food · Ritual food

Christmas puddings and memories

Today is the last Sunday in November, which is the day I traditionally (after 15 years I think I can call it a tradition) make my Christmas puddings. The number I make varies year on year but its never less than three. The recipe never varies. Its one that my mother wrote down for me fifteen years ago after I asked her for her Christmas pudding recipe to which she replied, “I don’t really have one, I just made mine based on what I remember Mam making”. But I nagged and cajoled and eventually she wrote it down. She always maintained it wasn’t as good as her Mam’s.

Fourteen years ago my husband and I were celebrating our first Christmas in our forever home and Mum spent it with us. I’d made a pudding but we didn’t eat it on Christmas Day, as I wanted to wait until the 27th Dec when my Granny – her Mam – and the originator of the recipe I had used – would be visiting our home. After dinner that day I proudly and also rather nervously served up the pudding. Our family always eats it cold with a cuppa and some have brandy butter on it too. I insisted no one was to taste it until my 91 year old Granny had. This amused her immensely as she took a bite and gave it her imprimatur. Albeit with the observation that if I’d grated fresh nutmeg rather than using already ground it would have been even nicer. (No I don’t know how she knew either)

Less than four years later my Granny died while I was pregnant with my daughter. One of my enduring sadnesses is that she never got to meet our precious little girl who I’m certain would have wrapped her Great Granny round her little finger. I have made puddings every year since and – like all cooks I think – have slightly tweaked the recipe that was handed down to me. I still don’t use fresh nutmeg though.

Two weeks ago my Mum died suddenly. I know it hasn’t really hit me yet and won’t for some time. Maybe once her funeral is over I will start to absorb the impact of it all. Mum didn’t have the easiest or happiest of lives at times but I firmly believe she is at peace now and reunited with my Dad who she missed so desperately for nearly seventeen years.

Today is pudding making day. I wasn’t sure if I would make any this year and I only decided for certain this afternoon that I will. Mum loved the pudding I made and so did my Granny. Both my parents and all my grandparents are dead now and while I have aunts and uncles still very much alive and kicking, I’m now the oldest generation in my direct line of ancestry. It feels very strange. I’ve long believed all we can do for the dead is remember them. By making my puddings this evening I’m remembering Granny, Mum and all the others who have gone before.

Rest in peace Mum, and thanks for giving me the recipe x

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A Year of Living Seasonally · food · Ritual food

Imbolc – the coming of spring

Today is 1st February, and traditionally in Ireland this was considered to be the first day of Spring. It falls midway between the winter solstice (21st Dec) and the spring equinox (21st Mar). It marks the turning of the season and is the feast day of Brigid, whether you see her as a goddess, an aspect of the Mother Goddess or the Christian saint. There is a lot I could – and will – write about Imbolc and what it means to me, but that’s for another post.

Imbolc and the arrival of spring signal renewal, rejuvenation, a fresh start. I love watching for the first spring flowers. The spring bulbs are peeping through all over the garden, such vibrant shades of green spring bulbs at imbolc

I haven’t heard of any ritual foods or dishes associated with Imbolc, but Brigid in her Christian form is the patroness of sheep, and an alternative name for the day, Óimelc, is thought to denote the time of ewes coming into milk. The new lambs are always a welcome and lively sight in spring too. This feels like a cleansing time of year – hence the spring clean? – and when thinking about Imbolc this morning I decided to make some lemon curd. Lemon is one of my favourite flavours and scents and the clean tang of lemon appealed to me in keeping with freshness. So after a couple of hours in the kitchen I came up with some lemon and some orange curd. You can see the lemon here. The orange didn’t set quite so well but still tasted great! I made an orange sponge cake filled with it. lemon curd

For dinner I settled on a Darina Allen recipe, Winter Beef Stew – well having a winter meal and a spring inspired dessert seemed as good a way as any other to mark this turning of the season. There is still some snow on the ground, and the gritter went by earlier, but it is spring. Its time to move out of the reflective, restorative period of winter and move into the renewal, rebirth of spring.

A Year of Living Seasonally · Ritual food

Borrowing a tradition

I’ve been a bit busy of late but my Year of Living Seasonally project is still ongoing. Its now late November and my attention has been turning to Christmas but it occurred to me the other day that November gets a bit of a raw deal in terms of calendar celebrations, occasions etc. Musing this over a cuppa I was reminded of Mary Feely’s piece in the Irish Times earlier this month. Here in Ireland it would be fair to say that November is seen by many as a nothing month, or a month to lay off drink in order to gear up for December, or more recently a month when a lot of men become decidedly hairy in a good cause. But in terms of seasonal living and thinking, there’s not a huge lot going on. I grew up in England where “Remember remember the 5th of November” meant huge excitement with bonfires, fireworks and in our house a dinner of baked potatoes and sausage rolls. As a child I was more excited about Bonfire Night than Hallowe’en. Its not marked over here and I still kind of miss it. Ah well.

After reading the article linked above I started thinking about the American holiday of Thanksgiving. I’ve never celebrated or observed it, not being American, having never lived with an American and having never been to America (yet) and so I don’t pretend to be an expert on it. But from what I understand its to do with giving thanks for the harvest (please do correct me if I’m wrong) and that quite appeals to me, again its the idea of marking a turn in the year. So I think I might have a go at doing some kind of a Thanksgiving dinner. I’ve asked a few American friends for the essentials of such a dinner but I’m open to all suggestions! So any Thanksgiving veterans out there, do please share your meal plans/recipes etc with me, I’d love to hear them.