Well, we got through Halloween, the first hurdle in the Holiday FunRun. Last March this column was blissfully ignorant of the spring and summer to come, let alone the idea that “this” (whatever “this” is) would stretch into the holidays. But here we are 33 weeks later wondering how we are going to celebrate the grandest time of the year.
To give it a start, I’m going to begin cooking. Always a good fallback this time of year. I have already made Apple Butter. It wasn’t quite as good as grandma’s, but she let hers cook all day on the back of the wood stove. One of the real signs of fall was the scent of spicy apple butter permeating the house and you could smell it outdoors as you came into the yard.
After she got an electric stove, it wasn’t quite the same. We laud the modern conveniences, and I’m sure Grandma was happy not to have to split kindling and tend the fire, but remembering the soups cooking all day, the tea kettle always hot and the comfort of a towel heated in the warming oven makes me question (a little) the quick, unquestioning assumption of everything new. Of course I was only 9 or 10 and my memory is nostalgic. I expect Grandma’s memories leaned a little more toward practicality when she thought of making apple butter.
And mincemeat. Another old-time preservation technique that has turned into a wintertime delicacy. In the really olden days, mincemeat was a way to save meat for future use. Most cultures had a concoction of meat, fat and fruit dried or otherwise put up to save it for later days. Natives Americans called it pemmican and it served them as trail mix and camp food during long travels. The original mincemeat was a savory mixture with variations all over the world. The addition of spices and sugar and brandy about the 17th century raised it to delicacy for the Europeans and it became a traditional feast item during the long days of winter.
Both of my grandmas made mincemeat, most often using venison, cooking it all day, then running it through a grinder attached to the kitchen table by a clamp. I would give it a couple of turns as I traipsed through the kitchen and when I was older was enlisted for a short shift of grinding when the adult had to peel apples, or add the suet to the mixture. For sure, the electric grinder is one piece of “modern equipment” I welcomed whole-heartedly. Perspective is all.
Even fruitcake was a result of preservation techniques. Again, all cultures have a version of fruit cake in their ancient history. Some countries, to this day, eat a type of fruit cake all year as a common pastry. The discovery that sugar was a preservative and could be used to dry and candy fruit led to the concoction we know as fruit cake today. And while jokes are made about their longevity, the tried-and-true recipes produce a cake loved by many during the holidays.
Daughter always expects one, and I have a couple of weird friends who really like fruit cake. I am the only one they know who still makes it, so I bake them each one. Fruitcake is always better if aged for a few weeks. I douse them in brandy, or cider every so often and wrap them in a cloth soaked in the same brew, so they are well-preserved by the time they go to their intended.
I am not really ignoring politics, considering we vote in two days and I haven’t mentioned that, but cooking gives me a good distraction. We are going on our eighth month of the new normal and I am tired of the pandemic and I am tired of politics.
Any other year, after we vote on Tuesday, we could expect the drama and histrionics to be over at least by the next day. I hold out no hope for that this time. Regardless of the outcome, I expect weeks, if not months of the same balderdash (love that word!!) we have been listening to for the past four years.
I would like a little less Trump hate from the Left and little less “Look at me and what I did” from the Right and a little more “we’re in this together, so let’s get it together from both sides.” But it’s not going to happen. The most we can hope for, I suppose, is that our mailboxes will now be free of political junk and ready to accept Christmas sales promotions and maybe a stray card or two from the cousins in Oregon.
In the meantime, add a little salt, and pass the brandy, Thanksgiving is the next hurdle.
Virginia can be reached at email@example.com
• By Virginia Walters