Sunday, 24 December 2017

Christmas Bakery

A few days ago I watched a programme on how some of our Christmas foods and decorations are made. The presenter was guided around the vast factory complex, to follow the making of hundreds of thousands of mince pies, from delivery of the ingredients through to the finished product. The flour arrived by the truck-load and the pastry ingredients went into giant steel vats where huge paddles stirred it into malleable dough. Small thick circles of pastry were dropped into the pie compartments and pressed into pie base shapes. The preparation of the mincemeat filling showed sack after sack of currants, raisins, sultanas and fruit pieces being emptied down enormous chutes, shovel loads of spices going down as well, and a quite small amount of concentrated orange essence. The mixture was boiled, rested and matured to let the flavours soak into the fruit, and then pumped* down pipes for final squirting into the cooked cases. The pastry lids went on and the mince pies* continued along the conveyor, through the oven, and finally on to the packing* department. Having seen all this, if I now see an advert* showing a craftsman lovingly putting one lid on one mince pie for me to buy, I shall not be taken in, although producing the pies by the hundred thousand per day is obviously a skilled craft in itself.

* "pumped" Omits the lightly-sounded P sound

* "mince pies" A phrase, therefore the first word "mince" is on the line

* "packing" Helpful to insert first vowel, as it is similar to "baking"

* "advert" Helpful to insert first vowel, as it is similar to the short form "advertise/ment"

The following evening I watched another Christmas food programme. This was the exact opposite, four bakers being sent back in time to make Christmas baked goods as they were produced throughout the 19th century, using a brick oven in a small bakery in an open-air museum village, which contains examples of shops and premises of past eras. The mince pie ingredients have changed over time*, and the early ones contained minced meat*, and so were actually spiced and sweetened meat pies. The guest bakers made both the rich expensive version, and the poor version for those at the very bottom of the social scale. The rich version contained more meat, and after tasting both types, the bakers seemed to prefer the poor version, being closer to our present-day meatless ones, although with vastly inferior ingredients.

* "over time" If not written clearly above the line, insert the first vowel to clarify, so it is not misread as "every time"

* "minced meat" An example of the necessity to listen very closely, to hear the T at the end of "minced", and, in a work situation, check with the speaker as to which was said

It was very interesting to follow the history and gradual* introduction of our so-called* traditional Christmas fare that we have nowadays. Its beginnings seemed more like a midwinter feast, almost another harvest festival, to brighten up the cold dark days of winter. The most appealing to me was the iced Twelfth Night cake, a fruit cake covered in white meringue icing, and richly decorated with fruit, flowers and little figures and sceneries on top made of painted hard icing. I spent much of my childhood Christmas holidays making up snow scenes out of cotton wool*. Our own Christmas cakes had plastic snowmen, robins, holly* sprigs and fir trees spiked into the top, and a red frilly-edged ribbon tied around it. I was always careful* to save them all for use in my snow scenes, and a growing collection of them would  emerge each Christmas season, invariably with tiny bits of last year’s icing still attached. The all-out favourite was the tiny sledge and rider, because I could put it on some fresh icing and pull it through to make the track marks. This was the next best thing to having lots of snow and a real sledge that ran down the hill leaving the same marks.

* "gradual" Note distinguishing outline for "gradually" to differentiate it from "greatly"

* "so-called" Full outline for "called" to enable the join, normally a short form

* "cotton-wool" Full strokes for "cotton" to enable the WL stroke to join, normally would have N Hook

* "holly" Helpful to insert last vowel, so it does not look like "whole"

* "careful/carefully" Optional contraction

I am wondering whether I can actually concentrate properly* on the appearance and flavours of the Christmas day mince pie after seeing its journey of creation in the programme. I will do my best to do justice to it, after its long and monotonous passage along so many conveyors, in and out of ovens, underneath showers of icing sugar dusting, past the eagle eyes of the quality control workers and into the packages bound for the supermarket. It deserves better than being just one of millions on the production line. I will ensure that it will at last have a life and home of its own, in a friendly and cosy family atmosphere, dripping with glowing golden* coloured custard and a dollop of ice cream. Then its end will come, and there will be absolutely not a crumb* of it left in the dish. (710 words)

* "properly" Always insert the dash vowel, and the diphone in "appropriately", as these are similar in outline and meaning

* "glowing golden" Always insert the diphone in "glowing" to prevent misreading as "golden"

* "crumb" Helpful to insert the vowel, as "cream" also goes with mince pies