Monday, 23 December 2013

Centuries of Tradition

It’s that time of year when sentiment is hung on the Christmas tree in close proximity to the angel on the topmost branch. We sing carols while we are wrapping presents and whenever a youngster happens to cross our path, we tell tales of the olden days, never to be forgotten, when Christmas’s really were magical.
My Christmas started early with the arrival of my family to make the puddings. That’s a tradition that dates back to my great-grandmother and in the spirit of Christmas, I imparted to my nine-year old granddaughter that Grandmother Cooke was her Great Great Great Grandmother. Then after the weighing and measuring, the sieving and beating of eggs and the grating of nutmeg and adding of spices, we take turns to stir, all the time employing my brother’s nose. Finally, he confirms that the mixture is up to scratch, and with one last stir each in which we make a wish and hope for it to come true, we are done and the family departs.
This morning, having left the pudding mixture overnight I had the task of putting them onto boil. More time consuming than you can possibly imagine. Out come the cotton cloths that are used every year, and boiled white again after use before heading back into the airing cupboard where they wait patiently for December to return. After that it is the greaseproof paper and string and a waiting pan of boiling water. The same pan with the dent in the rim that my mother used.
While I was waiting for the water to bubble my thoughts flew back to the other women of our family who have stood by a stove waiting as I was. My great grandmother in her black bombazine; my grandmother wearing lisle stocking under a full-length dress covered by a pinafore, her red hair in a bun; my own mother worn out from washing curtains and polishing brass; my sister who ran a restaurant and used the same recipe to enthral customers. Now me for my family. Each one of us in our turn with our ear bent to the saucepans listening anxiously for the tell-tale sound of a gentle bubbling that shows the water temperature is just perfect. I can’t go far, not for the six hours that the puddings are boiling; my presence is needed to make sure they don’t boil dry; hastening to refill the kettle when the water level drops. Even that is not the end. Clean cloths and two more hours on Christmas Day.
Although the recipe has never varied, I admit that over the years we have tinkered with the non-essentials. I no longer use silver coins respecting the fragility of aging teeth, and omit the libation of brandy which, when lit, flames blue to thrill a waiting audience. But there is still custard and cream if wanted. Then … as it has happened for 143 years, there is the hush that precedes the first mouthful. And an even longer hush afterwards in which our palate dances a fandango of delight; and our senses, overwhelmed with joyous satisfaction, soar to the heavens and refuse to return … until Boxing Day.

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