Today it really felt like the first day of autumn, walking to work felt a little chillier than yesterday, and I regretted not picking up my gloves and a warmer coat.
The leaves have been changing colour for a few weeks now and the countdown to the end of the year has begun.
I’ve never minded Christmas displays being put up at this time of the year. Coming from a large family, Christmas planning always started months in advance. My Mother would always start buying the next years presents and cards in the January sales, and would start collecting long sell-by items like pickles and mince pies around the time she made Christmas puddings.
I am blessed with an incredibly generous Mother; she absolutely loves giving gifts. She’s completely addicted to that look of glee and surprise when you open a great present.
This was a lot easier when we were younger and we wanted everything and usually had forgotten half the things we had asked for by Christmas Day. By the time I’d hit the dreadful teenage years I knew exactly what I wanted and would not always be completely gracious if I didn’t get it – I’d like to point out this was purely teenage hormones and that my parents did a brilliant job of raising me to be polite.
When I was 15 all I wanted was a tropical fish tank. We’d spent weeks researching the best one, repeatedly visiting the local aquarium to look at different models and finally I’d chosen a neat little glass one with a black lid. A few days before Christmas my parents sat me down and told me that they were very sorry but the shop had sold out, it had been ordered but it wasn’t likely to be delivered until after the New Year.
Christmas Eve came and I secretly hoped with every present I helped put under the tree that my fish tank would be one of them, but none of them were the right size or shape so I gave up.
Christmas morning I patiently sat and watched as my five younger siblings opened their presents, stoically deciding with every squeal of glee from my family that I was too old for something silly like Christmas anyway, lamenting in a way that only teenage girls can.
When the last present was unwrapped and the paper thrown away, everyone’s belly growling at the smell of turkey, my Mom exclaimed in surprise “What’s that behind the tree?!” and she pulled out my fish tank.
My Father had kept it hidden in the boot of his car for weeks, so I could have my Christmas surprise after all. Though I’ve been lucky enough to have more gifts than I deserve throughout my life – most that are now barely more than a distant memory – that Christmas I got the best gift I could have ever asked for: the proof that you’re never too old (or horribly teenaged) to be excited at Christmas… And a fish tank.
The fish are long gone which is why this year I’m asking for some of those cute Anthropology-style bowls I’ve seen everywhere and maybe a few things from the fantastic Christmas range at DotComGiftShop (I particularly love these vintage style reindeer christmas lights).
Don’t worry, I won’t be excitedly posting about Christmas for the next three months, as I am fully aware that my unseasonal over-excitement isn’t always well received. This little public outburst is because now is the perfect time to bake your fruitcake and have plenty of time to feed it copious amounts of brandy before the holidays.
from Delia Smith’s recipe
1 lb currants
6 oz sultanas
6 oz raisins
2 oz chopped candied peel
2 oz glace cherries, rinsed and chopped
3 tbsp brandy, plus extra for feeding
8oz plain flour
½ tsp salt, I used Heston’s vanilla salt for fun
¼ tsp freshly ground nutmeg
½ tsp ground mixed spice
8 oz unsalted butter
8 oz soft brown sugar
4 large eggs beaten
2 oz almonds chopped (skin can be left on)
1 dstsp black treacle
grated zest of an orange and a lemon
Start the night before you plan to bake the cake, measure out the dried fruit into a bowl and mix thoroughly with the brandy, cover and leave for at least 12 hours.
Preheat the oven to 140C, then grease and line either an 8 inch round tin or a 7 inch square tin, tie a band of greaseproof paper around the outside of the tin for extra protection. You will also need a double layer of greaseproof paper to protect the top with a hole about the size of a 50p cut in the centre.
Sift together the flour, salt and spices and put to one side.
Cream together the butter and the sugar until light and fluffy, then add the beaten eggs a tbsp at a time to stop the mixture from curdling – I did this and mine curdled anyway but Delia’s recipe said it doesn’t really matter.
Gently fold in the flour, trying to knock the air out of the mixture as there is no added raising agent.
Finally fold in the fruit, nuts, zest and treacle until well mixed.
Spoon the mixture into the tin and flatten the top, add the lid you made earlier and place on the bottom shelf of the oven.
Bake the cake for 41/2 to 43/4 until an inserted skewer comes out clean. This is a bit of a guessing act depending on your oven, mine only took 41/4 hours but you shouldn’t open the oven for at least 4 hours.
Cool in the tin for 30 minutes then on a wire rack until cold.
Using a cocktail stick poke holes in the top and bottom of the cake and spoon a few tsp of brandy over the cake. You can repeat this step about once a week until you are ready to ice or eat the cake.
To store either keep it in an airtight container or double wrapped in greaseproof paper secured with string and then wrapped in foil.