I don’t bake, I really don’t. But Christmas is coming and this year I have decided to do some baking. And as I haven’t done it for years, it requires some pre-Christmas testing. So this week I’ve whipped up a few treats in preparation for the oncoming food festivities.
Hubby, who would almost walk over hot coals for fruit cake is my tester, and he is loving every minute of it! He was brought up on homemade cakes, biscuits, and all manner of delectable preserves and desserts made by his mother. Sadly, he has had no such luck living with me! I have however, created my own special food traditions over the years, and Christmas is part of those special memories.
Being European, my family celebrates Christmas on Christmas Eve, which during my childhood was always a magical night. Our Christmas tree with its pine needles touching the ceiling sparkled with tinsel, shiny baubles, and dangling bags of chocolate money. And our little house, readied for the evening’s celebration, was filled with the glorious sounds and smells of Christmas. For my brother and me, it was the most exciting night of the year for without fail, every Christmas Eve Santa knocked on our door. We were always beside ourselves with anticipation, bouncing from room to room and peeking through the windows. And just as darkness fell, there he was on our porch with an enormous bag of presents over his shoulder.
And such is the magic of Christmas, that as he jollied his way through the front door everyone’s eyes lit up. The adults welcomed him as if he was a long lost friend, and we children looked on with wide-eyed excitement. Then he would take a seat, declare what a wonderful night it was, and turn to us children. For the tradition was that before we received our presents, we performed for Santa. My brother recited the same poem each year, and I tinkled a tune on the piano. That done he reached into his bag and gave everyone a present, and then with a great flourish was on his way. It never occurred to us children to put two and two together when shortly after Santa left, a favourite uncle arrived!
Then it was time for food ~ our table was laden, and I mean truly laden, with gastronomic delights. No English Christmas dinner with pudding for us! We began with freshly baked Latvian pirags followed by homemade rollmops, devilled eggs, marinated cucumbers, sour cream, and smoked ham. Then came my mother’s European potato salad, her German ‘kommen morgen wieder’ ~ a delicious savoury pancake, and the yummiest sauerkraut with succulent crumbed pork chops you ever tasted. And for dessert, Mum’s special dried fruit compote served with homemade custard. All of it wonderful!
My parents’ house was ‘the’ Christmas house for many years. My mother was a wonderful cook and my father loved a party, so naturally everybody came. After I was married the mantel to create the merriment on Christmas Eve was passed to me, and for a number of years everyone came to our house. My mother brought her sauerkraut and potato salad, a trifle arrived with my brother’s family, and everyone else brought their good cheer. And not only did our Christmas Eves sparkle with tinsel, baubles, wonderful food and the same magical goodwill and love of childhood days, Santa always arrived as well!
Our family is now spread far and wide, but as many of us as can still gather on Christmas Eve, which these days is once again held at my mother’s. And as I bake and taste, and bake some more, my reminiscing fills me with joyous memories. And as only childhood memories can, awakens within me once again the magic of Christmas and the happy anticipation of sharing it with my family.
Inara Hawley © 2013