Monday, December 14, 2009
Childhood Memories of Christmas in Charlottetown
This, of course, is not a picture of one of our trees in Charlottetown, but the feeling of Christmas is the same. With Christmas approaching and Advent well underway, it reminds me of special times as a child in Prince Edward Island. In those days, the 1940s, we nearly always had snow for Christmas. It was more unusual not to have it than it is having it today.
Our father--I was one of five daughters--loved the Christmas season. Our mother did as well, but because she had so much to do before the big day, Dad was the one who did special things with us. Mom baked all our favourite cookies, made fruit cake weeks ahead and made our very favourite--fudge--a week or so beforehand--all of it put away in tins until Christmas Eve.
A long-awaited outing each year was going with Dad to Holman's store to visit the Christmas toy department on the second floor. How excited my sister Carol and I were! We didn't get toys and presents throughout the year as kids today do. Our birthdays and Christmas were mainly it for presents, though for Easter and school closing day we usually had new clothes and shoes. But Christmas was for toys! Somehow we knew, without being told, that we couldn't have everything we saw, but we would get a few things we really wanted. So up and down those aisles we went, looking at everything and weighing the pros and cons of what was most important to us. Dad, no doubt, was taking note of what we liked!
We also eagerly awaited the Eaton's Christmas catalogue with pages of toys to exclaim over. It would take quite some time to look at each page and to decide what we would like. We learned to make priorities, as we didn't want to miss out on a much-wanted item by picking something not so important.
Santa found out what we wanted at Holman's store as he was always there on the day we visited it. But he also found out from the letter we wrote him and sent up the chimney. We would write it and Dad would light the fireplace and tell us to throw it in (but not before he looked at it himself!). We would race to the dining room window and watch for the smoke and what we thought was our letter flying off to the North Pole. The letter would be answered on CFCY, the Charlottetown radio station (I think the only radio station on the Island at that time), as every night before Christmas Santa was there to answer all the letters. We would be listening for our names to be read and they always were.
Here is my version of golden fudge This recipe was my mother's, but my mother's sister, our Aunt Beth, made this sometimes on a rainy day in Georgetown, PEI, when we all were children. Dad also loved fudge, so sometimes he made it. Aunt Beth called hers "penuche." My mother called hers "white fudge." I call mine "golden" because of its colour and also because of those long-ago golden summer days. Penuche calls for cream and milk; I use only milk. This recipe may be halved.
While Mom baked and made the candy, we enjoyed another special day each year on the Sunday about two weeks before Christmas. Dad would take Carol and me on our sleigh through Chaarlottetown to the Experimental Farm to collect some spruce boughs. Our other sisters were quite a bit younger so didn't go in the early years with us, though Judith did one year. We thought the Farm was out in the country, and I guess it was then, but it really wasn't that far.
Once we arrived at our destination, Dad would go underneath a fence and cut some boughs while Carol and I waited beside the sleigh. I think we both felt a little nervous that he would get caught! He never did and maybe they wouldn't have cared. But we felt relieved when he crawled back to our side of the fence. We'd pile the sleigh high with the boughs and at the end of the afternoon would trudge home, tired and cold, but happy. Mom would have a hot supper ready for us on our return. During our absence, she had not been idle; that was the day she did some of the Christmas baking.
After supper, Dad would start making the wreaths for all our windows. We would help him by getting the red tissue paper ready for the bows at the bottom of them. The smell of spruce, the baking, the warm house and our parents' love for us have kept those memories alive. Each year I relive that time in my life for a few moments as I'm sure my sisters do as well.
Below, baked and iced Scotch cake on a plate with the Prince Edward Island tartan.
Note: I rarely use oatmeal in mine as it doesn't seem to make much difference. I use all-purpose flour in Germany but I think it is slightly heavier than the Canadian; however, you can likely use it (without sifting).
Method: My mother's recipe just says, "Knead very lightly until soft!" Here is what I do:
Cream butter and the brown sugar and icing sugar together well in a large bowl (you can use your mixer). Mix the dry ingredients together lightly; work them into the butter mixture. You can use the mixer after they are worked in. Knead lightly until the dough is soft and getting pliable. This takes a little time. I usually do part of this in the bowl and then I dump it onto a floured surface and knead until it can be molded a little into a square or rectangle. Roll it out to desired thickness (with a floured rolling pin), about 1/4 inch to 1/2 inch. Make sure it is even throughout. Cut it into squares or diamonds. Place on greased and floured pan (or on baking paper in the pan). Chill. Bake in 350F/180C oven until light brown, from 12 to 15 minutes. (They should never be too brown.)
Ice them if wished. My mother always put large dabs of green or pink icing on top of each Scotch cake. Just mix some icing sugar and butter together until creamed, but not too creamy; add a little hot water and mix well. Hans's suggestion: Add some lemon juice to taste as it gives some contrast. I do and it is a nice addition. Or you can add the lemon juice directly to the creamed sugar and butter and just a drop or two of hot water if needed. Add only enough so that it isn't too soft for adding to the top of the Scotch cake. I usually need more icing sugar as it is sometimes too runny; make sure you have more in readiness just in case.