Monday 10 December 2018

Advent 2: Black Currant Vodka

The Advent Candelabra is my Christmas present from B.A.! 
Some years ago, when Polish Pretend Son expressed unhappiness at being unable to smoke indoors at certain dinner parties, I rashly promised to buy a flat he could smoke in. It was, of course, a joke. However, now that Benedict Ambrose and I have our own home there is no ordinance forbidding PPS from smoking indoors, and it does seem inhospitable to forbid it, especially after years of promising PPS he could smoke indoors when we left the Historical House.

B.A. flip-flopped on the issue. First he said "No". Then, during the merriment of a Schola dinner party on Friday night, he said "Yes."  Then on Sunday he said, "Pipes only."  And, thus, PPS went out for his customary cigarette between meat and pudding, and then when pudding (piernik [gingerbread cake] & mazurek kr√≥lewski  [ornate jam tart] ) was sufficiently demolished, no fewer than three guests lit their pipes.

Welcome to Traddieland.

The fact that we are no longer at the Historical House is most dramatically illustrated by fire. For nine years, we could not light a match indoors, lest Scotland's Treasure burn to the ground. Not only could no-one smoke indoors (and indeed had to go down three flights of old stone staircase to smoke outdoors), we could not light candles, not even on a birthday cake.

I bought my first box of matches in over a decade at Tesco on Saturday, and (excluding the gas hob) fire was introduced to our home yesterday evening when we lit two purple Advent candles on the dining-room table. And then, after the carrot soup, the roast chicken, roast potatoes, gravy and peas--and PPS's cold outdoor cigarette break--I lit two numerical candles on PPS's gingerbread birthday cake. From the expression on his face, I guessed PPS had mixed feelings about his age confronting him in candle form.

"Can you believe PPS is [redacted]?" I wailed later to the Schola Bass. "He used to be 23!"

"I never think that way," said the Schola Bass cheerfully and took his Hobgoblin beer to the sitting-room so I could clear up.

This morning I counted the bottles. We were expecting seven guests, but in the end we had only five. The seven of us still managed to get through three bottles of red wine, one and a half of white, three (four?) 500-ml bottles of homemade apple cider, three bottles of Hobgoblin , some blackcurrant vodka and some blackcurrant vodka liqueur. That's actually rather abstemious for Scotland. Oh, and five of us had gin-and-tonics before supper, naturally.

B.A. and I made the apple cider, of course, and the more he drank it, the more B.A. liked it. He usually thinks it is too dry, but I think it's lovely. It tastes beautifully of apples.

I made the blackcurrant vodka and the liqueur myself. It was easy. In July 2017, I picked a bagful of black currants from their parent bushes, washed and dried them, put them in a big preserving jar, poured over a big bottle of vodka, and left them alone until Saturday night. On Saturday night, I poured out the liquid, pulverised the swollen blackcurrants, and squished the rest of their vodka/juice through cheesecloth. Then I turned half of the result into liqueur by adding simple syrup and putting the sweetened liquid in two nice bottles.

"You're a real housewife," said Polish Pretend Daughter-in-law, and I felt very pleased. This is a development. I grew up in two of the only three decades in human history when being a housewife was considered shameful, so naturally I never wanted to be one. I was also highly annoyed with PPS on some advanced birthday of my own when I mourned not having a "proper job" and he suggested I make vodka cordials instead. But that was before I stayed a a friend's home in Poland and discovered how important cook/build/pick/brew/distill-it-yourself is in Polish culture.

Now that I have a "proper job" instead of freelancing,  I love all the super old-fashioned housewifely things--like making flavoured vodka and apple cider--I do in what's left of my free time after language studies. And annoying as dusting-and-hoovering is, it is less annoying now that I make an annual salary, too.

PPS and PPDIL both live in Poland now; this was just a weekend visit. The newlyweds were feted from the West End to the New Town to our humble neighbourhood, and at about 10 PPDIL fell asleep on the bed in the corner of our dining room. I found this perfectly sensible, for many a time have I crept away from Schola dinner parties, the men wreathed in smoke and shouting about clerical and musical personages from the halcyon days before their Tiber swims, to fall asleep on the coats on the Bass's bed. As far as I know, I was the only guest ever to do this, so I felt that PPDIL, covered in a beautiful Russian shawl under a cloud of pipe smoke, was a real chip off the Pretend Canadian Mother block.

The dishes were done by 1 AM, and unsurprisingly, I slept past 10 AM. Then I had much to do to stop the dining-room, which doubles as my office, from smelling of pipe tobacco, and I didn't quite manage it.

I thus hereby create a new ordinance called the Polish Pretend Son Privilege: no smoking anything unless PPS is here. After all, I never promised anyone else a flat he could smoke in.

Update: Traddies will be interested in my review of Dr. Kwasniewski's latest book, which I compare to piernik, not because he is Polish-American, but because I had gingerbread on the brain.

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