“We wish you a Merry Christmas, We wish you a Merry Christmas … for the last 35 years, it has been a family tradition to march into a darkened room singing this song while carrying a flaming platter of plum pudding. Although we are not British, I adopted it some years back when gourmet cooking became all the rage for bored housewives living in suburbia.
Lucky me had a successful, well-off husband who insisted I not work and that I spend my time lunching and shopping at I. Magnin’s, Gump’s, Sloan’s, and The Emporium; exclusive San Francisco department stores. When the Emporium offered gourmet cooking classes, I signed up for the series, the first of which was a traditional English Christmas dinner taught by a British version of Julia Child.
I can still hear this 6’2” woman’s voice in my head once a year when I pull out the recipe. Her commanding presence, had me snapping to attention and wanting to perform perfectly as though I were a contestant on “Top Chef”!
I can hear her saying; “The secret of this recipe is accurate measurements and the highest quality ingredients, using the English method of weighing as opposed to the measuring cup method.” Where, oh where, is my food scale purchased specifically for this purpose and used only once a year in October, the recommended month for preparing the pudding?
I know I brought it to Costa Rica when we moved here. It must be in a box somewhere with the rolling pin I have yet to find. We have moved five times in less than two years; Nosara to Atenas; Atenas to Esterillos; Esterillos to Atenas, with more than one house in each place. Hmmmm … maybe it’s in a box in my parents’ bodega in Nosara along with the Chili Cook-Off paraphernalia.
I’m just going to have to cheat and use measuring cups! Actually, I had no intention of making it this year. It was just going to be the two of us until my folks, generously, decided to make the four hour drive to come to our house for Christmas. My door has always been open to “orphans” for holiday meals. In California, we usually had at least one or two guests who were isolated from family. Living in an expat community, almost everybody falls into that category. When our guest list swelled to the large category, I had thoughts of parading to the table, plum pudding aflame, belting out: “We wish you a Merry Christmas, we wish you …
I still resisted making it (it’s a pain) until I saw, in PriceSmart, bulk packages of the major ingredients: How could I NOT make it now?
Well, the other key ingredient is Guiness Stout. I kid you not. The seed was planted even though I was well past the October deadline. I had seen a bottle of Guiness last time I was at Auto Mercado in Alajuela just the other week. There was a chance it might still be there! After all, nobody really likes the stuff; not even my husband, Don, who likes dark beer. Again, the instructor’s voice in my head: (High-pitched Julia Child voice with British accent):
“You may also need a little extra stout than the recipe calls for, so it is best not to finish drinking the bottle until you have completed your pudding.”
The recipe only calls for 1/4 cup of the vile stuff. I feel compelled to drink it because it’s written in the recipe.
So, there we were sitting at Kay’s Gringo Postres just days before Christmas, having breakfast with another couple, who recently moved here from Tennessee. Partway through breakfast, I burst out: “I know, I know! Let’s go to Alajuela and see if they have the Guiness Stout!”
“Huh? said our new friend, Bill.
His wife, Jean, cocked her head: “Y’all are going to Alajuela (45 minute drive) for a bottle of beer?”
Don: “You don’t know her; she’s on a mission. It’s easier to go to Alajuela than to talk some sense into her. Besides, I don’t mind. It’ll be fun. Who knows what will happen along the way. Every time you walk out your door here, a new adventure awaits!”
So, off we went to Alajuela. I was hoping to avoid the Plum Pudding police because of not making it in October as specified in the recipe. Theoretically, it takes 2 months to cure. Having made it four days before Christmas, we are about to test that theory. We found the beer, and most of the required items, and stopped at my favorite store, Pequeno Mundo, which is more like a giant Dollar Store than Gump’s or Sloan’s, filled up a cart to the brim with necessary items for our Christmas dinner, which now has gathered enough “orphans” to justify a magnificent Plum Pudding.
This is a far cry from the early days of our expat life in Costa Rica. In the early 90s, gringo items were not readily available, so we carried everything with us, including the frozen Butterball. I can still see my son, Tyler, twelve years old at the time, carrying a twenty pound turkey in one hand, and an almost-as-heavy plum pudding in the other, boarding the plane in San Francisco. The aluminum foil roasting pan we carried the defrosting turkey in got so battered, it looked like a tin- foil ball by the time we got to Costa Rica.
In case, you’re wondering what a Plum Pudding is, the best I can say is, it’s kind of like a fruitcake. Everybody talks about it, nobody really likes it, but we do it anyway, and have fun not liking it. The best part is setting it on fire with hot brandy, marching across the darkened room and singing.
“I wish you all a Very Merry Christmas!”