I was happily engrossed in making mincemeat for festive pies the other day, noodling away in the kitchen, mostly adhering to Nigel Slater’s instructions as written in “The Christmas Chronicles” and letting my mind wander in between the more precise measurements. At this point, I should say a huge thank you to Mrs. PC. She knows I’m not overly fond of the Christmas season, although I do like an excuse to cook something seasonal, and she knows I’m often most contented in the kitchen. On top of my usual lack of enthusiasm for “all that tinsel and other shiny stuff” – I don’t know who said that – I’ve also been moping more than normal for the time of year. Mrs PC’s excellent solution was to give me a copy of the aforementioned Slater collection.
Aside from the off putting (to me) title, this is a wonderful book. I love Nigel Slater’s descriptive writing, meticulous, maybe even overly fussy and fastidious approach to cooking and life, as well as his dry British wit. Oh, and his recipes are always interesting. Mr. Slater says he’s not so much a Christmas enthusiast as a winter enthusiast, his favourite season, and all this is explored throughout the pages of the book. Christmas is in it, but it’s more a wholehearted embrace of the colder months and how to enjoy them from a kitchen and cooking perspective. (I have to say, as he gets older, it’s clear he enjoys Christmas rather more than he might want you to think, and I suspect it is all to do with the rituals. Having the “right” tree, bringing the box(es) of tree ornaments down from the attic, taking the time to send individually chosen and handwritten – with a fountain pen – cards, making the cake several weeks before, and preparing homemade mincemeat for mince pies. Is he right? Hmm…)
Mrs. PC says of course you like Nigel Slater, you share some of his traits. Do I? I’m not so sure that’s true. I’m a little obsessed by certain rituals. I mean, there is the delight I take in properly preparing coffee, a beer needs to be poured a certain way and in a certain glass, the left sock is always before the right, and doesn’t everyone weigh pasta precisely before cooking it? I think we’ll leave this paragraph here, and move on.
Where were we? What’s with “a pinch, a dash, a dollop”? I was coming to that. Remember ages ago, at the start of this piece, I mentioned I was letting my mind wander? A few years ago I was chatting with a friend about various chefs, and we agreed Jamie Oliver was a personable chap and had many great recipes. I like his approach – he is quite happy to add a glug, dollop, pinch or dash of an ingredient to his dishes. There are measures given, especially and quite rightly for baking, but there is a freedom with some additions. Our friend said she found that infuriating, and could not get her head around it. How much is a glug or splash? How big of a pinch, and what size is a dollop? What even is a dollop?! She is way more meticulous than me, with a mathematical and scientific mind, and she could not get a handle on Jamie Oliver’s approach. Her frustration makes me appear super-chilled (because I am, of course) and as I added a pinch or two of nutmeg this week, her laughing disbelief at a lack of precise measurement came back to me. I smiled, then added another dash of nutmeg and a glug or two of brandy.
I’ll end with a mince pie story. Or a missed pie story. It’s not terribly exciting – feel free to jump off or head out now if you’re still here.
As a child I absolutely loved mince pies, particularly the ones my mother made. She’d bake a batch and then fend off her four greedy boys with a spatula, telling us to wait until they were cool enough to eat, and eventually letting us try one, even though they were far too hot. Serves us right, and let that be a lesson, laughing at us all teary-eyed and trying to hide how we should have waited a few more minutes. Anyway, too hot, just right or even slightly stale (not that many sat around long enough for that to happen back then) I adored mince pies. One year, early January, aged 11 and about to turn 12, I was draped across the sofa feeling sorry for myself (some things never change – Mrs.PC) and saying I was feeling sick. My mum wanted to use up the rest of the mincemeat, and asked if I’d like a batch of pies for my birthday. Unbelievably, I said “no thanks” and that’s when my mother knew I was truly unwell. To this day I often think about those missed pies, and I’ve made every effort since to eat an extra one or two to make up for the lost ones. I never seem to catch up… Anyway, isn’t this where we came in? Me, in the kitchen, making a few mince pies…
Gosh, is that the time? I’ll finish up now, get this posted, and then settle down with a cup of coffee and perhaps, I don’t know, a mince pie? Coffee first. Start by measuring the beans…
Thanks for reading, and I hope you have a wonderful weekend.
