Monday, December 6, 2010

"A Christmas Memory"

I was reminded of "A Christmas Memory" by Truman Capote last night when a friend said that her book club was reading it along with Capote's other short stories as their December selection.  I used to read it to my daughters when they were young and I decided to pull it out and reread it.  It is one of the most moving stories I have ever read, and certainly merits rereading.  This autobiographical tale of the young boy Buddy and his elderly, eccentric cousin making fruitcakes at Christmas time, in the big house where they live with "relatives" is a beautiful piece of writing.

And the description of all the luscious ingredients that go into their fruit cakes is mouthwatering  --  "Cherries and citron, ginger and vanilla and canned Hawaiian pineapple, rinds and raisins and walnuts and whiskey, and oh, so much flour, butter, so many eggs, spices, flavorings: why, we'll need a pony to pull the buggy home."  I am tempted to make one myself this year.  Doesn't this one from "Nigella Christmas" look good?

Nigella Lawson's Chocolate Fruitcake


Here are some other books I have been dipping into for holiday inspiration and "Christmas memories," with topics as varied as literary, culinary, decor, or just holiday spirit.  They have all been making me very happy.

"A Christmas Carol" by Charles Dickens
Just can't resist

"The Man Who Invented Christmas" by Les Standiford
How Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol" Rescued His career And Revived Our Holiday Spirits

"Elizabeth David's Christmas"
Renowned British food writer Elizabeth David had collected recipes, essays, and notes in a box marked "Christmas."  After her death, her literary executor and agent found her file and compiled this book.  Filled with gems.

This book came out last year and has many traditional Christmas recipes, including "Sticky Gingerbread" which I want to make this year.

Nigella's Sticky Gingerbread

This wonderful book "Parties! Menus for Easy Good Times" by Melanie Barnard and Brooke Dojny was published in 1992.  It includes the "Wellesley Cookie Exchange" party, which was the inspiration for the one I give every year.

All I had to read was the opening paragraph to be hooked,

"For more than twenty years, a group of women in a quiet Wellesley, Massachusetts neighborhood have been gathering every December to exchange Christmas cookies...The guests arrive, brush the inevitable New England snow from their boots and place their cookie trays on a large, decorated table set up near the fireplace...Another, smaller table holds Laurel's antique copper kettle filled with a spicy, warm wassail.  After sipping a cup of good cheer, the guests are invited to sample the dazzling desserts set out amid glittering balls and sparkling tinsel on the candlelit dining room table."  

Here is the recipe for "Spiced Cider Wassail Bowl"

8 cups good-quality cider
2 cinnamon sticks
10 allspice berries
8 whole cloves
1/4 cup dark brown sugar
2 cups orange juice
1 Tb. lemon juice
1 cup dark rum
1/2 cup brandy or Cognac
Quartered orange slices for garnish

1.  In a large saucepan, combine the cider, whole spices, and sugar.  Bring to a simmer over medium heat and cook gently for about 5 minutes, stirring to dissolve sugar.
2.  Stir in orange juice, lemon juice, rum, and brandy.  Heat gently.  When ready to serve, float orange slices in wassail.  Ladle hot wassail into small punch cups, serving directly from the stove or placing pot on a warming tray in the dining room.

I will be making "Spiced Cider Wassail Bowl" this year.


Here is another attractive idea for the holiday season:

Elizabeth David has a solution for the inevitable exhaustion that hits everyone during the season,

"On at least one day...I stay in bed, making myself lunch on a tray.  Smoked salmon, home-made bread, butter, lovely cold white Alsace wine.  A glorious way to celebrate Christmas."

How civilized.  I would like to do this. 

 Maybe reading this memoir:

"Wait for Me" by Deborah Mitford

Or this beautiful book by Vicki Archer about her house in Provence:

In this setting...

From "French Essence" by Vicki Archer

In this house...

From "French Essence" by Vicki Archer

Whatever form your inspiration takes, may your holiday spirits be bright.


  1. Love this. Super holiday cozy. Now that Miami is over, I can actually get into the holiday feeling. xoxo

  2. Love the Peugeot moped on the cover of French Essence! Heather knows her mopeds from her scooters! Right HBT?

  3. wait a minute! I think I need to make that cider for my cookie party! Thanks for the beautiful post - cozy, clever, Christmas, yes?

  4. You are about to make all of our holidays very bright. Wink, wink, nod, nod. xoxoxo

  5. This really puts you in the holiday it!!!!

  6. such a cozy post!

    also, i can't wait for our shoot next week. xo

  7. Sunday, just beautiful as always. Looking forward to your inspirations coming into the spring season.
    Penny Shaffer