“Do we have everything?”
“Check the recipe and see what we need.”
I make a list: currants, sultanas, dark raisins, almonds (whole and slivered), almond flavouring, glace cherries, mixed peel.
“Do we have enough butter and sugar?”
“I think so, but check.”
Sugar, yes, but we’ll need several more pounds of butter.
“I’ll do the shopping.”
I go to Mom’s home Friday night. We’ll have to start early Saturday morning to get everything baked. We start watching a silly Christmas movie on TV.
“We have to get the fruit soaking.”
Into the kitchen, dump currants, raisins, fruit into a bowl.
“Rum or brandy?”
“How about both?”
We giggle. And pour in the alcohol.
Mom is sick with a cold. I tell her, “You should have a hot rum toddy, that will fix you up.”
“We don’t have any rum, Dad won’t allow alcohol in the house.”
After supper, Mom goes next door to visit our neighbour. I go to bed. Several hours later, she wakes me up. She’s leaning against the door jamb, holding a mickey of Bacardi.
“Mrs. Jensen gave me this. How do you make a toddy?”
“What shall we start with?”
“How about the Christmas cake.”
“The big recipe?”
“No, my mother’s, it makes just one small cake. That’s all we’ll need.”
“Where’s the recipe?”
“In the scribbler.”
I pull out the scribbler, a small, black-covered one, filled mostly with hand-written recipes, some in Grandma Higham’s hand, most in Mom’s hand, a few clipped out of newspapers and magazines, the paper yellow and brittle.
“I can’t find it.”
“Maybe it’s in the recipe box.” (Mom’s busy mixing dough for apricot braid.)
“Nope, can’t find it there either.”
“Look again, I’m sure it’s there on a piece of note paper.”
“Oh, there, I’ve found it. Under ‘Casseroles.’ That’s close, I guess.”
I assemble the ingredients, start mixing everything together.
“I just broke the spoon.”
“Not another one?!”
It was almost a family tradition, breaking a wooden spoon while mixing the Christmas cake batter. This was the BIG recipe–three cakes, small, medium and large. With all the fruit and nuts, it was rather like stirring concrete. And almost every year, the wooden spoon broke.
One day, my brother, Richard, suggested we use the Mill-‘N’-Mix with its large stainless steel bowl and motorized monster dough hook. Worked like a charm. No more broken spoons.
Why didn’t we think of that earlier?
I work my way through Grandma Higham’s Christmas cake recipe.
“Ah, Mom, the directions don’t match the ingredients.”
“What do you mean?”
“Look, the instructions mention things that aren’t in the list of ingredients and vice versa.”
“Just put it all in. There’s no way you can ruin dark fruit cake.”
I’m 10, maybe 12. For the first time ever, I’m making Chocolate Squares by myself. That’s before we learned that everyone else calls it Nanaimo Bars. For us, it was always Chocolate Squares.
I’m following Mom’s hand-written recipe. First part is easy. “Mix together melted butter, graham cracker crumbs, cocoa, press into pan, let set.”
Second layer: “Spread on Bird’s Custard powder and cream.” I dutifully spread the required amount of Bird’s Custard powder over the base then start to pour on the cream.
Hmmm, something doesn’t look right.
She comes into the kitchen. When she stops laughing, she helps me scrape off the mess.
“You’re supposed to mix it together before you spread it on!”
“It doesn’t say that on the recipe, it just says ‘spread on’.”
I amend the recipe.
Okay, cake’s in the oven. What’s next? Oh yes, Lemon Bonbons.
These cookies have become our family tradition. No Lemon Bonbons? Well then, it isn’t Christmas.
And what’s not to like? Bite-sized bits of shortbread coins dipped in nuts and topped with lemon icing. Mmmmmm good.
I’m maybe six. It’s spring. The mud and sun are just perfect for making mud cookies. I make the best batch ever.
My “evil twin sister” takes over. She makes me gather up the best of the batch and take them into the house.
“Mom, can we ice these and give them to Dad?”
It’s April 1.
Mom isn’t one to pass up an opportunity to play a practical joke. We whip up coloured icing, and once the cookies are iced we decorate them with sprinkles. They look so delicious!
For some reason, Dad was not amused.
Lemon Bonbons are done, now on to the icebox cookies. More butter, sugar, nuts, glace cherries. This, not sugarplums and mistletoe, is what our Christmas is made of. I shape the dough into logs, wrap them in wax paper, put them in the freezer to chill.
Richard comes into the kitchen.
“Mom, when are you going to make more of that candy?”
“The candy in the freezer.”
“It’s got nuts and cherries and it’s wrapped up in waxed paper.”
A brief puzzled silence, then the light bulb goes on.
“So that’s where the cookie dough has gone.”
“Yes, that wasn’t candy, that was the dough for icebox cookies.”
Richard has never lived that one down.
The dough is ready for the apricot braid. Mom divides it into two portions and gives me one. We roll out the dough, spread the apricot filling down the centre, slice the outer edges, and start braiding.
I’m in my teens. For the first time ever, I’m helping Mom shape buns and put them on the pans. Mom’s buns are all the same size and shape. Mine? Well, mine aren’t.
“How much dough do you take?”
“A goodly hunk.”
“And just how much is a ‘goodly hunk’?”
“The right amount to make a proper-sized bun.”
I’m none the wiser, but ‘a goodly hunk’ becomes an integral part of our baking lexicon.
It’s all done. The Christmas cake is soaking up its first drink of rum, we’ve hidden the Lemon Bonbons so Richard can’t eat them all in one sitting, the other cookies are stashed in various tins, the carrot pudding is cooling, and the apricot braids glisten under their glaze.
We’re exhausted. We sit down for a well-earned rest.
“Time for a sherry, don’t you think?”
We giggle and toast a successful day.
“Let’s make trifle.”
“We have to soak the sponge cake in sherry to make a good one, you know.”
“How much do we put on?”
“Keeping adding until the cake won’t soak up any more.”
“Is this good sherry?”
“Only one way to find out, isn’t there?”
We drink and giggle our way through the recipe. Who knew making trifle could be so much fun.