Gosh, it was a rather busy and unexpectedly emotional day yesterday!
I said to Richard on Saturday that I wanted to make a Christmas Pudding, as it was Stir-Up Sunday this weekend which is the traditional day that people in the UK would make their Christmas Puddings; families all coming together and giving the mix a stir, each making a wish as they did so. It's obviously one of those traditions that is dying out swiftly now that we can go to any supermarket or corner shop and buy the pasty, sweet, microwaveable, unrecognisable Christmas Puddings that they sell these days. However, I was absolutely sure there is nothing like the real thing that mum used to make, and I wanted to make it. So make it we did!!
Now, I haven't made mum's Christmas Puddings for many decades. In fact, I don't think I've made a traditional Christmas Pudding since I last made one with mum when I must have been in my very, very early 20s.
Mum had given me one of her old cookery books some years back. It's an old Hamlyn cookery book with a pale blue cloth-like cover. The dust sheet has long been lost, and various splodges of cake batter and gravy now sit comfortably alongside the jaded and faded fake gold lettering on the cover binding. It wasn't actually the recipe for Christmas Pudding in the book that I was looking for though. You see, I knew that mum's handwritten recipe of HER Christmas Pudding was on a piece of paper cradled between two of the leaves of the book. I took Cooking In Colour off of my cookery book shelves (note... MY cookery book shelves, not OUR cookery book shelves!). I found the slip of mottled paper with red writing, and then remembered what I had known all along... the list of ingredients used and their weights was for 16 puddings, and I certainly didn't want to make 16!! So I set to and converted all of the ounces into grams and millilitres and then divided all of the total amount of each ingredient by 16. In the end, looking at the full list of ingredients and their weights for one pudding, I decided that I would do one and a half times this reduced amount of mix. It turned out that this was perfect for making 8 individual puddings; it was Richard's idea to make individual puddings rather than one large one, and I think that he had the right idea.
It was in the first moments of stirring this scented mix that the initial sense of the past came back to me... Standing around the dining room table with mum at my side and a huge plastic Tupperware in front of us. We would stir the mixture thoroughly, ensuring that everything was incorporated; no pockets of dry flour here, and no clumps of gooey, squidgy chopped prunes there. Just one unctious flavourful dried fruit, almond, sugar, suet, rum and stout paste. We'd have to take turns in doing the stirring as the quantity of mixture was so large it was really quite tiring on the arms!
My second sense of the past was when I could smell the puddings steaming. The gentle spicy aroma filled the kitchen, then our middle room, the ground floor, then the upstairs until the whole house was engulfed in scented memories. And boy did that aroma take me back decades again! I've obviously smelt Christmas Puddings over the decades, though none have given me this sense of days of old.
And then we jump forward to the tasting, and wowsers... didn't that bang me right back to being a child!! Sitting around the table at Christmas, with family and friends and some people that I didn't even know who they were. Presents had been opened and played with and the turkey carcass was sitting under tinfoil on top of the fridge. There we all were with our coloured paper Christmas cracker hats on, all feeling slightly boozy (even us youngsters as we were allowed Babycham!), terrible jokes had been read aloud, useless cracker gifts were spread around the tablecloth, some gleeful choir was singing updated carols and festive songs on the radio... and then would come mum's Christmas Puddings. Glistening. Flaming. And beautiful. In my opinion, heavenly. 😊
If you've seen the video of us making the Christmas Puddings you will see how I got rather overwhelmed by emotion. It was simply because the taste of this pudding just sent me back decades to all the memories above - to the joys of those people, of which too many are sadly no longer in our lives today, though they will live forever in our hearts... dad, my brother Perri, Aunty Phil, Uncle Len, Aunty Betty and Uncle Mick. Life is so short, yet it can also be so joyous.
And I guess that's the wonderful thing about food, along with many other daily necessities and luxuries.
In the depths of our minds we have so many memories that are associated with a smell or a taste or a sight or a sound, and even a touch. It's in moments like these, sometimes decades later, when these special times are relived, most often unexpectedly, that we're just taken back to our childhood or back to special moments of remembrance. It can be quite overwhelming, though it can also be so enriching too. I for one am so pleased that we have these moments as they highlight time's gone by; for me many are wonderfully sweet and happy whilst some are more bittersweet. However, these memories and events are part of the person each of us is today, and hopefully even more memories can be made for us to fall back to as we get older, and wiser, and remember.
And... as I sat in our front room this morning quietly doing the final edit of this blog before posting it, something quite lovely, unexpected and extraordinary happened, though this story will have to wait for another day...
A Guernsey Gardener in London, Day 14
You may have seen already the video of me planting out our Messidrome Garlic, and our Bunyard's Exhibition Broad Beans. It felt like such an achievement after seemingly endless delays; day-on-day and week-on-week 'other things' needing to happen since their respective beds were ready in early October. However, they're in, and hopefully the plump garlic cloves are each putting down their thread-like roots, and the broad beans are swelling so that the little primary root of each seed – the radicle root - can force its way out of its shell and into soft, loamy earth. Bliss!!
This morning, in sorting out various photos on my phone, I noticed I had accidentally taken one of the Messidrome Garlic bed after the cloves had been planted. The thing that struck me was the tiny difference between the two pictures - the 'before' and the 'after' shot if you like. On the left is the 'before' shot, with the soft soil topped by a small guideline, whilst the 'after' shot looks virtually identical though without the line.
It made me think of two things.
The first is that what we see above our sacred soil can hide so much of what's going on beneath a quiet surface. So much of what we do in growing our own food starts off, after planting or sowing, with nothing seemingly happening... then a shoot breaks through the soil and we smile. Though still then, especially with root and tuber crops, garlic, and ground nuts like peanuts, we don't fully know what is going on underneath; a forest of vibrant growth above may simply only suggest what is going on down below.
My second thought is that by simply removing that guideline, and without knowing the time and energy I had put in to planting the individual cloves, it would seem as though little had happened. In fact I had spent a good while splitting each of the garlic cloves from the bulb, checking each clove for disease or damage, gently raking the top of the soil, placing down the guideline, laying each clove along its line and in its row, adjusting the spacing here and there, using a trowel to gently make the planting hole, placing each individual clove in its own growing space in the damp soil, covering each clove up and then carefully smoothing out the surface of the soil. So much time and effort had gone into this planting, though the only visible sign to show for it that day was the removal of a piece of string.
It made me think that we humans are similar.
What others see on the surface of us, in our face, our gestures, our stance and even our words often tell a very different story than what is happening beneath the surface, inside our bodies, inside our brains. And the fact that we might go along with the actions and words of others does not make us them, and to understand that is key.
In addition, what might seem a simple task to one person may to another be herculean. The result of an activity for two people may be the same, though the process for each may be entirely different. For one that activity could be a simple run-of-the-mill, day-in day-out task, whilst to the other the task may be monumental, take much more thought, energy, learning, fear and time. Again, understanding that we are each different is key.
Being thoughtful, caring and understanding of others is so important in today's exhilarating and vapid world - a world where good traits are often seen as a weakness, and time spent on good, thorough achievement is often disregarded.
It’s important to find one’s own guideline in life, and the line that is right for each of us can show itself at very different stages of our life, and they often change as the years pass. What was once so important is now irrelevant, and vice versa. Endeavouring to find that line and follow it is again key.
In my life, where others have seen a weakness in me, I have learnt to find a strength, and seeking and finding the right guideline has brought me to where I am today, and I am quite happy with where that is.
A Guernsey Gardener in London, Day 11
...long term partners.