The recipe box on the kitchen counter, and the dozens of cookbooks in the cupboard started calling to me several weeks ago, and with good intentions I began planning what I might produce for the Christmas season.
I dug through my Christmas baking supplies box and made a list of what I would need to make the Christmas cakes, the pudding, some favourite slices, a cookie or two and even some fudge that will be given to friends and families as a waist-expanding gesture of our love and friendship.
I did a bit of baking last Christmas but I confess the local bake sales helped me as I dithered over when to bake and when to read a good Christmas novel or watch a Hallmark Christmas movie. Therefore, I did not realize there would be an almost-insurmountable impediment to my best intentions this year.
Certainly, I watch and listen to the news and know that prices have gone up and gone up again. I refused to pay $7 for a grumpy looking cauliflower the other day, noting it was mostly leaves and the parts that were supposed to be white were already brown.
But once I reached the baking products aisles, it was a moment of horror as I calculated how much it would cost to produce the family’s traditional Christmas cake. With only half the ingredients available on the shelf that particular day, I had already spent $84. Yikes.
Maybe I won’t make two batches this year and will pare down the list of folks who each year receive a slice or two of homebaked Christmas cake. I then wondered if they actually enjoy the cake or are simply being polite, pretending to be delighted with our gift. That is a question I can’t politely ask. What if they told me they hated the cake and re-gifted it to a neighbour who annoys them.
But I bravely went forth to another store and Housemate searched at another until we found most of the baking ingredients required. I delved more deeply into last year’s box and found two bags of sad looking raisins. They perked up right away after I soaked them in boiling water and dried their wrinkles. No one will know the raisins have been resuscitated — well they know now but they still won’t know in which recipe I used “old” dried grapes.
Former work colleagues always gagged and made faces when I talked about the candied mixed peel that is essential to any morsel baked for Christmas. Some of that disdain must have worn off as this year it has been a challenge to find the containers of peel. One store had it on sale but by the time I got there the shelf was bare and a new delivery was not expected until the next day. The sale price was impressive too so no wonder the containers flew off the shelf.
I was more successful at another store and the clerk expressed the hope she wouldn’t run out when I mentioned my dilemma.
So, back home, I did some quick calculations and determined it would be cheaper to hang out at every bake sale in town than to try making my own cakes and cookies.
My Mother would be horrified at my stingy attitude towards baking for the season. She individually supplied all the bachelors and elderly residents of our town with buns formed into the shape of Christmas trees, cookies and some thinly-sliced Christmas cake. She kept the shortbread for our own enjoyment. And when company called, there was always Christmas cake for lunch — despite my best efforts to make sure there remained a slice or two left over for my school lunch.
One fine recent day I baked two batches of Christmas cakes, made a different recipe on the next day and now it is time to decide what recipes I won’t build this year. I certainly don’t want to waste ingredients that won’t keep year after year and have no regurgitated value. For instance, I didn’t take a chance on the expired condensed milk I found in the back of the cupboard. The colour didn’t give me any confidence that it wouldn’t ruin all those other more expensive cake additives. So it went to the condensed milk heaven.
Before doing much more planning, the date for a major bake sale is marked on the calendar. Thus I will set off on a mission to fill containers with home-baked goodness — and I won’t ask the age of the raisins.
It might be just as expensive baking this way, but sharing Scott Moe’s cheque means it is the sweetest thing he has ever done for me. Those other bakers will thank me.
Joyce Walter can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the position of this publication.