“‘Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house, Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.”~ Clement Clark Moore.
As I hung the Christmas wreath on my front door this year, I tallied up the number of years I have done so. This will be our seventeenth Christmas in our home and we have continued our families Christmas traditions throughout the years.
Some may find family traditions boring; I find them comforting and familiar and I look forward to repeating our old traditions each year and adding new ideas into our mix of celebrations when the fancy hits us.
One tradition that my mother repeated annually was to make her famous and much-loved-by-her-family Mince Pies every year.
I have continued making mince pies myself every Christmas myself, although I have always made the pastry using butter; Mum used lard.
This year I opted for a change and made my mince pies “justa lika Mumma use to make”, (as they say in the spaghetti sauce advert, however, my Mum wasn’t Italian, so perhaps that line isn’t appropriately used in this case!)
My Mum was a Cheshire born girl, with a Manchester born Mum whose entire family were Yorkshire born and bred. Mum’s very broad northern English accent was hard to understand at times (even for me, her own daughter!) I’m uncertain whether it is my maternal families trait, or a Yorkshire family trait, to religiously follow family traditions the way we do. Either way, it’s traditional, so we do it!
Being true to old tradition, this year I made my mince pies using lard, just as Mum always had. It’s such a simple recipe – 2 cups of flour, 1 teaspoon of salt, 125 grams (4 oz) lard and 1/4 pint of water.
In previous years I have been known to make my own fruit mince, (Mum called it “mince meat”) although this year, as time did not permit, I bought a very reliable, traditionally English brand of mince, which is almost a good as home-made.
There’s nothing like a mince pie made with pastry using lard to bring back memories of Christmases long gone, but not forgotten. And the best part of it all is that the new (old) version of lard pastry seems to be a hit with my family too!
Now, with food for tomorrow prepared, kitchen tidied, decorations hung and everyone in bed, in the words of Clement Clark Moore, I will bid you a “Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night.”
“Ah! There’s nothing like staying home for real comfort” ~Jane Austen.
Once in a while, memories of my first childhood home re-emerge, usually brought about by a mention of the area I once live in, and every time it happens I am left with a feeling of melancholy.
The reminder this time was due to my stumbling upon a blog, discontinued in 2006, written by a lady living in Woodford in the Blue Mountains. In her blog she had spoken of her love for anything vintage ~ clothing, jewellery, books, recipes…actually, this woman and I have a lot in common.
My own early childhood home in the Blue Mountains was in the little township of Valley Heights. Today, the population of Valley Heights is estimated at 1,336, so you can imagine how tiny the town would have been back when I was a child!
Way back in the early days, in 1813, when Australia was still learning to walk, three explorers, Blaxland, Lawson and Wentworth, managed to find their way through the rugged, mountainous bushland of the Blue Mountains, opening New South Wales out to the western plains area.
Although the progression of time has brought about many changes, both to my old home and the area, my memory still holds images of the three bedroom house, mostly built by my father; the home where the true meaning of the words comfort and security originated in my existence, and still live today.
Recollections of red velvet curtains, a wood grain wall, a kerosene heater and grey carpet in the lounge room. Linoleum floors throughout the rest of the house, including my bedroom, with scatter rugs here and there.
My bedroom was painted pink, with my second hand furniture repainted in light blue. A low, built in cupboard ran along one wall, purpose built by my brother-in-law to hold my doll collection. At one count, I had collected around forty-something dolls.
The house was humble, to say the least, but in my mind I lived in a beautiful mansion, surrounded by lush gardens; a tall weeping willow tree down the back, not far from the swing my father had built for me and where I would spend hours of my time.
Out the back, we grew hydrangeas and fuchsias, which to this day still remain two of my favourite flowers, and we had mint growing and a passionfruit vine. Our garden backed onto a gully full of various species of gum trees and bottlebrush, but my favourite find in the bush was always the uniquely shaped branches of a plant we called “mountain devils”. I could walk with ease alone down the gully, to a point where there sat a huge bush rock. The rock was my limit, without my father’s help.
