As her garden occupies itself with the business of growing, gets busy in her country kitchen, preparing hampers of happiness for Christmas giving.
Wendyl’s homemade hampers
Everything is pregnant at my place in the country right now. My fruit trees have tiny plums, tiny apples, tiny peaches and tiny nectarines precariously balanced on the tips of branches where blossom had struggled then prevailed in our windy, wet spring.
My vegie garden has tomato blossom and some tiny tomatoes, my potatoes are plumping up under the ground and my cabbages are forming.
I love this time of the year, full of the promise of things to come. It’s not long until we will be able to dine on ripe, sweet tomatoes warmed by the sun and plums popping with flavour. Not long until we spend hot afternoons walking down to the sea to cool off, floating around like a lot of old logs before trekking back up the hill and heading to the deck for a cold beer.
Because everything in the garden is still developing, there is time to get organised for Christmas, which will bring an onslaught of visitors eager to share the bounty and cool off in the sea. So while my plums grow daily, I am in the kitchen cooking.
First I make four Fitzroy Christmas Cakes. This recipe (see right) was handed down to me from my grandmother. I call it Fitzroy Christmas Cake because my grandparents lived in Fitzroy, New Plymouth, but it’s probably best known as Ginger Ale Christmas Cake.
I always make several of these a few weeks out from Christmas Day, wrap them in tinfoil and store in a dark cupboard until needed. My stash usually sees us through Christmas, then gives sustenance to January’s starving masses fresh from their swims.
Next, it is on to the hampers. Ten years ago we decided to give our relatives hampers of homemade goodies rather than buying them presents they neither want nor use. I used to think making gifts was a bit corny. This probably came from my childhood in the 1960s and 70s, when my parents were in the grip of new consumerism, leaving behind their own childhoods when times had been tough and, by necessity, gifts were handmade. My grandfather used to send us recycled birthday and Christmas cards. He would cut the picture off the front of an old card and glue it to some new card. I remember thinking, as a child, how uncool this was, but now it seems to be a sensible thing to do.
I think people have grown tired of quick-fix, hurriedly bought presents, so something made by someone they love strikes a special chord on Christmas Day. If you can’t cook, perhaps you could do handcrafts or potted plants.
This year, with the help of a few glasses of wine and lots of music blaring, I made green peppercorn mustard, chilli jam and Worcestershire sauce, and my husband Paul made his famous herbed salt. Before long our kitchen table heaved with jars and jars of our favourite kitchen staples that were then packaged up.
“They look really good,” said my daughter Pearl, who had helped me arrange everything on strawcovered platters.
“They do, don’t they?” I agreed, standing back with my hands on my hips, regretting having had the thought – while stirring yet another batch of chilli jam – that it would have been a lot easier, and probably cheaper, to go to Kmart and buy 12 boxes of assorted biscuits.
“Time well spent,” said Paul, reading my mind. “And a gift that says so much more than a box of biscuits,” he grinned.
I think people have grown tired of quick-fix presents bought in a hurry.