The thing about a Zero-hour contract and temping, is that one minute you can be leapfrogging madly from one job to another, while the next you’re sat vegetating on the sofa idly twiddling your thumbs. Monday was one such hectic day; border control in the small hours turning on my extensive charms while stifling yawns, receptionist for sick leave cover at a Toyota showroom in the afternoon (luckily they didn’t ask Little Miss Clueless to sell cars), and mentally registering a lorry advert for Christmas Parcel Couriers in the back of my mind. Given my proximity to Peckham, I felt like the star in a 2013 update of Only Fools and Horses, piggybacking from one scheme to the next.
Tuesday, however, was the complete opposite, and grey as anything. The kind of day where I threw off my Egyptology cares, ignored the PhDs waiting to be completed in the background and made my first Christmas cake!
Apparently the tradition of making a fruit-and-spices-messy-mix dates back to the early Medieval period, but the Christmas cake as we know it only took shape after Queen Victoria decided to ban Twelfth Night and its traditional accompanying (very similar!) fruit cake. As much as I would like to pass myself off as a food historian extraordinaire, this particular information was gleaned from a speedy whip around our old friend google. My actual knowledge about Christmas cake stems from oral history; what my Mum and Nana used to tell me when I was little. My favourite titbit was always how the same cake base was used in wedding cake recipes, and then a slice was saved to eat at the first baby’s Christening. BUT back to Christmas.
One tradition is to have the youngest person in the house stir the cake first and then to continue up to the oldest. In my Crystal Palace penthouse apartment (*cough small top floor flat), this meant dragging my reluctant fiancee away from his computer to stir the sticky mess a few times. It’s said to be good luck for the coming year, and I could certainly do with some goodwill from the patron saint of jobseekers….
For such a grand cake, the recipe is surprisingly easy. Delia (my go-to for the occasions I venture toward more traditional recipes) tells you to put it in the oven for FIVE HOURS but others say two (phew), and this seemed to work well enough. The basic recipe is here (http://www.deliaonline.com/how-to-cook/baking/how-to-make-a-christmas-cake.html), but I cheated by just using a big bag of mixed dried fruit rather than all the different raisin varieties. I also had no string for tying the baking paper around the tin and improvised with sewing thread…which seemed to dissolve in the oven, but meh. The main work is ‘feeding’ the cake for the next two months, pouring brandy into it once a week, like a drunken friend. What I’m looking forward to the most isn’t having the cake at Christmas but eating the leftovers come January/February. I remember a chunk of mature fruit-packed cake being just the thing to cheer you up on a miserable January evening, when it’s barely got light all day and you’ve been in a whole host of maths lessons at school…
I was pretty chuffed with myself when it came out(don’t judge me, it’s not decorated yet!). I did toy with the idea of being a cliché and putting marzipan pyramids atop, but think I might stick to the English Christmas scene in the end–it is my favourite season, after all.
P.S. In case you were wondering, the patron saint of jobseekers is Saint Cajetan–time to get nagging!