In the front garden my sister had planted poppies, roses, gardenias, violets and daphnes, along with as many other flowering plants as she could lay her hands on. She was married the day before my seventh birthday, but still spent time in the garden when she can home to visit us.
Nothing gave me more delight than walking to the end of our street with an empty bowl, returning home to my mother with the bowl full of wild growing blackberries, which she would turn into a pie. Wild flowers grew everywhere in the area as well, in the empty lots of land and along the sides of the roads.
Those were the days when we bought our milk, bread and vegetables from the back of one of the many vans, which travelled around the streets selling their produce. We lived on a gravel road and walked everywhere we needed to go. If the walk was too long, we took a bus.
Life was oh so simple back then. And the air was fresh and cool, not surprisingly, with an altitude of 375 meters (1,230 feet) above sea level. Winters were cold and summer days were rarely unbearably hot. It doesn’t snow at Valley Heights, although we would regularly visit the snow, when it made its appearance during the winter months, by travelling just a few kilometres further into the mountains.
When melancholy sets in, it is brought about not by the memories of a time long gone, but rather from knowing that my family prefers to live in a warmer climate, beside the sea.
I wonder if the blogger from Woodford still lives in the Blue Mountains, enjoying her vintage finds in the many antique stores and craft shops there? As far as I know, the cottage industry is still alive and well in the mountains and I feel certain that the antique stores and art galleries have multiplied, since my last visit there.
The melancholy will pass, I promise, and I will bounce back tomorrow, my usual chirpy self. 🙂
What about you ~ do you have a special location, held near and dear to you in your heart of hearts?
Don’t you just love a dessert recipe which is not only easy to prepare, but it looks as though you slaved away in the kitchen all day to prepare?
My Lemon Meringue Pie recipe is not only one of the simplest recipes ever, it is also eye catching and the taste is, well, simply divine!
The meringue will be more light and fluffy if you remember to take the eggs out of the refrigerator an hour or two before baking, bringing them to room temperature. You will know if the egg whites are beaten enough by tipping the bowl (carefully!) upside-down. If the egg white sticks to the bowl, you know they are ready!
Served hot or cold, this desert is a firm favourite.
Lemon Meringue Pie
Pastry – 2 cups plain flour
Pinch of salt
1 tablespoon icing sugar
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 to 2 tablespoons icy cold water
Sift the flour, salt and icing sugar into a basin. Chop butter roughly and rub into the dry ingredients until the mixture resembles bread crumbs. Add the lemon juice and sufficient water to mix the pastry to a firm dough. Refrigerate for 30 minutes.
Roll out the pastry on a floured board to fit a 23cm pie or flan plate. Trim the edges, prick the base and sides of the pastry with a fork and “blind bake” in a moderately hot oven for approximately 15 minutes or until golden brown. Allow the pastry base to cool.
Lemon Filling – 4 tablespoons plain flour
4 tablespoons cornflour
Grated rind of 1 lemon
¾ cup lemon juice
1 cup sugar
1 ¼ cups water
4 egg yolks
Combine the sifted flours, lemon rind, lemon juice and sugar in a saucepan, add the water and blend together until smooth. Stir over a low heat until the mixture boils and thickens. Reduce the heat and cook, stirring, for a further two minutes.
Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the butter and lightly beaten egg yolks. Keep stirring until the butter has melted. Allow to cool. Place the filling in the pastry base.
Meringue – 4 egg whites
2 tablespoons of water
pinch of salt
¾ cup caster sugar
Combine the egg white, water and salt in the bowl of an electric mixer and beat on high speed until soft peaks form. Gradually add the sugar and continue beating until the sugar is dissolved and the egg white mixture is shiny.
