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!