December 24, 2006
Making my own mincemeat is one way to ensure Christmas becomes suitably merry. Once I’m in the mood for mince pies, I throw everything I can think of into a bowl, not bothering with the measurements—a handful of currents, some golden raisins, the left over brown sugar, sultanas, dried cranberries, bits of candied ginger, my last few chopped cherries, a whole Granny Smith (peeled, cored and chopped). Nuts, dates and dried apricots go in sometimes, but I decided against them this year. I sprinkle the lot with cinnamon, nutmeg, powdered ginger, ground allspice, coriander seeds and cloves and pour brandy over, “to taste” as a recipe book would put it. Personally I like to remind myself of the taste in a little brandy glass first. Pouring blackstrap molasses over next is less easy as it’s so viscous; it has to be spooned out with some effort and smeared around. A little more brandy helps soften it and the grated rind of an orange and juice of a lemon dilutes the sweetness of the sauce. Giving the whole mixture a thorough stir I feel it’s not yet bulky enough, so I add a dollop of apple puree, then leave it soaking, while I think about something else, and probably don’t get round to the pastry and the pie-baking for another day or two.
There’s an equally rich mixture in the messages we’re sent at this time of year, from old people, young people, people our age, faithful old friends, new friends, friends we’re suddenly back in touch with, cards or e-mails coming from England and Wales, Holland, Germany, Australia, Vienna, Rome, and Tierra del Fuego. Messages in English, French, German, Dutch and Italian, and even a greeting from a parrot called Charlie. One Italian woman who used to live here in Canada wrote in English though: “I must say that Rome is nice and all… but Christmas without snow is somehow strange.” (I had to write back confessing that we have no snow here either, this year, at least not yet.) The computer gives another little ping and we get an electronic greetings card from a Bangladeshi man or from a woman from Bulgaria, or Jordan or the Ukraine, all wishing us a happy Christmas. The e-cards may look rather same-ish, but the fact that these people could be bothered to send them to us warms the heart.
Don’t mock Christmas newsletters, either! I treasure them for the range of experiences people describe; I hardly ever throw one of these away. I read of a friend’s husband who “danced manically to a Congolese band with equally boisterous colleagues,” while she herself “hid behind a pillar.” An old lady we know records a long weekend reunion at Llandudno that a coach driver had arranged for his “regulars” and writes of the ten library books she has delivered to her, every month. By another post a Quaker from Hertfordshire tells me about the opera companies who “brave the cultural desert that is Stevenage” to perform there, only one of these touring companies was “seriously bad,” she complains. Another friend from Herts who suffers from Paget’s disease and increasing deafness tells me she is now going to lip-reading classes and taking up Tai Chi. A young couple expecting a baby boast about their “gros projet de cuisine” and of how their next project will be “le remplacement des portes extérieures.” A diplomat’s wife I used to see in Ottawa writes from Germany that her husband has retired now, and “has a lot of ideas for books that he could write and publish himself. Seeing this my hopes of getting some help in the house and garden are vanishing.”
Someone we know has been working on an electrical control system at a mill that manufactures re-inforcing rods from “red hot steel”, before setting off to commission aluminium rolling mills in Bangkok and Shanghai. Someone else enjoyed “two whale watching trips across the Bay of Biscay… Next year,” she says, “I’m off to Poland for some good bird watching before the EU wrecks it.” An acquaintance new to Canada has a “18-year old Gap-year daughter” visiting Ottawa who wants the chance to try snow-shoeing. An Australian friend’s daughter apparently works part time at the Sydney Harbour Bridge and says, “if you ever are back this way and would like to do the climb of the Bridge she can get 20% off the prices for you.”
I imagine all the different people as I pick up my mail, imagining you again now while writing of this blog. What a richness of juxtapositions! It’ll be Christmas Day in half an hour. What’s in your mince pie?