Top the pie with the meringue mixture, spreading the meringue to the edges of the pastry to seal. Bake in a moderate oven (190 degrees) for 5 to 10 minutes, or until the meringue is lightly browned.
If he were here today, my father would be coming to my home for dinner tonight, to share his special day with my family.
I’m sure that there wouldn’t be any of the fuss and fanfare of a large party of any description. Dad wouldn’t have liked that. No, Dad would have perhaps gone for a walk, or a drive, to the beach, just to watch the ocean and the waves crashing on the shore. Or he may have spent some time at home, reading a book. He loved reading.
He would have enjoyed a roast dinner, with gravy. And soft bread, with a crunchy crust. We may have been able to convince him to have a glass of champagne, just for his birthday. But after dinner, he would like his cup of tea, for sure. Dad was a true Englishman.
For sure, I know what he would have wanted for dessert. Apple Pie. Dad loved my apple pie. And I loved to make it for him, because I knew how much he loved it.
Happy 90th Birthday, Dad……
¾ cup self-raising flour
1/3 cup custard powder
1/3 cup cornflour
Pinch of salt
185 g butter
1 tablespoon sugar
2 tablespoons water
Sift flours, custard powder and salt into a bowl. Rub in butter until mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. Add sugar, mix well.
Make a well in the centre of the dry ingredients, add egg and water and mix to a firm dough. Knead lightly. Refrigerate pastry for 1 hour.
Roll out just over half the pastry and line a pie plate. Spread 2 tablespoons of apricot jam over the base of the pastry shell. Add the cooked and drained apples. Roll out the remaining pastry, cover pie and press the edges together firmly. Trim, decorate and cut a few slits in the top. Sprinkle the top with extra sugar.
Bake at 190 deg. C for 20 minutes, then reduce heat to 180 deg. C for a further 20 minutes or until pie is golden brown.
TIP: Roll out the pastry between 2 sheets of baking paper. Lift the pastry carefully with the bottom sheet of baking paper and turn, pastry side down, onto the pie plate.
Apple Filling: 7 large cooking apples
Grated rind of 1 lemon
3 tablespoons sugar
½ cup water
Peel, quarter and core apples. Cut each quarter in half lengthways. Put all ingredients into a pan and cook, covered, until the apples are almost tender and still holding their shape, approximately 10-15 minutes. Remove from heat, drain and allow apples to cool.
My family are pie people. Whenever I get the urge to bake a pie, it doesn’t matter want type of pie I choose, it is sure to be a winner.
Not only is this chicken pie absolutely delicious, it is surprisingly easy to make. The taste is far more impressive than the considerably brief amount of time it takes to prepare the filling.
The mixture is a wonderful idea if you are having a party. Just purchase small, ready-made vol-au-vent cases from the supermarket and spoon a little of the warmed filling into the cases. Place in the oven for 5 minutes to heat through the cases and voila! Finger food is ready to be served to your guests.
1 kg chicken breast fillets
3 heaped tablespoons plain flour
1 cup cream
Salt & pepper
100g tasty cheese
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
3 tablespoons dry sherry
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
2 sheets puff pastry
Boil or steam chicken until tender, remove from heat and reserve approximately 1 cup of the chicken stock. Cut chicken into bite sized cubes.
Heat butter in a frying pan, add flour and stir until combined. Remove pan from heat, gradually add chicken stock and cream, stirring continually. Stir until well combined.
Return the pan to the heat and stir until the sauce boils and thickens. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Simmer for 2 minutes. Add grated cheese, chopped mushrooms, chopped shallots, chopped parsley, sherry and mustard. Stir until cheese melts.
Add chicken pieces to mixture. Allow pie filling to cool.
Line the pie plate with 1 sheet of puff pastry. Place cooled filling in dish. Top with remaining sheet of pastry. Pinch edges of pastry together and decorate the top as you wish.
Bake at 230 degrees C for approximately 40 minutes, or until pie is golden brown.