Monday, 10 January 2011

Christmas in kitchen

Christmas in my memories is always entwined with the scent of vanilla rolls, cinnamon and chocolate.
Kitchen full of pots, pans, flour, sugar, salt and sweet aroma that attracted my entire family from the snow in the yard to Gramma's kitchen, where she was in charge with her wooden spoon.
Christmas was traditionally celebrated in my family, and even when that was not desirable, Gramma took me to the midnight mass and we were decorating Christmas tree with small silver balls and cotton swabs which symbolized the snow.
Christmas preparations actually always started my Granpa, who had the task to choose a suckling pig, small, not too greasy or too skinny, so that when it was finally roasted it had a tasty, crunchy, reddish-brown crust.
Formerly, my Granpa along with my dad, used to roast that piggy at home, watching the fire and grilling it, sitting by the fire until the piggy was done. However, later Granpa to cut out his misery because of Gramma's supervision, decided to bring the piggy to a bakery to be roasted in the baker's oven.
Meanwhile, my Gramma was deciding, when to start to bake and cook for the Christmas.
Traditionally, she made „macaron“ - a finger thick loaf of hard bread, that is served in a special way - cubed, poured with boiling water and spiced with piggy's grease, served together with the beetroot salad or French salad.
Never during the year Gramma made French salad, only for Christmas, so my whole family could not wait for this bowl of colorful vegetables in mayonnaise finally come to the table.
Even today, when my Mom makes „macaron it, the scent remindes me of Gramma's kitchen.
It smelled in her kitchen, especially during the winter, some fine meal or drink, and when she wasn't cooking, pine or oak smelled, because my Gramma's stove was actually an antique wood stove.
Special attention my Gramma was giving Christmas cakes.
Always, always, each and every Christmas, my Gramma was making traditional nut-cake Nuts and chocholate cake. Gramma was weighing with unerring accuracy ingredients for a traditional nut-cake, and putting them together in a soft, savory pastry stuffed with nuts and rum. Nuts and chocholate slices Gramma was making as a combination of crust baked on low heat and stuffed with walnuts and jam, coated with rich chocholate topping.
Then of course, she was making vanilla cookies, tea cookies, Londoner cakes, all kinds of small scenty, colorful cookies, which I was, together with Gramma, stuffing and decorating with jam, or dipping into a chocolate dip and then licked my fingers.
It goes without saying that everyone, from my Granpa and dad to my brother, was every now and then entering the kitchen, drawn by that fantastic smell of Christmas cakes and to get some crust for tasting from Gramma.
Each of these cakes were preserved in one cool room, where there was no heating, and later, when they were all ready, and when Gramma would put them all on the large round plates, I was often going into that room to admire the colors of Christmas cakes and forms that have emerged from her kitchen.
On Christmas day, Gramma had everything ready. Special attention had the table. There was bowl, filled with grain - corn, wheat, oats - symbolizing fertility and desire for prosperity in the coming yearand of course 4 Advent candles.
The dinner always began with a single, somewhat unfamiliar custom. My Gramma, after the obligatory prayers, which would usually start my Granpa or Dad, served garlic and honey, saying the "Who does not take garlic and honey, looks to the Devil!". We had to take a clove of garlic and a spoon of honey, to give us the Christmas and next year filled with life spice, sharp as garlic, yet sweet as honey.
After that, on table started to arrive Gramma's delicacies - a fragrant and hearty soups, homemade sausages, baked or boiled, roast pork, bean salads, so imaptiently awaited French salad, beetroot salad, side dishes and finally a plate of beautiful, scenty, appealing little cakes.

This year I will continue the tradition, and prepare a traditional nut-cake for Christmas and the whole bunch of small cookies in memory of my grandmother.

Autumn in the kitchen

Autumn, the color-rich autumn, in the kitchen of my Gramma meant a time of preparation for winter.
At the end of summer, when all the passion of the summer sun and embers slowly cease, my Gramma pickled cucumbers in nice glass jars, jar by jar, as she brought them from the garden - fresh, small and green.
She pickled peppers, as well – big, round, meaty yellow ones, then red pointy ones we called „horns“, she was baking chutneys and jams and the kitchen was entvined with aroma of roasted peppers, with rich smells of vinegar, pepper and salt. Gramma candied apricots and baked plum jam, made apple, cherry or walnut liqueur along ... preparing her pantry for late fall and winter.
All of that was so interesting to watch, I felt a bit like a hamster, bringing together with Gramma all those jars and bottles in the pantry and putting them on shelves sometimes by color, sometimes by the type of vegetables and fruits and sometimes by size.

Jolly events in the yard was brought by chestnuts and beaujolais. We would all gather around the old stove in the backyard and talked, while Granpa was cutting the chestnuts and fried them in some old pan, stirring them every few minutes and grilled with passion.
Gramma was pouring beaujolais, which would be usually brought by someone of our neighbors since my family did not have grape-vineyard. Even I used to get a glass of that sweet, aromatic juice that is just about to become wine.

However, the most interesting events of autumn, for me, were brought by plums.
Plums, blue as the sea, was full of drums and barrels. My Granpa baked brandy, together with my dad and uncle. All three of them were smartassing about what's brandy like this year and would it be better to make double-baked brandy this year or not and whether this year's neighbor George's brandy is better than ours. They were talking and talking, laughing and drinking and a boiler for the brandy was whiffing and fuming, brandy was pouring out bringing joy and laughter in the yard, where the neighbors gathered mainly in the evening and smartassing whose brandy is better.

Meanwhile, Gramma had her own "concern" with plums. I loved, and still adore dumplings with plums. So simple dish, but so underappreciated. I was rolling, together with Gramma, dumplings, tucking the plums in soft potato dough and so imapatiently waiting the first ocassion when Gramma will cook them.

And then, that wonderful smell of plum jam. Cooked jam or baked jam, as Gramma decided that year. The kitchen was covered with rich, full scent of plums, cinnamon, lemon and rum. My Gramma looked a bit like a witch, stirring constantly the plum jam, entvined with a cloud of aromatic steam.
I've had a task to put a pickled ring of lemon on top of each jar of jam, then close them all and "tuck" in a blanket so they could gradually cooled until the morning.
Even today, the most tasty part of the plum jam is that lemon ring, infused with the aroma of plums, reminding me how cheerful and colorful fall was in the kitchen of my Gramma.