Christmas cake

Well here I am with another evening on my own and this time I am up here without a car. The wind has been battering the house all day so inside has been the only place to be and here by the woodburner the wind is blowing in the chimney and making the flames leap higher. All day the wind has shouted and shuddered and thrown great showers of rain at the house. Astonishingly the hens, who have been shut into the run all week while I have been away visiting my daughter, were so desperate to get out that they have spent the day being buffeted about the garden, their feathers blown inside out like a bad hair day, struggling against the wind and rain, hiding in the bottom of hedges but determinedly not going back into the henhouse until nightfall.

I, by contrast, have been huddled by the fire, half watching the rugby and half reading the paper. I decided that a good use of a few hours being shut in against the weather would be to make my Christmas cake and Christmas pudding so all day the raisins, sultanas, chopped apricots and currants have been soaking in rum and orange juice for the cake. At five o' clock I stirred myself sufficiently to get up from my chair and grease and line a loose bottomed cake tin, cream the butter and brown sugar, whisk in the eggs and then add the flour, spices and fruit mixture. Then the whole thing sits in a low oven for about three hours. It is stunningly easy. The kitchen smells gently of fruit and spice and rum.

Tomorrow I shall make the pudding and maybe, inspired by mountainear, I might even make some mincemeat if I have enough dried fruit left. I love doing all this Christmas baking. It reminds me of my mother making just these things in a warm kitchen. We carried on doing it when we moved to live in New Zealand for a few years so some of my memories are of the vivid blue sky beyond the kitchen window and of the odd dislocation of eating warm Christmas pudding and white sauce outside in the sunshine. I made them again with my own children and yesterday the phone rang and it was my son ringing to check exactly how to steam the Christmas pudding he has made which he wants to take with him to his in laws for Christmas Day. He seemed utterly matter of fact about it although I wonder how many men in their twenties have spent the day weighing and chopping and tying a pudding into a cloth.


  1. I think we mothers of boys may well have inspired all sorts of culinary adventures. The lad in the Alps asked how to make bread and another at home was curious about a bechamel sauce.

    I would be so proud that any boy of mine wanted to take 'his' pudding to the in laws an Christmas Day.

    Hens and weather! Mine don't know whether to be in or out - have gone to roost drenched.

  2. Baking is one of the loveliest of smells - I delight in making bread and bara brith (speckled bread)

    I think the only better smell is that of the damp peaty gritstone rocks where I grew up and learned to climb. Now what is that telling me...?

  3. What a cozy post! I agree with Mountainear, that we mothers of boys have inspired our sons in this generation. My son cooks all the evening meals in his house - shops for them too (which is every bit as challenging, in my opinion!)

  4. I worked out of our home for so many years I don't hardly go anywhere any more. I go to town one day a week for art classes and a visit to the big cathedral. I was always on some committee or into some church goings on. I have completely stopped that now and love being at home. HH goes out every day to play cards with his buddies and is home before dark. That was from reading your yesterday's post. Both our sons and my husband do all the cooking at their homes. HH even buys all the groceries. Right now I am running Santa's workshop since I am painting and/or crafting all of our Christmas gifts.

  5. Mince pie is my alltime favorite. Mincemeat with real meat, not easy to come by unless you make your own.

  6. I hope that the weather is softening its assault on your area. All the same, how lovely to have that urge to get going with the Christmas baking.

    Re gentlemen bakers, this morning I had a long phone call with my brother, and he assured me that when he visits our mom this Thanksgiving Thursday, part of the plan for the day after will be mixing up the traditional fruitcake recipe. I felt very reassured.

    (The image of those hens who just longed for ranging free no matter what the weather was wonderful. It had never before occurred to me that hens would want to get their feathers wet and ruffled! Thank you for broadening my view of the world. xo)

  7. My lovely daughter is afraid of the oven, but one of my boys cooks and bakes and is quite good at it. I don't tell anyone, though, because he is just 16 and afraid it'll damage his image as a rough and tumble guitarist.

