As this is going to be a Homemade Christmas we had better start this afternoon. My advice for the weekends leading up to the Great Event is to begin with a stash of audio books to entertain your ears while your hands are nimbly at it with sellotape and scissors, pastry cutters and kegs of mince-meat.
I like making mince pies and my recipe is nicer and easier than most, but it cannot be done without Fiona Shaw reading Alice in Wonderland. Following the MadHatter’s Budget Party this week, Alice in Wonderland is the ideal listening for those of us who now know – really know, not just in our boots, but right down to our handknitted Santa Socks, that this Government makes up the rules as they go along. Plan? Prudence? Prosperity? This is the Queen’s croquet-ground… ‘ They all quarrel so dreadfully, and they don’t seem to have any rules in particular – at least, if there are, nobody attends to them.’
Chapter Eleven – Who Stole the Tarts? Is of course the question we are asking, as Gordon Brown had assured us that we were in a jam today and jam tomorrow world, and now some damn knaves have been running round with sticky fingers, and there are no tarts left.
Therefore, we will make our own.
PREP: Turn on audio book. Pour small glass of beautifully cold dry white wine – an Alsace is good for the afternoons, and favoured by Hemingway, (see A Moveable Feast, his recollections of living in Paris as a young man).
Take a pound of plain flour (450g) and mix it with four ounces of white vegetable fat (100g) till it looks like breadcrumbs. Have a drink. Throw in about four tablespoons of water and mix the lot to a sticky paste. Put this in the fridge to cool off unless you have already turned off all your heating, Scrooge-style, in which case just put on an extra muffler and leave the dough in the bowl.
The next half hour can be spent making a list of all the books you want for Christmas. More wine is called for.
When you are satisfied that the pastry is cold, get out your Punch and Judy rolling pin, flour it, and flour the surface you will roll on, then fling down the dough, and by now you should be at a Karaoke moment with Fiona Shaw, and somewhere near ‘Off with their Heads!’ Roll out your pastry nice and thin – more Oliver Twist than Sweeney Todd, and if you have a pastry cutter, use it, if not, an espresso cup is good, or something bigger if you want bigger pies, but remember that wanting bigger pies got us into all this mess in the first place.
Press your pastry cut-outs into a moulded pie tin. Now you need to fill and top your pies
If you want Poetic Pies, drop in a sensitive amount of mincemeat, then get a star-shaped cutter. Think pie in the sky – a little vision, like Dante gazing at Beatrice, (though I do not mean to compare Beatrice to a mince pie). If you want Post-Modern Pies, then dollop in quite a lot of mince-meat, perhaps audaciously slopping it over the edge of the case, and just cut out two provocative strips of pastry and cross them over the top – self-consciously artificial, but revealing all, like Michel Houllebeq. If you want a Bestseller Pie, then fill generously, but make a thick lid and seal the edges with fingertips of brandy. Dust with icing sugar.
Now you can cook them for fifteen minutes or freeze them uncooked for later.
To avoid a Great Expectations Mrs Joe Gargary moment as she is about to go on the Ram-page at poor Pip and Joe, ‘A slave with her apron never off…’ don’t make mince- pies past the moment of pleasure. These are luxuries not necessities, and you have to enjoy yourself. Whip off the apron in time, and take another tip from Hemingway, who I don’t suppose ever made a mince-pie in his life, but can be counted on to make us all feel better about the amount we drink. Another of his afternoon tipples was Chambery Kir, and it really is delicious, and after all, he won the Nobel Prize.
Kir at hand, you might want to sink back in the armchair, before you start on the homemade Christmas cards, and listen to Richard Burton reading Dylan Thomas’s Under Milk Wood.
That’s what I’ll be doing around five o’clock, with a Poetic Pie.