Today I’ll gather and squirrel away a cache of nuts and fruit. Plump toffee-sticky raisins, sweet sultanas, button black currants, glistening prunes, sweetly-sticky cherries, thick sugar-cracked halves of candied lemon and orange peel and soft translucent slices of citron – the palest of pale lime green. Nuts – hazel, walnuts and almonds…ground, whole, flaked; creamy kernels and rust velvet skins. Curled sticks of sweet cinnamon bark, cloves, vanilla pods, hot, spicy ginger roots and aromatic nutmegs and allspice berries.
I’ll pick up jars of thick black molasses, bags of crumbly moist muscavado sugar, eggs, butter, flour, oranges and lemons and clinking bottles of brandy, rum, port and stout.
Tomorrow to the softly haunting choral voices of a Monteverdi mass I’ll measure, pour, cream, beat and stir. The kitchen will fill itself with rich heady burnt-brandy, citrus-spicy aromas. The smells and sounds are breathed in with deep familiar sighs.
It is the start of our festive preparations. Soon the larder shelves will groan. Jars of speckled mincemeat, puddings with primly tied calico hats, cakes maturing in brandy or rum-soaked moist darkness, festive chutneys, preserved fruits and glowing jellies.
On Sunday we will stir the pudding. Family not present will phone in from London, Norwich and across the world. Wishes, three a person, will be diligently stirred by proxy into the sticky, clingy depths. Toasting one another with other with glasses of hot spiced wine we are bound by gossamer memories of traditions passed on from the cradle and which sustain us in the true festive spirit.