Friday, October 23, 2009
Yielding the Pen: Pigtown Design
The blogsophere has been graced by some remarkably brilliant and generous movers. One needing no introduction, Meg, of Pigtown Design is welcomed to Blushing Hostess today as the first guest of the holiday season.
Aside from her professional and blog work, Meg is a chief organizer of April Food Day to fight hunger in the United States, a worthy recipient of Southern Accent Magazine's Miss Gracious Living recognition, and in general, a friend of this planet and every creature on it.
Please join me in welcoming Meg as she takes on a visit to her holiday memories, and do kindly drop by Pigtown for a visit.
My memories of the holidays have always been ones of my American mother and my English father, combining their traditions to make new ones. Ones which their four children have continued in their own unique ways.
About five weeks before Christmas, my father began making the traditional Christmas cake, an English fruit cake steeped in loads of booze. Currants, raisins, fruit peel, molasses, brown sugar, white sugar and eggs were all mixed in a huge yellow-ware bowl that my parents found on an antiquing trip. My father used his father’s recipe, which my siblings and I all have now. The cake was wrapped in a cloth and every few days, it was soaked with brandy or whisky.
In mid-December, my mother went into major cookie-making mode. She would usually make the same cookies each year – gingerbread, sandtarts, oatmeal lace, Florentines and Jan Hagel. Some years, she’d try a new variety, and if we liked it, she’d add it to the list. We had a lot of tins where we stored the cookies, and they were marked with the name of the cookie, so we’d know which one to grab for a late night snack.
When we moved to our house at St. John’s, the site of our huge family and friends party on Christmas night, we always took extra care to decorate it beautifully. I was always the child who helped with the decorations.
On the large front porch, there were several sets of columns, which we wrapped in pine garland. For several years, I made a Williamsburg style lemons and oranges, apples and pineapple and a magnolia leaf display. One year, it was unexpectedly warm and all of the fruit started dripping.
In the front hallway, we had two mahogany columns, which were also wrapped in pine garland. A swag of garland was hung over the large fireplace in the living room. For many years, we would go cut our tree, which we placed in a corner of the living room. My parents collected ornaments during their travels, and they knew and shared the story of each one. Other ornaments were handmade by artistic friends.
On Christmas night, we always had a huge party, each of the children inviting their friends and our parents inviting theirs. It was a multi-generational gathering, with everyone arriving festively dressed and bearing small presents.
We always had a fully-stocked bar set up in the butler’s pantry and there was beer for the kids and their friends, usually something like Bass in a nod towards my father’s heritage. My father would mix up a batch of eggnog, spiking it with bourbon and sprinkling the top with freshly-grated nutmeg.
The food was a mix of traditional southern and English fare. We’d get a Smithfield ham, but we’d also have roast beef with English mustard, which looked pretty tame, but had a real kick. There would be artichoke and crab dip in a silver chafing dish and a family favourite, celery with bleu and cream cheese piped into it and sprinkled with paprika, served in an old cut crystal dish.
The table was set with china, silver and crystal and all of the candles were lit. There was always a fire in the fireplace in the living room and also in the library.
On the sideboard, there would be an assortment of my mother’s cookies and my father’s Christmas cake. By this time, the cake had been coated with a layer of marzipan or almond paste, and then a covering of pure white royal icing, with silver dragees strewn across the surface.
Looking back, I realize that one of the reasons the party was always such a success for so many years, was because of the multi-generational mix of guests. It was not unusual to see one of my brother’s friends chatting with my 90-year old cousin who was a Federal judge, or one of my parents’ artist friends telling my friends stories of her life in Paris.
Mixing and mingling with a guest list that ranged from nine weeks old to 90 years old helped us become comfortable having conversations with all ranges of people. It helped us all learn how to host a party and understand all of the work that went into making it special for our guests.
Most of all, it showed us what the holidays are all about – spending time with family and friends.