It’s all a bit chaotic here at the moment, those precious early first hours of the morning of the past month are no longer for knitting but instead have given way to embroidering and hand sewing (too early to use the sewing machine as I’d wake half the house) … in between trying to keep my Folksy shop stocked up and the weekly Christmas fairs about to start, I’m getting a bit fraught and frazzled, feeling I’ve not made enough but barely being able to carry what I have made with me when I do a test run….and my first fair (which is a two day affair) is only a week away.
Tiny pieces of felt cut out and all ready to applique on the stockings and snippets of embroidery thread are trailed around the house, pinned pieces are put down in between making pots of tea only to wonder where the devil I’ve put them (the times I’ve checked my elbows to find the wool felt stuck to a cardigan sleeve)…when it all gets too much I head outside, the marshes are bit boggy so I have to keep to the path rather than go off over the meadows but it’s just enough to blow the cobwebs away, get a breath of air before another sewing session…
When I’m sewing early in the morning I’m aware of every noise, every creak of the scissors or the clink of them being placed down on the table, the delicate clutter and scrape of pins moving about…even the sound of the thread being pulled through the thick wool blanket fabric, a low dragging sound which I never seem to notice in the day time….trying hard not to wake anyone else….
In the middle of all this I decided to make some gingerbread and a couple of days later I can still smell a faint waft of spices and treacle in the kitchen….the gingerbread came out really well, very dark, sticky and so spicy scented (I use both fresh and dry ginger, plenty of cinnamon and a good dash of clove go in too….and rather than chop the fresh ginger I like to use a ginger grater which you can buy at health food shops or at an Asian foodstore. There’s something about making it which calms me right down, just opening the cupboard doors and seeing those familiar tins of golden syrup and treacle…green,gold and red tins which I grew up seeing in our pantry and also when I’d go up the road to Nanny’s house, she’d also have them tucked away on a shelf. Tins of comfort….oh Tate and Lyle please never ever change them.
The smell of melting butter, syrup, treacle and sugar, the soft warm aroma of spices from far far away (well to be fair I buy all mine from Gareth and Jane on Norwich Market but it’s lovely to imagine the hot and exotic lands they come from)….lining a baking tin, mixing in cream and eggs, flour….stiring and making wishes (I always make a wish with gingerbread)……then just letting it sit quietly in a warm oven where it slowly rises and fills the whole house with the smile inducing, “this is the smell of Winter” scent of spices and sugar…..
I’m very generous with the amount of spices I use, evoking proper old European spice cakes (rather than an insipid flavouring added in high street coffee shops) and then make a thick lemon juice icing to be spread on top (in my eyes gingerbread is medicinal, it doesn’t count as cake and the more spices and lemon juice in there , well the better it is for you.)…I also add a couple of tablespoons of dried rose petals which are ground really fine that I can dust them in like icing sugar….no one ever can tell they are in there but I’m aware when I don’t use them.
In my mind I associate gingerbread so much more with The Brothers Grimm or other European folk and fairy tales than Christmas time really, it’s the smell and scent of those stories…..I only make it in the Winter months (I can’t imagine eating it in the Summer…nope, just tried and screwed my face up with the very idea of…) and once I make the first sticky, spicy scented batch of cake then I feel like my Winter has begun, we might not always have snow, but I’ll always have a batch of dark, treacley gingerbread in a tin in the kitchen.
So the first “spell” of Winter has been cast…the gingerbread is out of the oven and as the scent of spices and warm baking fills the house, so does the feeling of calm and happiness. The pace of the sewing slows, becomes a little less frantic, a little less fraught.