Certain Christmas traditions with which I grew up seem out of place in New Zealand. There is hardly any possibility of a White Christmas; turkey with all the trimmings will leave you feeling stuffed; it’s too hot to dress up as the fat bloke in a red felt suit and a big white beard (unless you live in Wellington); and the robins look different.
So I was delighted to be invited to a great mince-pie bake off. The lovely Amanda Wooldridge of XL Coaching and the charming Anna Passera of Vivace Group were holding a contest to see who makes the best mince pies.
In a blind tasting with a glass or two of bubbly, friends and connoisseurs gathered to taste the gourmet delights. And delightful they were. I love a good mince pie and these two were fine examples. Brandy butter, custard or whipped cream are often the perfect accompaniment, but these two varieties boldly held their own without need for enhancement.
I had some insider information into the secret recipes – apparently (as the French have always maintained) the key to success is butter. In common with that other Christmas staple (mulled wine), the coup de grace is the spirit you choose to add a certain je ne sais quoi. It seems that a soupçon of whisky or Cointreau is preferred.
There has been some recent brouhaha over claims that mince pies can push you over the alcohol driving limit. To this I say pish-posh. Every second year chemistry student knows that baking alcohol means it’s not really alcohol anymore – something to do with evaporation or some such. This was exposed on BBC Radio 5 Live. Alarmingly the segment went on to condemn Christmas cake instead, for soaking up the three or four bottles of sherry that people (by which I mean my mum) pour over it in the lead-up to the big day.
I read that infamous killjoy Oliver Cromwell banned mince pies (the devil’s food or some such piffle) in 1647 and, since the law has never been revoked, it is still actually illegal to eat them in England. Obviously no one takes this seriously and they really are an institution. They are handed out as a treat at such diverse venues as trains and theatres throughout the land.
One of the big mince pie traditions, of course, involves leaving one out for Father Christmas on Christmas Eve to say thank you for filling our stockings. In our house, this used to be accompanied by a glass of sherry and a carrot for the reindeer. *Spoiler Alert* It was when I heard Dad asking if Father Christmas could have a glass of whisky instead that my doubts were aroused.
FC used to leave us clues to find our presents – we had to work for them, you understand. The clues often comprised complicated physics equations or anagrams of cabinet ministers and football teams. These were particularly challenging as Dad (I mean Father Christmas) couldn’t spell, but Dad always seemed to know what he meant – they had long chats over the mince pie and whisky, apparently. I liked to picture this for years, but really it was an obvious giveaway. That and the suspiciously familiar handwriting.