I remember when Christmas was a time to enjoy foods only available during the festive season. In our age of massive supermarkets with produce from all over the globe in abundance and available year-round, it’s hard to imagine what a treat it was to get an orange and grapes. Hard candies and nuts in the shell were eagerly anticipated and if you can imagine, the only time we saw turkey was at Christmas or Thanksgiving? For all of these wondrous treats it is the memory of preparing the Christmas cake that most takes me back to those long ago times.
Food preparations started in November with the making of the Christmas cake. On a snowy November day, the wood stove was banked, the nuts and dried fruits were assembled, and the special fruitcake pans (3 square nesting pans with removable bottoms used only once a year) were buttered and lined with waxed paper. My mother’s best friend would arrive early in the morning to begin the tradition of making the cakes.
I would sit on a chair at the end of the big table eagerly awaiting the chance to lick the spoon or taste a glistening cherry. Almonds were blanched, skinned and toasted – no bulk barn for these cooks! The raisins and currants were soaked in hot water and brandy to plump them up and add flavor. Finally these ingredients were stirred by hand into a thick batter and the spices added. The scent of freshly grated nutmeg still brings me back to the warmth and comfort of that old kitchen. Once baked in a very low oven, the cakes were wrapped in cheesecloth and put away to ripen. Every few weeks, my mother would unwrap them and generously sprinkle them with brandy. A few days before Christmas they were taken out and decorated with almond paste icing – again made by hand.
This dark, rich treat was served with tea not only on Christmas but through out the long winter afternoons to follow, as my mother and her friends gathered to quilt or make hooked rugs. This cake bears no resemblance to the dry flavorless cake we snatch off the supermarket shelf today. No wonder no one likes Christmas cake anymore.
This whole experience was repeated with the making of Christmas pudding. (In our house this was not made with plums but carrots). Mincemeat made with suet (yes, real mincemeat does contain meat) came next and finally cookies in a great variety, buttery and so soft they would truly melt in your mouth.
I have other memories of Christmases past, some good some not, but the Christmas cake will always remind me of the loving comfort that my mother gave us year after year no matter the hardships or worries of the time. It isn’t the things she gave us but the memories made with love that give meaning to my Christmases remembered.
What will your child remember about Christmas?
SOMETHING TO THINK ABOUT
Unlike the Christmas cake my mother made, this one takes only a short time and although not like the one of old, it is a lovely substitute. I’ve had it in my recipe collection for over fifty years.
Brazil Nut Christmas Cake
3 cups brazil nuts (1 pound)
1 pound dates
1 cup drained maraschino cherries
3/4 cup flour
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
3 eggs beaten
1 tsp. vanilla
freshly grated nutmeg (not necessary unless you’re me)
Prepare a loaf pan and line it with parchment or waxed paper. Put nuts, dates and cherries in a large bowl. Mix dry ingredients in another bowl. Add dry ingredients to fruit and mix to coat thoroughly. Beat eggs until frothy. Add vanilla. Stir egg mixture into fruit mixture. Spread evenly in pan. Bake 300 For 1 hour and 30 minutes. Let cool before slicing.
I remember when Christmas was a time to enjoy foods only available during the festive season. In our age of massive supermarkets with produce from all over the globe in abundance and available year-round, it’s hard to imagine what a treat it was to get an orange and grapes. Hard candies and nuts in the…