The following is a true story about my Mother’s traditional English Christmas Cake…and how it saved my life and helped to sustain others….:and at the same time enhanced international relations………:)
In 1960 when I was 16 years old, my parents sent me to Holland for the summer. Travelling by ferry and train, I was to stay with friends who lived in the countryside outside of Eindhoven.
Before leaving my Mother made sure to pack some of her traditional Christmas Cake into my suitcase. No matter where I went this always happened. It was my Mother’s theory that if I got lost, or ran out of food, her cake would sustain me.
A traditional English Christmas Cake For those who are not familiar with traditional English Christmas Cake – a little more information.
My Mother made the cake months before Christmas every year. All manner of fruits and spices were mixed and liberally doused with brandy in order to preserve the cake.
During the several month standing process the cake would be fed with more alcohol during two week intervals…..then wrapped in a cheese cloth and put into a north facing pantry to settle. About two weeks before Christmas the cake would be covered in marzipan along with a thick white icing resembling snow….and then Christmas decorations added.
Given that the cake was very rich….there was always quite a lot left over….plus my Mother would make two cakes at a time….leaving one un-iced, filled with booze, waiting for any natural or man made disasters to occur!After a wonderful summer in Holland…swimming in canals with local children, riding bicycles around the countryside – stopping at farms where we were given the most delicious fresh cheese and milk straight from the cow, and of course sketching…..even back then I carried a sketch book with me. Alas, it was time to return home.
This was the sort of canal we swam in…I was put on a train heading towards the Ferry port at Calais France.
I am not sure when I realised that something was wrong…..I suppose when I arrived in Germany!!
In those days it was quite normal for trains to split – one end going to one country and the other to another, and this is what had happened. I got on the wrong end of the train.
This meant getting back on the right train, and then arriving at the Calais Ferry Terminal far too late to catch the ferry that my parents would be meeting me from at the Dover Ferry Terminal – which in turn meant a long wait.
And this is where Mother’s Traditional English Christmas Cake came into its own.
Calais France Ferry Terminal – just 29.4 miles from Dover UK. When I arrived at the Calais Terminal I joined many other young people from all around Europe sitting on the floor waiting for ferries.
Remember this was many years before fast food, mobile phones, and of course the Euro Star train – everything was simple and basic.
I was hungry as were many of my fellow travellers. I removed the tin containing Mother’s English Christmas Cake from my suit case and shared it with young people from around Europe. The Christmas cake brought us together.
Ferry docking at Dover Ferry Terminal After docking at the Dover Ferry Terminal, I found a policeman waiting for me. Clearly alerts had been sent out…..
The policeman took me and a young German boy I had befriended to the Dover Police Station. There we were given a slap up breakfast while we waited for my parents to arrive. I had assured the German boy that my parents would give him a lift to Canterbury and then he could hitch hike on to London. The German boy and I kept in touch for many years.
So what’s the moral of this story?
Be Prepared and always carry extra food – especially traditional English Christmas Cake.
(I was reminded of my story when recently a 100 year old fruit cake was found in Antarctica – perfectly preserved. I rest my case. )
In this watercolour image, Christie the Cat looks down onto the Magical Town of Crickadoon (AKA Crickhowell Wales) hoping to find a home of her own.
I hope everyone enjoys a lovely holiday season and that we can all help one another during these difficult times. Janet 🙂