The Advent of Advent

Last Sunday was Stir-up Sunday, when the traditional collect is “Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people; that they, plenteously bringing forth the fruit of good works, may of thee be plenteously rewarded; through Jesus Christ our Lord.” It is the last Sunday before Advent, almost the end of the church year.

Stir-Up Sunday is the beginning of the week when we also stir up the Christmas puddings and cakes, those traditional dense fruit-laden sugar, egg and butter bombs so beloved of the British people. The rest of the world does not understand fruitcake and plum pudding, but no true Brit, no son or daughter of British roots, would want to see Christmas pass without the rum soaked and flaming pud carried into the darkened dining room, nor see the New Year rung in without a few slices of brandy flavoured cake.

My last fruitcake of the week is in the oven now, slowly amalgamating into a delectable mass. It will be cooled overnight, wrapped in brandy-saturated cheesecloth, wrapped airtight, and stowed on the top shelf of the refrigerator until the festivities.

It is a lot of work, and it takes a strong arm to fold together the densest fruitcakes. Although we no longer have to candy the fruit, chop it fine, and grind the suet and nuts by hand, it stil takes a while to get a good steamed pudding or fruitcake assembled. We started with a long-distance trip to Bulk Barn to get the ingredients by the pound (or kilo, here.) Then there is the marshalling of pudding bowls, fruitcake pans, steamers and cooling racks, the hunting down of cheesecloth in the store, and the debate over the liquor. (Dark rum or brandy?) All the mysterious and exotic ingredients are laid out along with familiar sugar, butter and eggs.

The plum pudding must be stirred by everyone in the house, and I assembled it on Sunday afternoon. The stirring was enjoyed by the two-year-old, who got to sit on the kitchen counter with a wooden spoon. She had haunted the kitchen while preparation was underway, until I gave her a wooden bowl, a plastic spoon, and a dozen raisins to stir herself. She then showed off her work, stirring raisins around and around, and finally ate the raisins. She was enchanted with being allowed to do big girl work with the real bowl, though. It is her first plum pudding.

Honouring this tradition seemed to be vital to our starting the Nativity season this year. Perhaps it is Nicholas’s stroke and the thought that he almost didn’t see this season; perhaps it is a need to feel rooted in our heritage again, building a little sanctuary of memory and history away from a fast-changing world. Tradition roots us in the year itself, both the natural year of seasons and crops, work and rest as well as in the liturgical year of feasts and fasts, saints’ days and commemorations. “Here we are again,” can be a comforting thought, a home-place found each year.

So we are carefully picking up some traditions stowed away while we sojourned, antique treasures inherited from parents and great-grandparents. At the same time, we are dropping some recent traditions that are counter-productive to our spriritual life.

Christmas shopping is one of them. It was easy for me this year – we have absolutely no money. My gifts will all be prayers this year. I will ask the Lord to bestow His blessings on each of us, according to our needs. I refuse to speak gently of some of the horrors of consumer Christmas – Black Friday shopping (Canadians don’t have this) and Boxing Day sales (Americans don’t have this.) Greed and status-seeking are so far from the message of the Incarnation that it is truly horrible to contemplate this filth in the Season of Light. Please don’t be tempted by “bargains.” You simply do not need that stuff anyway.

Our Advent discipline this year is not fasting. This household is ill-equipped to fast this time; I do not want to set myself apart from the people I nourish daily. Meals are a little eucharist for us here, and we need to continue to share the common loaf and cup. After some thought, I proposed that our discipline would be using our food resources better; specifically, using up the surplus in the pantry and freezer. Generosity put some of that food there, and it would be in gratitude that we prepare and eat it. Rather than buy more, we will use what we have, even if on first glance it is not very appealing. But I have time to cook, read recipes and prepare good food from basic components; that is my gift to the house this season.

Perhaps others are in the same position. Are there goods in your house that need to be lovingly consumed before they spoil? Do you have a hoard or stash of something that you should share? If you do, will it be for the daily nourishment of your family, or in a big party for friends? Or do you need to move the surplus on to those in need this winter, donating to a food bank? Be extravagant in your hospitalityand generosity.

If your surplus is not in the pantry, do you have goods that are not being used – small appliances, clothes, furniture, books,maybe even a stack of firewood you won’t burn this year. Can these be donated to a charity to be given to a family without resources, or to be sold? Even better, have a sale of your own, in the garage or barn, or list the items on craigslist or kijiji, whichever serves your area. Donate the proceeds.

Preparing our loving hearts for Advent and the Festival of the Incarnation (Christmas, nativity) is of greater importance than preparing our homes by filling them with purchased junk.

“Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow-citizens with the saints, and of the household of God.” (Ephesians 2:19)

20 thoughts on “The Advent of Advent

  1. magdelaina,

    Oh yes!! I adore this time of year and find special happiness in Advent, moreso considering the fact it was for so long not a part of my life, spiritually (SDA) or culturally. However, in recent years, I’ve learnt the timeless joy of the traditions you have so lovingly spoken of – those things that root us to our faith and herritage (as a fellow Commonwealth Girl in australia) – furthermore since my father is English and my paternal Grandfather was English and an anglican minister). I laid down the fruit mince in July, have made and sent my first fruitcake for the year interstate (have sent them to England and the US as Christmas gifts in the past few years). From the brewing of the first pot of black tea to soak the fruit to wrapping it for storage. it is earthy, grounding and as you’ve so wonderfully illustrated, a time to give thanks for God’s provision over the past 12 months, through plenty or hardship it is a time when we can meditate upon the oft winding path our Heavenly Father has led us.

    As for your wrapping the finished cake in brandy-soaked cheesecloth – excellent!! Now all I have to do is find some of this said fabric; our local Lindcraft doesn’t stock this or the wide-weave muslin I use for marmelade making…so will try a craft supplies shop.

    My husband and I have returned home after shopping with supplies to start another cake today; in australia, Advent is a Summer month with university semesters finally finished for the year, school and technical college classes in their final weeks and the community breathing a sigh of relief as the year draws to an end and we can regroup and refresh over December, January and the first weeks of February.

    Though Christmases can often exceed 40 degrees C (100 on the old scale) in some parts of australia and we celebrate with the bounty of God’s gifts of the land – stone-fruit, melon, tropical fruit (mango is a popular Christmas breakfast in Australia, fresh and golden) our English herritage still holds a beloved spot for fruitcake and Christmas pudding (plum pudding). In an ironic twist, however, parts of australia and New Zealand can have unseasonable cold snaps this time of year and snow (mid summer!!) has been recorded in Tasmania, Queenstown New Zealand, and even the snowy mountains in December!!!! – then it will be 40 degrees C again the following week!

    though I don’t make mine with nuts, there’s plenty of peel, spice, sultanas, the Ubiquitous packet of Glace cherries, plenty of black treacle, malt extract, brandy…oh yes! When I’ve been hard up for Christmas in the past, I’ve made gifts for family; preserved lemons, preserved fetta, biscuits (cookies for Northerners), marmelade… We’re all tired of the commercialization here, too, and either give to charity on behalf of others and our family sets low spending limits – we’re all so over ‘stuff’!

    And for me, nothing can compare to the greatest gift of all that we commemorate each year at this time – the gift of jesus Christ come into the world as a living breathing human being – God and man combined – our rescuer, our Saviour, our reconcilliation with God! I’ve also participated in the Samaritan’s Purse ‘Operation Christmas child’ in the past with their ‘Blind boxes’ (gifts for vision impaired girls and boys between – and 14 years) plus (when they ran it) school boxes for the classroom (sadly, they’ve stopped the latter as it created problems if, say, one school class got a box but the other classes didn’t).

    Operation Christmaschild has specific guidelines on what to give in each box and is a brilliant programme though they only get to 6 million children worldwide.

    May God bless you wonderfully, dear sister, you and your husband… My prayers are with you both; wish there was more I could do practically from here, though.

    • We have Operation Christmas Child here in Canada, but I’m thinking it is an idea whose time is past, especially the school boxes. When I was at the girls’ home in Central America, these boxes would flood in. They would end up stacked in the director’s office, and the teachers would pull out the supplies the girls needed while the rest of the stuff was left until it could be distributed elsewhere. I think it was too easy for the organization to send lots of boxes to an obvious charity where the children already had plenty of Christmas gifts provided by American sponsors and the local church. It’s been a while since I was there and maybe distribution is better organized. I think the “Blind Boxes” might be of more use in the undeveloped world. Maybe people don’t realize that blindness is more common among poor children in other countries.

      Your recipes sound intriguing, is there an on-line source or are they carefully guarded Australian secrets? Remember, no secrets among Christians!

  2. Lovely post Magdalena. You’ve reminded me I need to get our fruitcake made too. I keep ours in the freezer because we don’t use alcohol (guess it’s mom’s baptist roots). I love Bulk Barn, it makes my Christmas baking possible; much more reasonable prices than the grocery store.

