Two Christ­mas cakes: one sim­ple, one fancy, both de­li­cious

There is al­ways an easy way and a hard way to do some­thing, and Christ­mas cake is no dif­fer­ent.

NZ Lifestyle Block - - Contents - KRISTINA JENSEN

Our first­born son seemed to favour trial and er­ror when he was grow­ing up, learn­ing on his own terms which of­ten ap­peared to be the hard way. The mid­dle child was, and still is, an ob­server: he would watch some­one do some­thing and then have a go, tak­ing his own sweet time and of­ten suc­ceed­ing be­cause he had fol­lowed the steps and fig­ured out what the end re­sult was meant to look like. Num­ber three is slowly learn­ing the value of putting ef­fort in, but of­ten turns away from a task be­cause it’s ‘too hard’.

I have dis­cov­ered that this is also the way of things in the world of mak­ing Christ­mas cakes. I’ve been lucky to in­herit a ‘hard way’ Christ­mas cake and an ‘easy way’ Christ­mas cake from my two moth­ers. One gen­er­ates fond mem­o­ries of my child­hood, and the other is a highly cre­ative en­deavor that ap­peals to my sense of culi­nary per­fec­tion.

My mum Nancy worked very hard, ap­pear­ing to me as some sort of a su­per­woman now that she has passed away. She jug­gled house­work, milked cows and helped out on the farm, grew most of our veges, and held down a job as a speech ther­a­pist. Some­where in there she found time to at­tend Toast­mistress, go tramp­ing, spear-head kiwi re­cov­ery pro­grams, and en­ter­tain guests from over­seas who stayed in our home as part of the SER­VAS youth lan­guage scheme.

She de­vel­oped her cook­ing reper­toire around this busy sched­ule and churned out de­li­cious whole­some food with ap­par­ent ease and her own unique style.

When I look back at the list of her ac­com­plish­ments, I am not sur­prised that her Christ­mas cake recipe is short and sweet, not too time-con­sum­ing or com­pli­cated. But don’t think she was in any way lazy or look­ing for short­cuts; it’s more that she wore so many hats, it was sim­ply the most ef­fi­cient way of get­ting the job of Christ­mas cake-mak­ing done. It had to be done around one of the busiest times of the year on a dairy farm: full-time milk­ing, feed­ing calves, spring gar­den plant­ing, with hay-mak­ing loom­ing around the cor­ner. For Mum, it also meant zoom­ing out the door to work while mak­ing sure that she didn’t have any cow ma­nure lurk­ing be­hind her ears from her morn­ing’s labour.

In spring, she made sev­eral batches of cakes, ready to give to the mail­man, the tanker driver, my hus­band, neigh­bours, work­mates, and es­pe­cially fel­low weary tram­pers, who would ar­rive at walk’s end

Mum's Christ­mas cakes were short and sweet, but she

wasn't lazy

and dis­cover that Mum (or pos­si­bly Dad) had car­ried a whole Christ­mas cake along as a treat. I’m go­ing to haz­ard a judg­ment here and say that in the scheme of things, Mum’s cake is the easy way, but as I said ear­lier, for her it was all about fit­ting ev­ery­thing in and the great thing about her cake is that it is ready af­ter only a week and it tastes great.

At the other end of the spec­trum is my mother-in-love (we never liked the ‘law’ bit), Ethel. She was a stay-at-home mum who strug­gled with cook­ing in the ini­tial stages of her mar­riage. It didn’t come nat­u­rally to her as it did to my mum. She had grown up with maids and a cook as a child, so upon mar­ry­ing my hus­band’s fa­ther, she had a lot to learn. But per­haps she had just a bit more time on her hands be­cause her Christ­mas cake is an art form and some­thing we only un­der­take ev­ery sec­ond year, gath­er­ing in all of the in­gre­di­ents and mak­ing sure we have ev­ery­thing ready for the big day. Then it’s a se­ri­ous mat­ter of chop­ping and as­sign­ing dif­fer­ent com­po­nents to dif­fer­ent bowls, a sort of cake alchemy.

Af­ter all that work, we have to wrap our cakes up and bring not so much as a speck of cake to our lips for two months.

My hus­band has very fond mem­o­ries of this cake, es­pe­cially the brandy pour­ing part. For re­li­gious rea­sons, al­co­hol was strictly for­bid­den, so procur­ing the brandy was al­ways a bit of a covert mis­sion. Paul’s fa­ther Ralph would head out of town for the afore­men­tioned spirit, and Paul re­mem­bers hav­ing a se­cret nip with his mum when she dosed the cakes. His grand­mother, af­fec­tion­ately known as Lam­mie, loved this cake and it al­ways puz­zled him as to why she had a bot­tle of brandy in the house for ‘medic­i­nal pur­poses only’ when she was the most vo­cal and strict ad­vo­cate of tee-to­tal­ing. He vividly re­calls her hav­ing to be re­vived with brandy and de­mand­ing more once she had re­cov­ered! ■

Ethel's Christ­mas cake is an art form

Ethel's ter­rific combo of nuts

and fruit is ever so hearty.

Nancy's ver­sion, packed with

fruit mix, di­vinely moist.

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