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.
Fudge is easy to make but tricky to know when it should come off the heat; it's also tricky to know just when you should pour it into the pan or dish to harden.  Use a candy thermometer to check for readiness when still simmering.  I always use the "testing of the hot syrup on a cold dish" and that works for me.  It should cook to the soft ball stage; not a runny ball but one you can form into a soft ball.  

To pour into the pan to harden, make sure you do that while it is still soft enough.  It's a judgment call.  If it hardens on you before you can pour it into the prepared dish, place it over the heat just long enough to melt it; stir it quickly, remove from the heat and pour it into the pan immediately.  (That happened to me with this batch after I added the nuts, but it turned out perfectly.)

Ingredients and Method:
1-1/2 cups brown sugar; 1-1/2 cups white sugar; 1 Tbsp corn syrup, 1 cup milk.  Butter and vanilla.  Nuts if wished:  walnuts, hazelnuts/filberts or almonds.  Butter well a pie plate or other pan.

Add the sugar, syrup and milk to a sauce pan (deep enough so it won't boil over).  Place over medium heat.  Stir right from the beginning and constantly until it starts to boil.  Lower the heat and let it simmer, without stirring (not even once).  Don't bother to test it until the syrup has started to lower into the pot; this will take some time.  Put a small dish into the freezer to get cold. 

Start to test.  If you use a thermometer, it should be ready when the thermometer reads about 110F to 112F.  Using a spoon, place a few drops onto the cold plate; if still runny, keep it simmering.  When it has reached the soft ball stage, remove from the heat.  Add a chunk of butter about the size of a small egg or bit smaller.  Let the syrup cool.  Add 1 teaspoon of vanilla.  Beat vigorously until the fudge is thick but still pourable.  Add any nuts you wish, stir quickly and then pour into a buttered dish or pie plate.  Set it aside to harden but score into squares before it gets too hard. 

Note:  If you would like to make chocolate fudge instead, just add 3 tablespoons of cocoa to the sugar--I always use less brown sugar when making chocolate, about 2 cups white sugar and 1 cup brown sugar.  Stir the sugar and cocoa together, and then add the milk and continue cooking as given above.   Something to keep in mind,which makes it easier to remember the recipe:  it is always three to one; 3 cups sugar and 3 Tbsp cocoa to 1 cup milk.

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.

Here is a recipe for my mother's Scotch cake that she made only at Christmas.  Today most call it shortbread.  The recipe was given to her by her next-door neighbour, Georgie MacDonald, in the 1930s.  It is likely much older than that as Georgie likely received it from her mother.  I now live in Germany but I make Scotch cake every year and give some of them to our German neighbours and to our special Gasthaus families as a small Christmas gift.  Germans make some wonderful Christmas cookies and sweets, but not shortbread or Scotch cake.
Mom's and Georgie's Scotch Cake:  1/2 lb butter (1 cup); 1/4 cup brown sugar; 1/4 cup powdered sugar (icing sugar); 2 and 1/4 cups sifted bread flour; 1 teaspoon oatmeal (optional); 1 teaspoon cornstarch.
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.

1 comment:

  1. Dear Janet,
    Such wonderful memories! and I do remember! I was allowed to ask for one toy, and, because my favourite thing was 'playing house', I always asked for a doll. I did get a couple of other things but I dreamed of a new doll for weeks before Christmas every year and I was never disappointed. My memories of the experimental farm were of apple season where we stocked up each year. I too had a nagging feeling that something was not right about taking them. But no one ever said anything !! So I guess it was OK. I have another special memory of my uncle Jack taking me skating on the Hillsborough river on a year when Dad was overseas. He was so big and strong that I felt like I was flying on air through a magical land.
    I also have a recipe for 'scotch cake' hand written by Mum in a 1948 year book stamped 'B.H. Hughes' Fire, Life, automobile, Liability Insurance. I'm sure you know who that is. Until the next time.....Love, Jane