Originally uploaded by norvegal
I've been busy baking and stirring and wrapping endless sweet concoctions in preparation for Christmas. Some of the recipes are welcome new arrivals, such as these Salted Chocolate Caramels and Luisa's version of Benne Wafers, two recipes upon which there is very little improvement (yet I shall still try).
But some recipes came from my grandma's kitchen, and her mother's kitchen before that, and one can hope, many more mothers' kitchens before that.
My grandparents lived during the Great Depression, which meant that Christmas was more about baked goods and handknit gifts than it was about plastic garbage for the landfill. Every year, they'd send us a huge box with countless tins - the same tins, year after year, taped shut with masking tape - packed with all of her best concoctions. One tin held the infamous Joe Froggers, hard molasses cookies the size of a human head. Another tin held her Honey Cakes. I can still feel the tin under my little fingers as I tried to pry it open and devour its contents.
At the bottom of the Christmas box was the real gold: Several foil-wrapped bricks the size of a short loaf of bread. Grandma's English Christmas cake.
You know how we each have one or two foods that we simply love to the point of distraction? Our version of Proust's Madeleine, that one thing that brings back so many vivid memories that you want to cry? For me, it's my grandma's Christmas cake.
This is NOT to be confused with gooey, alcohol-laden, oft-maligned fruicake. It is more of a dundee cake, or an English Christmas cake without the frosting. My grandma's cake was packed with raisins and currants and candied orange and lemon peel, all held within a minimal suspension of flour, eggs, milk, a hint of butter, and a sprinkling of nutmeg.
She would pack as many raisins and currants as she could stir, stopping when her wooden spoon stood up in the bowl and refused to move any further. The dough would be scooped into bread pans and baked for hours and hours at a very low temperature, causing the raisins and currants and orange and lemon peel to caramelize into a deep, moody, sugary perfection.
My grandma knew I adored her Christmas cake and would always pack the box with as many cakes as it would hold. As she began to lose her memory, the cake became a source of stress. She knew something wasn't quite right. She was forgetting things, really basic things she knew she should know. So she started taking notes and labeling everything - and when we packed up their house after both my grandparents died, I found card after card after card containing the Christmas cake recipe with "SAVE" marked across the top in big letters. I hope she knows, from whichever cloud she's sitting, that the recipe is, indeed, safe and sound for another generation.
Every December, I bake this cake. It fills my kitchen with a smell I associate with my grandma, with those ancient childhood visions of love and comfort and security. Lots of things remind me of my grandma - she was, after all, the one who taught me how to knit - but this cake brings her back the most vividly.
Do you have such a thing in your own food repertoire?