This time fifteen years ago, I spent Christmas in Grahamstown. I have to think very hard to remember what we did for Christmas lunch. It was the first Christmas without my mother who had died a week earlier. My focus was on my grieving father who had lost the love of his life. His world, as he had known it for more than forty-odd years, had changed forever. So had mine.
My mother and I were not close and I don’t think we understood each other. That said, the time she is most “around” is at Christmas – even now. It was the only time of year that she baked. And what she baked was all to please Dad. For years there were four different things: sultana cake, black bun, mince pies and shortbread. I cannot remember the last time she made the first two; I also don’t remember the last time, before her death, that I was with them for Christmas.
Mum’s shortbread recipe is in the book she started the year she got married. Mine is in the recipe book that she gave me the year I left home, at the end of that year, and the only time she and Dad spent Christmas in my home. Like hers, my recipe came off the back of the pack of one of the key ingredients – cornflour – maizena in this country.
Funny that I cooked shortbread in “her” oven: we inherited her stove and I baked shortbread in that oven until we moved into a house that had a built-in hob and we had to sell Mum’s stove.
Anyway, as Christmas approached, I knew that I was going to make shortbread – for us and – to sell at the market. I have long toyed with the idea of flavouring my shortbread – lavender was popular a few years ago – and inspired by these Sundried Tomato and Rosemary Shortbread cookies, I experimented.
I was not intending to go savoury, so it was to be a case of simply adding the herb. The challenge was the quantity – rosemary is really strong and can go bitter if it’s burnt or over done.
Perhaps, but for an amateur, not really.
When the shortbread was ready to go into the oven, I took a deep breath and hoped that I hadn’t wasted all the ingredients, other than a teaspoon of chopped rosemary! Rosemary grows in abundance in our garden…
It worked! The resident taster approved. And it was well received at the McGregor Christmas market yesterday.
I’m not sure that either Mum or Dad would have approved of the experiment: besides their both being purists, Dad wasn’t fond of “new fangled ideas” and was even less fond of herbs (other than garlic) – especially if he’d been told they’d been added!
As I was planning our Christmas menu, and thinking about this mini-triumph, I began thinking about that Christmas, fifteen years ago, and three women who, during the course of this year, lost their husbands, including Mum’s sister who had been married to her “dear Don” for 57 years. For them, their children, including my cousins, and their children, this will be a bitter sweet Christmas. Time does help. It doesn’t bring people back and the ghosts come and go, often when one least expects them. I have learned to make friends with them, especially at this time of the year when they are often around.