I’ve never done anything but dream. This, and this alone, has been the meaning of my life. My only real concern has been my inner life. FERNANDO PESSOA

Thursday, 2 June 2011

A Passion For Food: Christmas (2)

In my experience, clever food is not appreciated at Christmas. It makes the little ones cry and the old ones nervous. JANE GRIGSON

The one exception to the gloom and claustrophobia that settled on our family home - like mould on Mozzarella cheese - was Christmas. Then we did let our hair down slightly - insofar as Methodists ever let their hair down. The catalyst for this sudden explosion of fun and jollity was Auntie Kit, my father's unmarried sister: the pig breeder, chicken fancier and mushroom picker of yesterday's post. She was my favourite aunt (well, I only had two, and the other one I had little to do with), and she had a soft spot for me as well. In the winter months she used to sit open-legged in front of a roaring fire with her voluminous bloomers on full display.Sometimes she'd drop off to sleep in this position then wake with a snort to find her stockings had been singed. Over the course of my regular visits (regular because she owned a fuzzy-screened black-and-white TV and my parents did not), she introduced me to the delights of sloe gin, carrot whisky, giant yorkshire puddings, and bread and dripping. Most of what she cooked in her tiny rustic kitchen involved the heavy use of bubbling pork fat. But it was at Christmas she really came into her own.

At Auntie Kit's legendary parties, cider was drunk and games were played. We pinned the tail on the donkey, tossed balloons into buckets, passed the parcel. There were puzzles, conundrums, and other word games - all of which I tended to win, as most of the other participants were elderly relations with failing memories or inbred cousins somewhat lacking in the IQ department. Then there was the food. For Christmas dinner we'd have turkey with all the trimmings: roasted vegetables, two kinds of stuffing (sage and forcemeat), bread sauce, cranberry sauce, the most delicious gravy. Not forgetting, of course, the brussel sprouts - problematic vegetables for some, but I found their pungent aroma and bitter taste completely irresistible. There was sherry before and wine during the meal - the one time of  year when alcohol was allowed. And in the afternoon, after we'd tired of reading out poems, taking turns on the piano, giggling at mad Uncle Frank who'd fallen asleep with his mouth open, and unwrapping the little extra presents at the bottom of the tree, there was the Christmas tea to look forward to: cold ham and tongue, pork pie, pickles, trifle, jelly, blancmange.

Those days now seem long ago. It was a time of greater innocence, certainly. A time when people made their own fun out of very little.Yet inbetween these oases of happiness, dark clouds permanently lingered over the country fields of my childhood, clouds which would not completely disperse until I reached adolescence and was mature enough to make a bid for my own personal freedom. And food played a part in all this, as it does in so many aspects of our lives ...

9 comments:

Bonnie said...

Auntie Kit sounds delightful, (as does the yorkshire pudding with yummy gravy)! At least through her you could learn that other ways of being/living were possible.

Interesting to read of how your family made their own entertainment. Today, with so many ways to amuse and distract ourselves we can so easily miss out on the human connections that self-generated activities make possible.

The Weaver of Grass said...

Oh goodness me how I remember those scorched legs Robert.
Food does play an incredibly important part in one's life - it is after all one of the main interests (along, I suppose with sex and actually keeping breathing!) I look forward to the next installment.Writing about this may well bring about quite a catharsis I would guess.

Timecheck said...

You've touched on my early days in so many ways, other than the gloom. My mother had five sisters, and they loved to get together, tell stories, and laugh. Holidays are still a time when mostly we cousins get together. I realize how fortunate I am. I've been scanning some ancestral portraits, and when I get a couple of generations back they look very grim. Of course, someone else told me that the expression was due to having no teeth.

Scottish Nature Boy said...

A lovely reminiscence! I guess the equivalent for me in the early to mid 1970s was the food served up by my grandparents in Irvine when we spent (all of) our holidays there. I remember chips cooked in lard - unbelievably tasty - and huge pots of soup made from a ham bone stock. I'm sure the fashion for roasted potatoes in goose fat derives from us trying to re-create early memories of lardy chips! Plus ça change, and all that... cheers, SNB

Ruth said...

The vividness and beauty of your writing in this piece makes me feel the heat of the fire and smell the fragrance of the delicious, fatty food. I appreciate how you weave your story into these tight little dwellings so much. The flavor is more salient even then the turkey and gravy, and oh Yorkshire pudding. Much fun, good will, humor, and love of your fellow humans in all their bloomin' glory, and I rejoice that you turned out this way, after the difficulties of childhood. I applaud you, too, for making that bid for freedom at such a young age.

Raph G. Neckmann said...

All this talk of food is making me hungry, SW! Brussels sprouts! Blancmange ...

The greatest fun is usually out of very little - just being silly and giggling, and playing games. But best of all when everyone is resting in their own personal freedom too.

The Solitary Walker said...

Yorkshire puddings with onion gravy are a great culinary tradition round here, Bonnie. The 'real' ones - made in certain parts of the north of England - are the big ones (as opposed to those pusillanimous tiny ones consumed in the south) eaten as an extra course before the roast beef (more practical - they wouldn't fit on the plate with the meat!) I'm sure Weaver knows all about this ...

... and talking of absent friends, hi Pat (Weaver of Grass)! Yes, I'm passionate about keeping breathing. It's one of my main interests ...

Ralph (Timecheck): I've replied to your Camino query on the post where you left it. So that explains the grim demeanours of our ancestors! You've enlightened us all, I think ...

Scottish Nature Boy: Welcome! (Though I think you may have commented once before?) Chips in lard and soup from ham bones sounds the real deal to me. I'm practically salivating, but it's only breakfast time ...

Ruth - you are so kind about my writing. That early period in my life is more vivid to me than many others ...

... and Raph, my favourite giraffe, I thought of you when mentioning the brussels.

George said...

Very interesting, Robert! Food always plays such an important role in our lives, especially our early lives. In my childhood, surrounded as it was by alcoholics and the constant prospects of discord, food was the thing that brought peace an reconciliation to any event. Nothing improves the quality of conversation more than the breaking of bread together.

The Solitary Walker said...

Nice to see you here, George! Email me your Hadrian's Wall itinerary when you've got a moment.