Tuesday, 8 January 2013

12 Days of Holy Supper

Once again Ms Graveyard Dirt threw down the Holy Supper gauntlet and invited us all to participate in the Midwinter Madness of Sviata Vechera. And once again my plans all went awry. That's not to say I gave up, anymore than I did last year (2011's attempts are here and here), it's just that things didn't quite work out the way I had planned.
In my head I imagined some glorious feast. A day spent in my kitchen lovingly creating the dishes I had researched, a table beautifully decorated, places tenderly set for our beloved dead, and a full on evening of gluttony and merriment and (less welcome) the fuzzy head the following morning as proof of our sucessful excess.
Inspired by last year's challenge, and the realisation that I actually knew very little about my roots, I have thrown myself enthusiastically into researching my family tree. It has been hard work at times and I've hit many brick walls and dead ends along the way, and there is still much work to do, but I know much more about my own history now than I did a year ago. It's only the bare bones, but it's something to go on.
I have found stone masons from Ireland and seamstresses from Cumbria; I have found family in Devonshire papermills and Wiltshire farms. There are soldiers and labourers and gardeners and master bakers. My line zig-zags across the country from Devon to Surrey, from Gloucestershire to Norfolk, from Suffolk to Cumbria, from Northern Ireland to the East Midlands. And I've only just scratched the surface.
There was so much to go on, so many people to acknowledge, so many faces to welcome, so many dishes I could make. And then there was my Mad Druid's family too. Oh yes, I was going to do so much this year. This year I would get it right, it would all go to plan, everything would run smoothly and we would party!
Yeah right!
What I hadn't bargained on was the rotten and lingering cold I brought back as a souvenier from our trip to visit family and distribute presents in early December that completely wiped the floor with me and drained energy with an eagerness I can barely describe, nor the decline in the Mad Druid's health of late and the devastating effects that has had on his appetite.
A feast? Even if I could stand up long enough to prepare it, he wouldn't have the strength to eat it.
So what was I to do if a full on Sviata Vechera celebration was out of the question?
Well, spread it out over the whole damn holiday, obviously!
And so the 12 days of Holy Supper idea was born. It wouldn't be one feast, one night, one celebration, but a whole collection of smaller observances from the Winter Solstice right through to New Year's Day. The table would be laid, a place would be set for our ancestors, for the whole festive period. And something about that felt very right.
We didn't really get off to the best of starts. The Solstice itself was a bit of a disaster (the less said about that, the better) and I was more than a little disappointed that the Mad Druid asked for a dish that not only didn't fit in with my plans but that I don't like and won't eat -so we wouldn't even be sharing it! A few tears later and I got a grip of myself and realised that our likes were just as important and there was nothing really wrong with sharing a meals of our choosing rather than what I expected my ancestors to prefer. So as it was I made Carbonara for him, or rather a strange almost-like-kind-of dish that is based on Carbonara and just the way he likes it. If at some point in the future his children were to hold a Holy Supper of of their own (unlikely, I know ;) ) this would be the one dish they ought to create for him. Carbonara, just the way I make it, minus most of the proper ingredients and with few others just for good measure. (I ought to come up with a different name for it really). It went down well with my Mad Druid and I didn't hear any complaints from anywhere else so, so far so good.

Then we made our way, over the next few days, through such simple things as sausage rolls and mince pies (I always make my own 'mincemeat', usually a mix of dried fruit and apples and sometimes nuts, simmered in brandy), little things that the Mad Druid could just nibble at as he wished and would be familiar to our grandparents and great-grandparents, things we remember coming from their warm and cosy kitchens.

And then I got to make a sausage pie. This is a family recipe that has been doing the rounds for years. My mother sampled something similar at a party many years ago and liked the flavours but not the consistency or appearance, and 'tweaked' it to suit herself. It has made an appearance at every family occasion for as long as I can remember. I've always known what went into it, its not hard to work out from eating it (sausagemeat, tomatoes, garlic, plenty of herbs) and I've seen her make it many times but at last I got my hands on the actual recipe. It's been a closely guarded secret for decades! It came out of the oven, gleaming and golden, filling my kitchen with the smells of my childhood transporting me back to days long gone. It was a joy to make and a joy to share.

Christmas Day I pushed the boat out and gave in to my urge to cook a full Christmas dinner. I was fairly certain I could tempt my Mad Druid with roast duck, no matter how he was feeling and even if he only ate a little that was fine, I had plans for the leftovers ;) And so, rather late in the day as that's when he most feels like eating we sat down to a table laden with duck and roast potatoes, steaming bowls of vegetables, roast parsnips and onions and glazed carrrots. It's a good job I invited the ancestors along (and not just our own ancestors but the 'forgotten dead' too, those who have no one to welcome and share with them- a Christmas Day tradition we started last year) as it was way too much for just the too of us. lol

Boxing Day was bubble and squeak day, using up the left over veggies served with a bit of crispy bacon. My grandma would have loved that :)

Desserts featured rather strongly as we indulged our sweet tooths, recreating dishes we remembered from long ago or trying out regional fancies that may be familiar to our guests. Rum Nicky, a dish from Cumbria I discovered when researching last year's holy supper that we both loved. Westmorland peppercake (which also got an outing as Christmas gifts this year), if you've never put pepper in a cake before, you should try it! A yule log (originally intended for the Solstice -best laid plans and all that) became a birthday cake for my Mad Druid's late mother on New Year's Eve and Clementines, hollowed out and refilled with the segments and cream, something my Mad Druid remembers his grandmother making as a special treat, only this time a more grown-up version spiked with liqueur.

Home made soup and soda bread, mid way between Christmas and New Year, allowed me to fondly remember my grandfather's vegetable garden, and acknowledge my Irish ancestry, while also providing a welcome relief from some of the richer excesses of the season, and homemade chicken liver pate(not from the blender incident, that came later!), taken from my grandmother's cook book and served with fresh homemade bread in a nod to the master baker I discovered in my line six generations back.

Much of our on-going feast was washed down with home made wine or mulled cider which filled our home with the spiced scents of the season, aromas that have enlivened our homes in the bleak mid-winter for generations.

New Year's day saw the end of our feast with a large bacon joint, at my Mad Druid's request, which provided a New Year meal, a rich soup and cold meat for sandwiches just the way it should, and always did before the 'throw away' culture of today.

Holy Supper may not have worked out just the way I planned this year, but I think we did it justice and I'll raise a glass to that.

There should have been more photo's but for some unknown reason blogger won't let me upload them. Obviously it isn't only facebook that's out to get me!

1 comment:

  1. Sounds as if it turned out well in the end.
    Here's to a good 2013. Hope you can identify the Mad Druid's problem..wishing you strength.

    Is your blogger problem Internet Explorer? Seems that is giving many bloggers problems...Firefox and Chrome are ok