The goose is getting fat…..

The dreaded lurgy entered our house this week and Primrose and I have been ill, hence the radio silence.  Neither one of us is known for swooning and taking to our beds, so we simply sat miserably on the sofa, grumbling at each other.  Maladies dampening our thirst for countryside dalliances, we were both feeling more than a little fed up by day 3 of being stuck in the house and even Poppy’s usual joyfulness was beginning to wane.  Having forced Primrose and Poppy to watch a few of Merchant and Ivory’s finests and running out of options for low energy entertainment, I decided that the time was nigh for dipping our toes in the Christmas waters, so to speak.

I adore the glowing mistletoe berries!

To quote the rhyme ‘Christmas is coming, the goose is getting fat’, this is usually the time of year when I make grandiose plans for what sort of Christmas we are to have and start the great tree decoration debate with Jerry (white lights = Margot, tacky flashing coloured lights = Jerry).  For some reason, this year, I just haven’t got into the right mindset for it all.  Maybe it is because I keep thinking that this will be our last London Christmas?!  It doesn’t help that Poppy’s 1st birthday is just before Christmas and Jerry made me promise that Christmas would not enter the house until the last piece of birthday cake had been eaten.  Festive desperation will have hit me by that point!  (Sneakily, I had already added the mistletoe lights to the cottage archway on the pretence that it was for Poppy’s party)….

Anyhoo, delighting in a long forgotten Christmas book (recently rediscovered and printed in 1985, The Oxford Christmas Book for Children is STILL a gem), I was reminded of the old custom of walking Christmas geese and turkeys to London.  Stories of seventeenth century plump white geese wearing little boots (yes REALLY!) or the now über fashionable Norfolk Black turkeys, feet painted with tar and sand for the long walk, filled my head.  These tales sat alongside visions of gloriously smocked Suffolk ‘flock’men ushering the birds on their way from country to town to arrive at Leadenhall market for the week before Christmas.  Puts a whole new perspective on the ‘oven ready’ bird!  Preparations in mind and realising that it was the last weekend before the beginning of Advent, what else could I be doing but my very own Christmas bake off?  Stir Up Sunday was upon me.  Being a pudding hater, I had already indoctrinated the girls, convincing Primrose at least, that Christmas cake was FAR superior.  Poor Jerry is the only one in our little cottage who loves ‘the pud’ but dearest Mamma had already solved that dilemma, buying him a couple of mini puds to satisfy his craving!  Last year, heavily pregnant and yearning for the merest whiff of alcohol, I made my first ever Christmas cake but got a bit too enthusiastic with ‘feeding’ it ginger wine.  If that wasn’t bad enough, I also accidentally marzipaned the top AND bottom of the cake, much to Jerry’s horror.  Turns out that even Jerry knew that I wasn’t supposed to do that….

Pausing for some tea, I decided that maybe I wouldn’t start the cake making until later and instead, would share with you, Dear Reader, a potted history of that ‘love it or hate it’ festive fruity football.
Dear old Mrs B!
Most will know that ‘Stir Up’ Sunday takes its name from the collect read from the Book of Common Prayer to churchgoers on the last Sunday before Advent.  Other references allude to 13 ingredients to represent the apostles and stirring clockwise to remember the journey of the Three Kings from east to west on their way to that little stable in Bethlehem.  However, the provenance of the pud is hotly debated!  The majority of pudding aficionados will agree that early versions consisted of chopped meat, suet, oatmeal and spices and were cooked in blanched sheep intestines.  Sounded a bit like haggis to me.  They were also served at the beginning of the meal rather than as a dessert.  Some believe that it was the sixteenth century which fashioned ‘plum duff’ as we know it today as puddings were boiled in a cloth bag in the washing copper.  An abundance of prunes (aka plums) is also said to have changed the original recipe but innovations in meat preservation might account for the absence of meat and the inclusion of fruit.  It was Eliza Acton in 1830 (followed by Mrs Beeton) who actually penned the first recipe for the fruity cannonball, giving it the name ‘Christmas Pudding’ and the rest, as they say, is history.
Feeling a little more perky and armed with my pudding knowledge, I took a leaf out of old Mrs B’s book this year when making our Christmas cake.  Well ‘Twelfth Night’ cake at any rate.  Baked for the Epiphany feast on Twelfth Night (5th Jan), it formed the centrepiece of the table and traditionally contained different charms buried deep within its dense plumminess.

‘A bean for the king

A pea for the queen

A clove for the knave

A twig for the fool

A rag for the slut’

(or tarty girl as one source uttered rather more kindly)!

Fearing receiving any of the charms in a slice of the cake quite frankly, I went ahead enlisting Poppy and Primrose in the baking, leaving our cake well and truly charmless.  We did stir it up (clockwise, in the spirit of the pud tradition) and I have to confess that I did make a teeny little wish.  The wish?  THAT my dear Reader, will be my little secret.  Maybe just maybe, it might have something to do with starting our new life in the country?  Bet you anything Jerry wished for his jolly green Land Rover!

Off to the oven…

Let me know what you think