloon whisk and the wooden spoon. Obviously my wooden spoon is the mark 5 version with the invisible digital motor – I wouldn’t be seen dead with any other, but it seems that I’m walking backwards towards a new dawn of artisanal, hand crafted resistance cooking, and I expect the world will change any day soon.
Wouldn’t you just love it if I shared my ancient family recipe with you? Well, generally speaking I prefer Delia Smith whose recipes always seem to work. I realized years ago that most of my inherited recipes were forged in the bleak war years of food rationing and tasted filthy. It took a while – my electric scales are also broken and will only measure in pounds and ounces, briefly, before shutting down without warning and sulking for ten minutes. But eventually we got there and for four and a half hours the flat filled with Christmas smells, the shining hour redeemed. I won’t be icing it because these days everyone picks off the icing and leaves it on the side of the plate. The only bit I really miss is the marzipan, and to be honest the cake never gets eaten at Christmas in any case. But on a cold day on the allotment in January, a lump of cake and tea from the flask is ……. words fail me!
28th November 2018