  8. The wind has been dire - and it looks like we are in for another dose of high winds and wet rain to-day.

    Lovely images you have painted with words.

  9. How I would love to see some vivid blue sky at the moment. Don't mind watching the rain... but it's high time we had a change!

  10. That sounded like a lovely day you spent, thanks to the weather.

    Our boys are so different from our dads, aren't they - I was rung up at work one day, the secretaries taking the call for me, by my son needing urgently to know exactly how I did my roast potatoes! He got about 5 different loads of advice,a fair bit of teasing, and said that everything turned out well.

  11. I feel so useless as I never make cakes or puddings. I'm beginning to feel I'm missing out on something here and so are my children.

    I shall make amends! Next year...

  12. Mountainear - your boys too! I think that's great.
    Mark - you are so right. One of the great smells is baking bread. I can't beat your gritstone rock but I am also pretty fond of the smell of good compost!
    Pondside - it is quite a change in a generation isn't it? My son in law cooks quite a bit too and it is one of the ways to even up the domestic balance a bit.
    QMM - another one with cooking husband and sons! My father's generation had no idea of what to do in the kitchen. He is very proud of the fact that he can make delicious flapjack though which is one up on many men in their seventies!
    Nell Jean - hi and welcome. I am just about to make my own mincemeat so it hasn't entirely died out!
    Frances - the hens are fascinating. Seeing how much they want to free range has made me absolutely determined never to buy a battery egg or a battery chicken again. These birds are so clearly not meant to live in cages.
    Kim - ah Chritmas pudding making son was like that. He was quite a good cook when he was about 16 too but kept it quiet then!
    Karen - yes, more wind and rain here too. The wind is better today but the rain is steady.
    Chris - it is funny how clearly I can see that New Zealand blue sky in my head. We never get quite the same vividness in the UK but even a Welsh blue would go down well!
    Rachel - it is fascinating isn't it, how different our sons are from our fathers? So easy to take it for granted and so astonishing when you really think about it.
    Dawn - I am a big fan of baking and of baking with children! This is partly a reflection of a deep love of cake. Children adore doing it with you and if you start small they can be eating it within 20 minutes which always goes down well.

  13. My cakes are baking nicely this afternoon too - what else do you do in this gloomy weather?!

  14. Love the idea of being trapped in a warm fuggy kitchen with plenty of Christmas cake ingredients to hand. Your son sounds to me like the perfect son-in-law - you've obviously taught him well.

  15. Mmmmmmm - I can smell that Christmas cake from here Elizabeth. Good to hear that your son is carrying on with family baking traditions and at such a tender age :) The wind has died down here today but it is still so wet and dreary. Mind you compared to those poor folk in Cumbria we are most fortunate.

  16. Well, it is stir up sunday today - I too have made my puds and they will go in the Aga tonight before we go to bed. Cakes tomorrow all being well - at least it makes the house smell lovely doesn't it.

  17. Lovely - I did mine this week while H was off school poorly, and he helped me make jam tarts and mince pies this afternoon while it rained and howled outside... baking is such a comforting thing to do.

  18. What a snug place to be when it's foul outside. I had my chimney swept about 10 days ago and had my second real fire on Saturday night - nothing beats it when the weather is cold, went and windy.

  19. Elizabeth,

    A funny thing happened while I was reading this blog post. When I got to the second half of the second paragraph, this is how it looked in my mind's eye:

    " all day the raisins, sultanas, chopped apricots and currants have been soaking in rum and orange juice for the cake. At five o' clock I shtirred myself shufficiently to get up from my chair and lease and lime a goose-bottomed cake thingy, cream th' butr and brown shuggr, whishk in the eggsh and then add the flour, shpices and fruit mix... mixt... mixcher. Then the whole thing shits in a lo-o-o-o-w oven fer 'bout three arrrs. Itsh shtunningly shimple. Th' kitchen shmells like sump'n sump'n, and - oh yeah... rum! Wheeeeeee!"