PS The Slater pies are good, but not as good as the ones my mother makes!
11 thoughts on “A pinch, a dash, a dollop…”
Chuckling while reading, I so enjoyed this Christmas story from past and present, pc. I most enjoyed the scenes with you and your brothers and mother, the mince pies too hot, the spatula, and the pies she offered when you were blue coming up to your 12th birthday. Good humor throughout and poignant too. I, too, love to cook and bake. I like watching Jamie Oliver–so enthusiastic–and don’t mind the unmeasured ways he cooks. I liked the part about you smiling about your friend when you tossed in an extra pinch of nutmeg. Wonderful kitchen stories today, thanks my friend.
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Thanks, Jet! Glad you enjoyed this – my mother and her spatula is still a scary combination if we get on her wrong side in the kitchen…
I’m lining up ingredients for Nigel Slater’s banana and cardamom cake, and as I’m not much of a baker, I’ll be very attentive to the quantities – nothing of the slapdash for this one!
I hope your week is going well!
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minced meat pies is a dish best served cold……you wouldn’t want poor old Scout hopping about like a scalded cat after-all!
Scout’s self control around a pie is even worse than mine!
I’m sure not a crumb has ever hit your floor with good old Hoover Scout standing by!
I like Allan Maitland’s “The Shepherd” story about the WW2 pilot being guided back to the safety of the airport, I am tearing up as I write this, and Dave and Morley’s Turkey dinner by Stuart Mclean and if I am visiting a certain friend I must listen to a childhood Christmas in Wales. I don’t make mincemeat, or shortbread, but if a plate comes my way, won’t pass it up. Merry Christmas to you and your family wishing you some good gatherings, brews and quiet walks in the woods or by the shore.
I’ll be looking up “The Shepherd” and giving the Stuart McLean turkey story another read or listen – such a delight.
Wishing you a Merry Christmas, and I hope a plate or two of shortbread and pies will be within reach!
Thanks, Jane, and have a great week!
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I prefer only a pinch, a dash, and dollop of the Christmas holiday, much preferring a whole pecan pie of Winter Solstice & other warm delights (never was a fan of mincemeat), but your photos of the winter sun peeking through those frosted trees are very tasty & help to set a positive mood. Thank you much for that, and cheers to all!
I’m with you, Walt, in that a pinch, a dash, and a dollop of Christmas is more than enough. A pecan pie is never a bad idea, perhaps after a late afternoon walk, with the low winter sun glimpsed through trees and guiding you home.
Cheers to winter delights!
I know you mentioned you’re not in the best of moods this time of year, but you still somehow managed to capture wonderfully memories, traditions, stories and smiles about the season that left me smiling and wanting to order the Nigel Slater cookbook. Love the photos, the shoutout to your mother’s pies being better than Nigel Slater, Mrs. PC’s solutions and humor, and the enjoyment of an extra dash or glug. I’m rarely found in the kitchen cooking, I’ve honestly never thought to actually weigh pasta or tried a mince pie, but somehow I do believe there is a proper way to pour a beer. Hope you had a few extra stouts for after the England loss that I still don’t want to talk about (could be because I’m hoarse from yelling too much). Enjoy the mince pies and coffee and Harper sends early Christmas hugs to the super chilled Scout, you and Mrs. PC!
Oh Harry… Let’s not go there!
Never had a mince pie?! Goodness, you’ve a treat ahead of you can find some, or you get hold of the Nigel Slater book and make them. They’re pretty straightforward, and if it turns out you’re not a fan, your turkey gang might like the leftovers? (Not sure that’s a good idea, and they could be more discerning than me when it comes to a mince pie…)
I hope your week is going well, and let’s see if Morocco can do better against France!
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