December 29 ..
“On the first day of Christmas my true love gave to me
Four calling birds …”
Or – four “colly” birds in an earlier version. “Colly” indicates coal black, so four blackbirds were the gift for the day – and they do “call” beautifully as well, so either way they fit the rhyme. As we are told in the nursery rhyme Sing a Song of Sixpence, blackbirds can be baked in a pie, so pie is a possibility for the day. There are almost as many explanations of the nursery rhyme as there are of the Christmas song, and one of them suggests that it is based on an actual pie presented at a huge feast hosted by Philip the Good, Duke of Burgundy in 1464. The event was to whip up support for another crusade, and as was the custom for feasts of the time, some impressive entertainment was arranged. At one point a giant pie was presented – containing ‘eight and twenty’ musicians who “sang” when the pie was opened.
I think I will take today’s inspiration from the “colly” colour, not the birds – birds have already featured twice in our song-menu. Dark fruitcake seems like the way to go – get next year’s made now and keep dousing it with something alcoholic for the next twelve months.
I am rather fond of my own Chocolate Alcohol Cake recipe, but this one, from “an experienced lady” sounds very black and tasty indeed.
One pound of flour, one of sugar, fourteen ounces of butter, ten eggs, three pounds of seeded raisins, three pounds of Zante currants, and one pound of citron, a wine glass of wine, one of brandy, and one of milk, a tea-spoonful of saleratus, a table-spoonful of molasses, a table-spoonful of cinnamon, a tea-spoonful of cloves, a quarter of an ounce of mace, or one nutmeg. The sugar should be the brown kind, and stirred a few minutes with the butter, then the eggs beaten to a froth, and stirred in. Brown the flour in a pan, over a few coals — stir it constantly to prevent its burning. It should be done before you commence making the cake, so as to have it get cold. Stir it into the butter and sugar gradually, then add the molasses and spice. Dissolve the saleratus in the milk, then strain it, and mix it with the brandy and wine, to curdle them—stir the whole into the cake. Just before you put it into the cake pans, stir in the fruit gradually, a handful of each alternately. When well mixed in, put it into cake pans and bake it immediately. If baked in thick loaves, it takes from two hours and a half to three hours to bake it sufficiently. The oven should not be of a furious heat. Black cake cuts the best when three or four weeks old.
[The American Housewife: Containing the Most Valuable and Original Receipts ... By Experienced lady, 1841]
“On the fourth day of Christmas, my good friend gave to me
Four keeping cakes,
Three boiling hens,
Two chocolate tarts,
And a partridge in a pear tree.”
Tomorrow’s Story …
The Fifth Day of Christmas.
Quotation for the Day …
The merry family gatherings
The old, the very young;
The strangely lovely way they
Harmonize in carols sung.
For Christmas is tradition time
Traditions that recall
The precious memories down the years,
The sameness of them all.
- Helen Lowrie