Recipe Number Five November 2002
Well it’s that time of the year again, with Easter eggs in the shops, and fireworks being let off since late July, yes it must be almost Christmas. My wife insists that I am a direct descendant of Scrooge, but I have never seen it that way, although I did work for a Scotsman for ten years, and he was not that way inclined. As we head towards Christmas day memories of Christmases past come flooding back. In the 1950’s I often spent time at my grandmother’s house, Tilly as she was affectionately known would, with Christmas approaching and normally in September would start to buy things that would help with making Christmas that little bit special. No nipping down to the local supermarket in those days, one week it would be a tin of Old Oak ham and the next week it would have been a tin of salmon. All these prized foods would have been locked away in the Welsh dresser that was her pride and joy. Tilly, over the coming months, bought tins of biscuits, tins of fruit, mincemeat and all the ingredients required to make her Christmas cake. This special cake was made, as I remember, in October and stored in a old Smiths crisps tin in the walk-in pantry. As Christmas was heading towards D day, grandmother would obtain lots of crepe paper, and after a little instruction from her my sister and myself would start the production of the Christmas trimmings. These would be in the shape of paper chains and with the use of a ball of old wool and crepe paper we would make large crepe paper balls that would be hung, with the aid of brass drawing pins, from the ceiling. All these decorations were proudly put up in early December. Then the cardboard boxes that grandmother had stored in a place only known to her were brought out. These contained the tree decorations, which were gently put on the tree, but I never ever saw any tree lights. Instead little candles were placed on the tree but never lit. Christmas Day was always spent at my other grandmother’s house that was about two miles from our home. As the magic hour of ten o’clock came it was time to walk the two miles to our grandmother’s house. This walk seemed, as very small children, an effort but with the continual reminding that ‘its not far now’ coming from my father; being a tall man his one stride was at least four steps of my sister and myself; and the thought of the many presents that lay in wait we struggled to keep up.
Christmas day lunch was a sight to see, two fat capons, sage and onion stuffing, fluffy roast potatoes, and not to be missed Brussels sprouts all served in terrines and the gravy was in a sauceboat. One of the things that have stuck in my memories that I can still see clearly to this day was that grandfather would not eat the fowl. As he had a tradition of eating roasted hare, unforgettable reminders of the smell of this being skinned on Christmas day come flooding back. After the roasting of grandfather’s hare he would proudly insist on placing it on the large serving dish with the two fowl. We always said grace on this special day, then Grandfather would carve the fowl until it came to his time, he would then ponder with the carving fork, picking up a prime cut of his hare, slowly sitting down into his chair. He didn't say much, he didn't have to, his smiles to my sister and myself said it all. After the main course had been cleared, it was time for the long awaited pudding, this had being steaming in the old copper in the kitchen for the last few hours, and was brought to the table by a grandfather who had seen more Christmas puddings than he wished to remember. The pudding was never set alight and the little bottle of brandy brought was put into the brandy sauce, well that's what grandfather told me. Maybe at that early age in my life, my love of fine foods was giving me hassle because also on the table was a large bowl containing trifle, full to the brim and topped with fresh cream. I am sorry to say each year that we went to grandfathers for Christmas I regret that I never tried that trifle. Often on a crisp winters day when the wind is in the east I can with the help of game dealers chopping board, still start off the memories of Christmas past, the old welsh dresser, tins of old oak ham, coal fires, and grandmothers mince pies, Christmas cake in a old smiths crisp tin, and not least the unforgettable smell of Grandfather’s roasted hare.
Every one loves a real home made trifle, the layers of the trifle may invoke an argument, but a real trifle should be composed of home made custard, good quality jam and lightly sweetened whipped cream. Putting jelly in to a trifle is an abomination and also fresh fruit is often far too tart and somehow alien to the confection. The quality of the custard is the most important layer of all. It must be made with eggs, vanilla, sugar, and cream and to be thick enough to set in a layer. Another no, no, is to finish the trifle off with glace cherries and hundreds and thousands. Please just use angelica and silver balls. This is the classic trifle.
Scald the whipping cream and milk with the vanilla pod. Cover the pan to infuse. Lay the biscuits in a nice glass bowl and pour over the sherry and brandy and leave to soak, next spoon over the warmed jam. Beat the egg yolks and the whole egg with the sugar in a bowl and strain the vanilla flavoured cream over the eggs. Mix together. Pour back into the cream pan and cook very gently over a low heat. Be very careful not to over cook, however the custard must be cooked enough to set. When you feel that the custard is ready strain over the soaked biscuits. When cooled, put the bowl in the fridge for at least four hours or over night. Whip the double cream until it just holds its peaks and pile on top of the custard in a swirly way and decorate with the angelica and silver balls. Chill once more until ready to eat.
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