Today I baked our Christmas cake. I’m not going to insult your intelligence by claiming it’s my recipe – that credit goes to the great Delia Smith – but it is, in some sense, still a ‘family’ recipe. It’s the cake my mother makes, and the one I made with my grandmother when I was growing up. I still make it almost exactly like she did.
The smell of citrus zest, calvados, and freshly grated nutmeg can only mean Christmas isn’t far around the corner. Folding the fruit into the cake mixture, heady scents filling the kitchen, is a mix of excitement about the festive season to come, and remembrance of past Christmases, and those we spent them with. Every year, when I bake my Christmas cake, I think of Grandma – I remember making this cake with her, in her kitchen, all those years ago.
In my first year at university, some time in November, I remember going into the big, academic bookshop, and digging out a copy of Delia’s Christmas cookbook. That year, I made my own cake, and I’ve made one every year since then.
It still gets double-wrapped in baking parchment before going into the oven, just like my Grandma taught me. And even though the fashion these days runs more to smooth white icing, it will still get covered in marzipan and then daubed roughly in a royal icing snow-scene and topped with a marzipan poinsettia, just like my Grandma’s used to. Though of course I’ll probably only get around to it on Christmas Eve. Grandma I think would have been better organised!
We forget too often these days what our food says about us, about where we come from, and the people we’re connected to. Seasonal foods – big obvious ones like Christmas cakes, as well as more modest ones like the first asparagus of summer – connect us with the turning of the seasons as well as back through our memories to previous years and previous feasts.
I hope you enjoy your festive preparations, and create some new, wonderful memories with people you love!