Oh no not that C word some of you groan. Yes it is early, however I am working on the basis that time is short and for what I want to do time is tight and of the essence. Commiserations to you who are groaning but there is very much a method in my madness. Carry on reading and you will find out more below.
Come the end of August beginning of September every year I start buying those extra bits and bobs or fresh ingredients and filling the pantry with an array of different produce. I turn raw ingredients prepared by my own fair hands into long keeping chutneys, jams, pickles, dried goods, canned goods and fill the pantry shelves or boughten prepared items. Lets be realistic here I aim high but if I run out of time then I do of course buy things rather than make them. I am not perfect although my overall aim is to do as much as I personally can it just isn't always possible. So the whole process is not one to make you feel guilty that you have not made your own fruit cake (when you have bought a perfectly good one from M & S) but more along the lines of doing what you can with the time and resources you have and what works for your family as a whole.
One of the reasons I go through this process year by year is that we as a family celebrate Christmas; I am following on in a family tradition and doing it a bit at a time helps on the budget especially in the month of December. This is what my Nan did all her life; especially during and after the War when food stuffs were very scarce. My mother did the same. It was and is a way of paying forward for tomorrow really so that we can have those little treats and have a celebration and a good time and have something to look forward to especially on grey winter days. Everyone needs something to look forward to.
I and many of my extended family members particularly my cousins just love Christmas. Not everyone is into Christmas but we are. We like to give everyone a good time and good food without being totally OTT on how much we spend on Christmas presents and if we do not have much money in the first place then we set to and make our own. However we do like the whole process of giving and sharing with our friends and our nearest and dearest and doing what we can with what is available to us. We love the whole process whether that be collecting pine cones and storing them in baskets and then turning them into fire lighters by either drizzling scrap ends from candles over them and letting them set or setting them into little night lights when the wax is melted and using them as fire starters minus the metal case or whether we have hand sewn a Christmas stocking for a young nephew or niece.
A big part of Christmas is setting the scene making things look lovely, making things smell nice, think scented candles or a burning wood fire with fir cones piled on, mulled wine, making your own garlands and the smell of spruce and cinnamon used in home made garlands and a Kissing bough. Or scented orange pomanders piled in a bowl on the dresser.
I have a chandelier wrought iron effect lamp in my dining room and I always tie a bunch of greenery off the base of the lamp with ribbon so it hangs down and if spruce is used it smells wonderful. Making those Christmas decorations yourself, getting the children involved with the traditional customs of Christmas or in crafting and having a go gives a lot of satisfaction. Children learn to do things at our coat tails so letting them have a go and explore how to do things in a safe environment actually encourages them to do more. It lets their creativity free as well as yours.
Decorating the house, playing that Christmas music, getting all nostalgic and remembering Christmas from times past and remembering those who have passed before us. It is allowed how you celebrate Christmas your customs and traditions is really down to you. Something when you work full time you are not always able to do to the extent that you want to do it. Despite all the ramifications and despite all the hard work I want to get back to a simpler way of celebrating Christmas. I am planning on having the week off before Christmas this year so that I can get stuck in and get everything ready for Christmas.
This Christmas, I am aiming to make a lot of the presents myself whether that be hand crafted items or a little mini hamper of preserves etc. The Christmas cakes will have to be made in September this year and it will give the cakes which are fruit cakes time to mature properly. I say cakes as I always make a couple; one for me and one for my brother and his family. I will probably do the Christmas puddings as well to get them out of the way and also to let them mature properly in the pantry well wrapped and perfectly safe. However I do prefer to do them on the allotted day i.e. Stir Up Sunday but we shall see how things go in the long run. I also want to make a couple of Dundee Cakes. Fruit cake has always been a big thing in our family. The ladies who have gone before me really could make a good cake. I get by and my brother soon eats his way through it so I think that speaks volumes. Especially if it is covered by Royal Icing. However both of us hated Christmas cake as kids but we loved the marzipan and the icing. These days we like both.
I have been quite active on the flavoured vodkas, gins and wines this year. I have a Newcastle Brown Beer kit to try and I also have plans to do a Bitter and Lager from kits and country cider from fresh apples as well as a variety of different fruit home made country wines. I also want to get back to the family tradition of having Sunday dinner with a glass of home made wine. Something that my Nan always did. However although I get by with the winemaking I will never be as good as what Nan and my mum were.
My preparation encompasses a number of different storage methods i.e. the cold pantry, the pantry shelf, the freezer, bottling, chutneys, pickling, drying, clamping, the wine chiller/wine cellar (shed) meat and charcuterie, cake making, Royal Icing and Marzipan (Marchepane), crafts, sewing, patchwork, crochet, knitting, embroidery etc. etc. and a variety of different skills. Don't say you can't do something. That's something I used to say but you never know unless you have had a go and actually tried. You get better the more you practice. Yes you will make mistakes we all do its all part and process of learning but each time you do something you get that bit better each time and learn from your mistakes. Something is only as complicated as you actually make it. I know from my own experience that I am or have been a chief offender in this regard. However please do have a go at something - you don't have to do as much as me but you can do a little and the satisfaction gained from actually doing something yourself actually gives you a boost and makes you feel good about things in general.
One thing I am abysmal at is drawing and painting no matter how hard I have tried I just have not got to grips with this. But if you can turn out a decent piece of work with the few strokes of a brush you could make your own hand painted Christmas cards. I have a friend who either crafts her own cards or embroiders them and those lucky recipients keep those little gems and bring them out year after year. They are worked with love and are little heirlooms. So go on have a go. We all have something to bring to the table at the end of the day. If there are several members of the same family join together and all do something then share it around between you. You are not only re-affirming and strengthening your bonds of friendship but working to do something for your families as well. Share the skill sets you have.
The other reason I do so much is that I actually enjoy doing it. It gives me a lot of pleasure, keeps me occupied and certainly not bored.
There is lots to do and I am getting very excited about things. I am hoping to get blackberries and elderberries this week for turning into useful things for the pantry shelf, including, jellies, jams and wines. However I am also looking at collecting fir cones, small larch cones, teasel heads to make decorations and twigs to make little Christmas star decorations or to be used in garlands.
I am looking forward to making candles, I have sourced some moulds and also soap making which I have not done before. So lots to do and so little time to do it as usual.
On the meat front I also want to do Gravlax again for Christmas and maybe a spiced beef or "bombed beef" as I have also heard it referred to (has Saltpetre in hence the term "bombed"!). I also want to get some Salami made and Pork Pies. But we will see how things go.
Just plans which are not set in stone and could well be changed as things go on but an outline of what I would like to achieve.
Have you thought about Christmas yet or is it still far to early to formulate your plans in your mind's eye.
Would love to hear from you.
Catch you soon.