    I’m trying to find some advent traditions to start in our family. My family didn’t really have any, besides advent calendars. Colin’s family, being United, didn’t really do anything either -besides this season was so busy for them to get the corn combined before snow. I want to find some traditions to start now, so that they are always a part of Ella’s memory.

    Have a Blessed Advent.

    • Do you use orange juice in yours instead of alcohol? My Baptist family probably would never have bought a bottle of brandy, although they would accept a glass of wine at a celebration. As they got older, they got a little more open about liquor, but a bottle of wine or a can of beer might be in the refrigerator a year or more!

      It is worth the long trip from hereto buy at Bulk Barn. Some of the Loblaw chain stores have bulk foods, but their prices aren’t as good or as clearly explained. (I cannot quickly figure out what 100 grams of something is in my American head!)

      A simple tradition to start is to make greeting cards. Ella can paste on glitter or trace her hand onto the front of a blank card (even make it from cheap construction paper.) You can write the message inside. If you do them just for immediate family then you won’t be overburdened with a huge card list to fulfill, and I’m sure family will treasure them. Over the years, they can compare the new cards with the old cards, and see how much she’s grown.

      • The only liquid in ours comes from the eggs and a bit of corn syrup. Of course, all the butter adds some moisture too.

        I have no idea what 100g is either. They switched from imperial to metric half way through school so I have trouble. I just buy at Bulk Barn thinking in cups :) Not only is price better, but I have found the freshness isn’t even comparable to the grocery store bought stuff.

        I was thinking of making cards with Ella this year. Especially for the Grandmas and Great Grandma. She loves to write her name.

  3. Baking and holidays seem to go hand in hand. What a great way to be together as a family, even if you’re physically apart. We also enjoy fruit cake, but don’t use alcohol. My sisters in law make lots and mail them out. My dad bakes little cakes and mails them also, One year he made and sent out over 70.

    • I would love to send fruitcakes to my family, but I doubt if they will cross customs well! For those who don’t use liquor in their cakes, what do you use for the liquid? Orange juice is often called for; is it a good carrier for the spices and flavour?

  4. Magdelaina,

    It was 7 years ago now when I participated in Operation Christmaschild; I am saddened to hear about the flaws in distribution to schools; very sad, and perhaps you’re right re such a scheme coming to the end of its natural lifespan. Ours in australia either went to indigenous communities (Australia has a disgraceful record re its indigenous population that makes the heart cry!) or they go to developing nations.

    My Christmas cake recipe…

    500g mixed dried fruit
    1 extra 50-75g pack glace cherries
    125g (1/4lb) butter
    2 eggs
    cup of strongly brewed leaf tea, not Earl Grey or Russian Caravan, but a good Ceylon orange Pekoe or English Breakfast)
    3/4 cup brown sugar
    big gloop (sorry about inacuracy) golden syrup
    big gloop black treacle
    big gloop malt extract
    1/4 – 1/2 cup brandy with another 1/4 cup to pour over cake when it comes out of the oven.
    2 cups plain flour with a pinch baking powder
    spice of your choice
    good vanilla extract.

    In a large saucepan, set this to boil after the fruit and tea have been soaking firstly in the pot for around an hour before adding everything else; fruit mix nowadays doesn’t require overnight soaking.
    After everything’s been simmering along for five minutes – ten minutes, and all sugar and butter is well disolved, and the cloud of alcohol coming off the pot isn’t quite so overpowering :-) let it cool; (I’ve sat this on the stovetop for a week and it hasn’t moulded or fermented and I’ve just gone on with the process!!)
    When cold and stood, fold in eggs, flour and spice; you may need an extra egg or another slug of brandy to slacken the mixture just a bit.

    It’ll seem just a little loose.

    In a 7 inch square tin lined with 2-3 layers of baking (silicon) paper, pour in the mixture and bake at 180 degrees c for around half an hour, knocking back the heat to around 160 degrees c for 2-3 hours or until cake is cooked. if it starts to overcook on top, cover with foil or even newspaper.

    I now don’t have a 7 inch tin and must use something much wider; flatter cake that cooks more quickly but needs ‘trimming’ before serving and needs ‘feeding’ with more brandy as the weeks go on.

    An alternative to this one calls for 1 kg fruit, 5 eggs, a little more tea and water, plus 1-3/4 cups plain flour along with spices and all the above extras; have a go at both and enjoy!

    I was given an old aluminium pudding basin with a snap lid from a lady at church who uses cloth for her puddings; I scrounged an old aluminium double boiler pot and lid from a roadside metal collection pile (no, I’m not a hoarder but this was what I needed and after cleanup works fine). Sitting the pudding basin on an old ceramic single serve souffle ramakin to keep it off the bottom of the pot and keeping said pot well watered, I’ve got an easy pudding cooker. I use the smaller fruitcake recipe for my Christmas pudding and it works a treat.

