Thursday 16 December 2010
Thoughts of Christmas past
I bought a pack of dates today - just like the dates mum used to buy every Christmas. She was the only one who ate them though! They still have the same cream plastic "stabber" down the centre of the box, pretending to be the branch that the dates hung from . . .
These always formed part of the Christmas feast. Keeping them company on the sideboard, would be a box of Turkish Delight, a semi-circular box of "pretend" orange and lemon slices, and a box of Manderin oranges, each fruit wrapped in tissue paper with a delightfully foreign print on it. Sometimes they still had a little stalk and glossy dark green leaves and they seemed so exotic.
Back in the 50s and early 60s, turkey was still relatively rare as the main component of Christmas dinner. We, along with many of our neighbours, had a capon - which was a sterilized male chicken of almost turkey-like proportions. This would be stuffed with Paxo Sage and Onion stuffing (there was no other), and accompanied by sprouts, carrots and roast potatoes. Even if mum had ever heard of bread sauce, it never put in an appearance on our table. Mincemeat and Christmas pudding were always of the "boughten" variety - though my gran had always made her own, along with pickles, chutneys, jams and jellies. Somehow these skills skipped a generation with my mum . . .
Sometimes we had a proper (fir) tree, and I can remember having some little painted crinkly tin candle holders which fixed on the branch with a crocodile clip type attachment. You actually LIT the candles (Health and Safety would have 40 blue fits these days). We had glass baubles to go on the tree, but sadly more and more got broken each year and we no longer have any of the original ones. They weren't exotic - just simple spray-painted balls - some with dimples in. Tinsel went a long way to making up for any shortfall in baubles.
On a couple of occasions, I remember we didn't have the money for a tree, so mum and I went and cut off a big branch of gorse (or furze as we called it), which we painted with a thick paste of flour and water and then sprinkled with coloured glitter. One year we had a beautiful branch of Silver Birch, which was so graceful, and looked lovely on one end of the sideboard, glittered and decorated with the smaller decorations.
Mum and I would spend an afternoon in the run up to Christmas pasting together paper chains to hang up. You could buy packets of paper chain strips made from thin sugar-paper.
Mum always bought a few extra things each week in the run up to Christmas, to spread the cost. Peak Freans cheeselets were one extra - you can still get them, but I'm sure they tasted better back then. There would usually be a box of chocolates (Milk Tray) and a tin of biscuits. There was always a tin of ham too, though sometimes we would have a piece of boiling bacon on Boxing Day, though normally it was a brace of Pheasants which dad would bring home from Romsey.
No wine of course, but a bottle of sherry, a bottle of Advocaat, sometimes Dubonnet and a few light ales in case any of the neighbours came over.
When I see what some people are putting into their trolleys during Christmas week it makes my eyes water! We try not to go too over the top - I tend to be buying ingredients so I can make our Christmas treats, which is so much more satisfying. A new Christmas ritual in our house is to share a bottle of Cava as we open the presents - it feels quite decadent! My neighbour down the hill breakfasts on smoked salmon and scrambled egg on toast, with Champagne to wash it down! Good on her.