November 25, 2016 § 2 Comments
It’s 9.35pm on a perfect Friday night. I have tea, a favourite magazine and I’m in bed reading about other people’s Christmas celebrations while the rain falls softly and steadily outside.
I’ve not felt very festive this year, which is odd for me. I adore Christmas. I love the music and lights and family, the fun and the food.
And as I read through the article before me I’m suddenly assailed by an intense desire to make soetkoekies, those simple, plain butter biscuits of my childhood. I remember that I hate baking biscuits. But the urge for soetkoekies is so strong that I drag myself out of bed and head for the kitchen.
I turn to my mother’s recipe. Ten cups of flour, and seven eggs. I groan. But I do the maths and make about two-sevenths of the recipe, which I later discover will yield about four dozen biscuits.
I mix the dough – just butter, sugar, flour, eggs, vanilla and a pinch of salt. Almost anything tastes better if you add a pinch of salt. I load up the cookie press – that labour-saving imposter of the kitchen – and I begin to press out the shapes. Kerclack, kerclack, kerklack…
And then I remember. Making biscuits meant the start of the Christmas holidays. School would brea up today, and tomorrow meant biscuit baking. And not just soetkoekies from this enormous recipe, which I now calculate will make 14-15 dozen biscuits in total; there are but two other enormous recipes as well. Oats biscuits and my other favourite, coconut biscuits.
My mother had the world’s most impressive biscuit tins. They were two to three times as tall as any others, and by the end of that marathon baking session, they were bursting at their painted metal seams. We had biscuits till New Year at least, and no-one who visited ever had to suffer the ignominy of a ‘dry’ cup of tea.
But as I make the familiar movement with the cookie press, producing the shapes that adorn tables at kerkbasaars across the country, I realise why I hate baking biscuits so much. First, the damned cookie press produces too much variance in shape for a perfectionist like me, and it requires refilling far too often. Second, you spend the first three days of your summer holiday baking almost 50 dozen biscuits and see how you feel…
But as the familiar aroma fills the kitchen, and I take out the first tray, I smile. Because now my home, my new home, is getting its first hint of Christmas in this simplest of family rituals.
And somewhere, I’m certain, my mother is smiling with me.