    Enjoy!!

    Sarah.

    • As one friend said of Operation Christmas Child and its unavoidable inequities, “It’s the best of the worst delivery systems.” Equitable distribution in undeveloped countries is almost impossible; that anything gets through is a near miracle.

      I love the recipe, and will try it next time. My pudding moulds this year were tempered glass bowls, greased and paper-lined. I used paper bags from the liquor store. The steamer was a large kettle we got at the rummage sale, covered with aluminum foil for a lid. I sealed the moulds with aluminum foil and brown paper, too. The boiling space was provided by the lid from a biscuit tin! Altogether improvised, but successful; I ask myself how it was done three hundred years ago, and there’s my answer.

  5. Magdelaina,

    an approx 440g tin of crushed pineapple and juice is often used as an ingredient in fruitcakes without alcohol. I’ve also used orange flower water (from middle Eastern grocers); you only need a tablespoon maximum for a large pudding. alternatively (or in conjunction with orange flower water) , incorporating the tea that the fruit has soaked in gives a little more liquid. Folk use brandy essence and all sorts of other things in lieu of the real thing.

    Another English Christmas favourite!!

    Sherry Trifle

    first, take a glass bowl of suitable proportion.

    in its base, place a good layer of either stale sponge, stale pound cake or stale swiss roll (without cream) and pour over a good glass of medium sherry (or two if you’re making a large trifle).

    Over this, place a layer of fruit compote or stewed fruit, be it pear or peach (rhubarb is too overpowering for Trifle). An optional additional layer of fruit jelly (not jam) may be added; there are lovely recipes on-line or in traditional British/Commonwealth cookery books for jellies made from port or even champaign if one is feeling particularly flush, though a traditional fruit jelly is just as nice. (making up a jelly crystal alternative will do if you’ve got to). Over this is poured a good layer of quality custard (home prepared a day ahead). If using a deep bowl or glass dish, make a second layer. Cover with clingfilm and place in the refrigerator for several hours before serving. right before taking this to the table, top with freshly whipped cream and slivered almonds. In the hot tropics, this can be made fresh with fresh fruit such as banana or mango close to the time it is to be served. At this time of year, raspberries are available in australia and these are lovely dropped onto the freshly whipped cream top (please don’t use that terrible canned whipped cream that is no cream at all; the real thing is called for here).

    Trifle originated as a delicious way to use up left-over custard, cake and fruit…very nice it is too! Alternatively, individual trifles can be asembled in parfait glasses; a nice alternative.

    Pavlova is another Australian summer dessert that is a celebration and Christmas favourite; if one has the time to make the merringue themselves, the pav will have that lovely thick, nougaty chewiness that commercial pav shells just don’t give. Fill with anything from tropical to berry fruit, cream, passionfruit or even a lovely thick, tart lemon curd to cut the sweetness of the merringue.

    Fruit mince pies on request :-)

    Sarah.

    • I forgot about trifle, and I have a pavlova recipe I may make this year. I had to buy mincemeat this year, since I had no opportunity to make it. In my hometown, and among the older members of my family, this was made in the fall from venison, and laid up in canning jars for the winter months. The shredded meat and ground beef suet were mixed with the dried fruits and apples, spiced, and laced with (probably) rum. The oldest recipes laid it down in a stone crock; more recently, it is pressure canned.

  6. Magdelaina,

    it is fascinating that you use a recipe that has retained the meat in fruit ‘mincemeat’…in Australia and the UK, this fell out of favour in Victorian times and now our mince pies contain a fruit-only mince of dried mixed fruit (minus the glace cherries), lemon juice, butter, brown sugar and a little treacle if liked, spice, grated apple and brandy. Some recipes place a layer of almond paste between the little mince pie lid and the fruit inside. In australia it is becoming popular in some circles to serve Cassata in place of christmas pudding, or to make an icecream Christmas pudding (home made icecream base, the usual soaked dried fruit (in brandy) and some recipes call for little pieces of Christmas cake folded through this. One variant includes a centre of brandy butter (if making a two-halved bombe, while the other calls for this to be given its final freeze in an appropriately lined glass or ceramic pudding basin to be turned out and drizzled with melted dark chocolate at table (with a rock hard icecream pudding, the chocolate is cooled and solidifies while any heat from it helps soften up the pudding just a bit. I’ve had the latter once and it was lovely.

