Friday, November 11, 2022

Baking, Making, and Mixed Spice

I didn't realise how quiet I'd been here so far this month - it's been a busy 10 days of work, visiting family in Scotland, back to work, and managing to find the time to make Christmas chutney, cakes, liqueur, and mincemeat. I have a long-running disagreement with dad about keeping Christmas for December, and a general dislike for anybody who ever says such a thing. 

People who say keep Christmas for December almost certainly have other people running around sorting things out for them. they're the ones who pitch up in your shop on the 23rd of December indignant that you don't have whatever product they can't cope without and won't be getting another delivery so they can't order it. No substitute will do and no matter how many times it happens to them they don't change their shopping habits. 

They complain about the pressure and the stress oblivious to the idea that planning ahead cuts most of that out. Then they complain about the expense and how commercial Christmas has become - whilst buying their way out of the last-minute hole they're in. Complain about not getting Christmas cards but won't make the time to write them. These are not my people. 

I more or less post the same thing every year, but Christmas is the midpoint of winter, and I like a slow build towards it with time to enjoy the making and doing, and then a slow wind down afterward (people who complain about the boring time off between Christmas and New Year whilst I'm back at work processing endless returns of whatever celebrity biography everybody got at least 2 copies of thanks to last minute panic buying this year are another pet hate). Winter is my favourite season. A time to be doing sociable things, thinking, and enjoying home comforts.

Today has been the day for making Christmas cakes - which do bring an element of stress with them; will they be under or overcooked? I won't know until it's too late to do anything about it, two are destined to be presents. Fruit cakes are so dense that the skewer test isn't quite as reliable as I'd like (is that uncooked batter or hot prune?) and they'll carry on cooking a little as they cool. It's a worry. They smell good though and I must have made this recipe a good 40 times or more so I'm hopeful it won't catch me out.

I've also finally managed to make a quince inclusive mincemeat, and a cooked one at that which is normally something I avoid. Someone on facebook had mentioned that she kept grated quince in her freezer for adding to apple pies. I had left over quinces so grating seemed like a good plan, and then bought Mark Diacono's 'Spice' which had the perfect recipe for them. Well, sort of, I lacked several ingredients, so I'm assuming that his recipe is perfect - but the results with my substitutions, which include the quince ratafia from the same book in place of Krupnik honey vodka tasted great when I potted it.

I have an uneasy relationship with quinces. I like their scent, love the quince jelly I make every year, and mostly fail with them on every other front. On the other hand Mark's books have never let me down, and although I overlooked how ambivilent I am about anise as a flavour when I made the ratifia (which true to quince tradition is sitting in the bottle looking remarkably like a urine sample) the results are actually really good and will, I think, work well in place of pastis or absinthe in some cocktail recipes. The same for the mincemeat - although the grated quince has taken on a disconcertingly worm like appearance in the jars.

At least the whole flat smells appealingly of mixed spice at the moment, an improvement on the lingering vinegar of the chutney making. I'm also pleased to have a new mincemeat recipe to add to my repertoire. This one makes a modestly sensible amount compared to others I've mixed up, and again this is the perfect time to make it, so that it's got a few weeks to mature before I want mince pies. When you find a good recipe (Fiona Cairns is the other one I really like and is a no cook version) it really is worth making your own. Mincemeat is a flexible thing - as long as the quantities of fruit, fat, alcohol, etc are right the specifics don't matter so it's easy to adapt to what you have or like and an excellent way to use up any dried fruit that's leftover from the other baking. 

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