Patrick Kavanagh’s poem, ‘Advent’ opens with the line: “We have tested and tasted too much, lover, Through a chink too wide there comes in no wonder.”
If he was talking of excesses and self-indulgence killing the innocence of Christmas back in the 50s, imagine if he could see what it’s become now!
All the paraphernalia. Glittering ads on the telly, portraying Christmas banquets it would take a team of chefs to produce. The commercial message is, that if this isn’t you, you’re inadequate. You’re not doing enough. Spend more!
Most of the time, people see through this trickery. But at Christmas, some weird panic sets in – I feel it myself. I think it’s because people want to be kind at Christmas, want to give joy. These days I aim to give edible presents.
If a person likes a drink, then I’ll give a bottle of wine. If the person has been extra good, maybe a bottle of gin produced here in Mayo at the Lough Mask Distillery, Tourmakeady. For non-drinkers, I get some nice pots of jam from the Country Market, some good quality chocolate, amoretti biscuits, a cake from Becca’s - these are gifts that really will be used.
It’s a nice idea to make your own Christmas presents, but it’s not always practical and not necessarily cheaper – a good quality Christmas cake will cost quite a bit in terms of ingredients and a lot in time – but what recipient wouldn’t feel loved?
If you can make the time, it’s lovely to do a bit of baking at Christmas. If you have children, it will become one of their Christmas memories - the scent of cinnamon, orange, exotic dried fruits wafting through the house.
Mince pie memories
There are so many things synonymous with Christmas, but for me, you can’t beat the mince pie. The bought ones are fine but if you can make your own, bliss.
Take the time out, enjoy an afternoon of baking. You can buy a jar of good quality mincemeat – but making your own will make your pies extra special. Many types of mincemeat contain suet, a meat product, I replace that with butter.
What you need
For the pastry
> 375g flour
> 125g sieved icing sugar
> One large egg and a beaten egg for glazing.
For the mincemeat
> 175g sultanas
> 175g raisins
> 175g currents
> 175g dried cranberries
> 100g mixed peel
> one apple, baked, cored and chopped finely;
> 125g butter
> 225g brown sugar
> Half a tspn of ground cinnamon
> One tspn mixed spice
> Grated rind and juice of one lemon grated rind of one orange
> 200ml of whiskey, brandy or rum. This will make four jam jars of mincemeat, give surplus as presents!
What you do next
For the mincemeat
mix all the ingredients, minus the alcohol, in a large pan. Heat gently over a low heat till the butter melts. Simmer gently for about ten minutes. Allow to cool, then add in the alcohol and mix well.
For the pastry
Mix the butter and flour to a crumb like consistency. Add the icing sugar and beaten egg. Mix well. Chill in the fridge for ten minutes. Then roll the pastry 3mm thick. Using a 10cm cutter, make 16 pie bases. Arrange in a tartlet or muffin tray – it’s a good idea to pop them into pastry papers. Fill each disc with around one and a half spoons of mince. Re-roll the pastry and cut out lids. Make a small cut on the top of each one, glaze with the beaten egg and bake for 20-25mins in a hot oven, 220c, 200 fan. Serve with whipped cream. Happy Christmas!
> Red Cabot is interested in food, nature and small things. He sells his food at Westport Country Markets in St Anne’s Boxing Club, James’s Street car park, Westport, every Thursday, from 8am to 1pm.