Coun­try diary:

As her gar­den oc­cu­pies it­self with the busi­ness of grow­ing, gets busy in her coun­try kitchen, pre­par­ing ham­pers of hap­pi­ness for Christ­mas giv­ing.

Australian Women’s Weekly NZ - - CONTENTS -

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.

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