    Oh, and for a lovely mince pie crust; half plain flour, half cornflour, butter, a quarter cup of icing sugar and an egg. This makes a lovely light shortcrust that’s nice for any sweet pie or tart.

    I love this sharing of Christmas fare recipes!

    • I am learning so much about exotic Australian holiday desserts! Husband and Mother Kay insist on a real mince with meat in it, but I haven’t made it myself. When I’ve made mince, it’s been green-tomato mince or traditonal all-fruit. I don’t have the green tomato recipe anymore, so I’ll have to ask a sister for it. Maybe we should be looking at restoring other Anglican holiday traditions in our homes and churches, as sort of a link to our collective past. Hm, do I hear a book idea for someone to pursue?

      • I’ve made mince with meat before, my Mom’s family looked at it (on the Christmas table) as if I’d lost my head :) I asked them why they thought it was called minceMEAT in the first place -haha

        I have a number of old green tomato mincemeat recipes if you need one.

      • Yes, we seem to be turning into a recipe exchange here, although I have a recipe blog, I don’t use it anymore, my own fault! So just post it here if you want. I had suggested a book on Anglican Christmas traditions; Sarah thinks I should write it, so if it ever gets beyond the “good idea” stage, I’ll credit any recipes I did use!

  7. Magdelaina,

    As Australians are finally coming to terms with the fact we have Christmas in the midst of Summer, :-) northern hemisphere traditions are still much loved and enjoyed, but at the same time, adapted and modified for our climate…I guess this has been happening with cookery for milenia. Sometimes the weather will dish up a cool christmas (mid 20’s celcius) and upon such occasions, I have been priveleged to enjoy Northern style fare at its best.

    How’s about Whitsun…? (Please excuse spelling). Traditionally, there is a yorkshire curd cheese tart that is made at Christmas and Whitsun once common, but now only a local Yorkshire speciality.

    Blind bake a sweet shortcrust in a springform quiche/flan tin.

    In a bowl combine butter and sugar as for pounddcake, eggs, fresh cheese curds (or cottage cheese – in Australia DON”T use Dairy Farmers Cottage cheese; bullah is more suitable for this recipe), breadcrumbs, plenty of currents and plenty of nutmeg freshly grated on top. Spoon into the blind baked flan tin and cook until set. Serve just warm with fresh cream or custard.

    Then, of course, we’ve shrove tuesday just prior to Lent (I have very fond memories of my mother’s melt in the mouth crepes paper thin and hot, served with castor sugar and plenty of lemon juice!! Oh my goodness!!

    Traditionally, we enjoyed salmon cakes on Good Friday and an egg breakfast on Easter sunday. My husband and I still enjoy fish on Fridays and I try to fast on Wednesdays and Fridays; its good Spiritually, for health, and environmentally and for me at least, I find this practice gives such spiritual comfort and draws my thoughts especially to our Creator.

    i wish we had midnight services at Christmas; I’ve only ever been to one and it was very special. Our Anglican church has had one or two Maundy thursday services, but has cut right back to only good Friday, Easter Sunday and Christmas Day. this last Sunday that the North American liturgical calendar calls ‘Stir up sunmday’ was called ‘Committment Sunday’ and used as a fundraiser for church projects. No mention of Liturgical year was made but this is commonplace.

    I think a book of Anglican celebration throughout the Liturgical year with days, history, beautiful pictures showing such in past and present, cullinary traditions, even what the colours throughout the year and what goes when would be delightful!! Magdelaina, Our heavenly Father has blessed you with the wisdom, knowledge, experience, appreciation and humility and integrity of intent to perhaps approach this…I’d buy a copy in an instant!!!

    Sarah.

    • I’ve had British coobooks, but never Australian. I may have to cajole a friend with relatives there to get one for me. I’ve written books before (you wouldn’t know them – they were ghost-written, just for the money!) but never got far with getting one out under my own name. It is tons of work though!

  8. Magdelaina,

    For a taste of herritage Australian cookery, the ‘Australia the Beautiful’ cookery book is a must ( I’ll give you the Author next post…) A classic is, a doorstop tome, ‘the Commonsense Cookbook’ by Stephany Alexander; its an enormous hardback encyclopaedia of a thing with many herritage recipes rarely prepared now, but our food history is part of who we are.

    Of course, I understand that time and circumstance are likely to make an anglican tradition/celebration/recipe book an out of the question dream……..as for crediting, try em out before assigning any names!!!!! :-D

    Sarah.

    • i can probably find these through Amazon or Indigo, our big book suppliers, unless they are out of print. And if I don’t find a job soon, I’ll have lots of time on my hands to write!

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