  20. A perfect winter day, methinks. I love the image of your poor wind-blown hens!

  21. what a lovely and evocative post! especially the new zealand tidbit; i could just see it.

    you really bake the cake for three hours? doens't it come out as hard as a rock?

  22. How wonderfulthat your son phoned up busy making his - I hope that my cooking inspires our boys later in life! A perfect way to spend a wet weekend.

  23. Well done you! I am sure it will be the kind of cake that everyone wants a piece of. I came across an interesting recipe for a light fruit cake the other day. Something that you might just nibble at and feel hungry afterwards, rather than something that, with a couple of dates, would be enough to keep you sustained in crossing the Sahara.

  24. My father was an excellant and inventive cook my mother was hopeless so I have few culiniry memories . My aunt however was a eral domestic Godeess, whcih horrified my motherI love cooking and do lots with the boys who are very interested.

  25. Hello Elizabeth; nice blog - your cake description has my mouth watering!

  26. Twiglet - quite right, what else makes so much sense?
    LBD - well clearly my son is wonderful (like his brother and sisters!) not sure about the teaching though, more just happened.
    Anna - you are so right about Cumbria. I lived in Cockermouth for a year and a half and all those photos of the devastation are shocking. It is a lovely place with great people.

    Weaver - yes the smell is wonderful. It would almost be worth doing even if you couldn't eat it, only almost.
    Kitty - love the idea of your doing this with H. It must communicate to them via osmosis I think!
    Martyn - nothing beats a fire. When I stay somewhere without one now I miss the noise and the look and the attention it needs (and the mess!)
    Marcheline - well you see very clearly, or shee verr shlearly. Smells good too! sorry, shmells good.
    Maddie - the hens do look odd with their feathers all awry but they really want to be outside! We should remember this when we get out there in Tescos.
    Laurie - these cakes bake at a very low temperature and are moist and totally yummy if you like fruit like raisins and sultanas. The pudding takes 6 hours of steaming! no wonder we have stoppe doing these things. It is not an effort at all but most of us aren't at home for six hours together unless we are asleep!
    Tattie - I don't think it matters whether they are sons or daughters, if you love something you will either pass it on or, if you overdo it, put them off for life!
    Fennie - yes, we definitely go for the kind of cakes which would keep you alive for years if shut into a cave over here.
    Hah - it is lovely to think of your boys enjoying their cooking. Clearly if you got your interest from your father it is not necessarily something which goes down the female line!
    Edge House - thank you and welcome. I suspect it depends whether you love Christmas food or not! I love the cake and the pud and have to make sure to cater for those who are not so keen on dried fruit, not a hardship really as they like chocolate!

  27. One of my son's favourite adventures - now he is in his early twenties - is cooking. My Dad couldn't boil an egg. I have always cooked (and enjoyed it) but was considered a bit weird. No one bats an eyelid that my son cooks. Things are changing!

  28. What a dear boy!
    Do you have to worry about losing electricity when the wind blows hard like that? We've just recently bought a generator for our freezer because the power goes out on this windy hill too often.

  29. Our hens are just the same - no matter how wet or windy they just want to get outside, although if it is very wet I will often keep them in the extension run, to prevent them from getting really soaked.

    My husband is the head chef in our house - he had a catering training originally, and cooked in London, so I am happy to take a back seat, although I do most of the baking, that being my favourite. He is a good example to the boys though - cooking is not a gendered occupation in their eyes.

    Pomona x

  30. a lovely post, and how strange that my xmas pudding is steaming as we speak. I'm a bit of a novice tho, and I'm a bit concerned I'm doing it all wrong. wish i could give you a quick call too! Your day sounds idyllic...

  31. Sounds like a perfect day - and I can just smell the smells from the kitchen! Am impressed by your son. Fantastic.

  32. Ps: do you ever miss New Zealand? Everyone I know at the moment seems to be emigrating there.


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