The year I was born, 1963 (!), was a legendary year for snow. I was brought up in Buxton, in the heart of the Peak District, one of the highest towns in England, and born in January too, it must have been a tricky time for my young Swiss mother. With a new-born baby and two lively young lads to look after, my Mother must have welcomed any help going.
There are many family legends associated with that year. One that I like the best was that when my father knew he had a little girl (after 2 boys), he was so excited he vaulted over the garden fence to our neighbours, Mrs Sykes, to tell her the news, but landed in a head height snow drift. I don’t think it cooled his enthusiasm much. Another story often told of that year is that the Cricket in Buxton was snowed off – in June. January 1963 was so cold and snowy that Mum said that she wasn’t able to take me outside for the first 3 months. Imagine that, all you new mothers reading this.
The tradition of baking Chrabeli at Christmas is a tradition that goes way back in our family before I can ever remember. Charbeli are aniseed flavoured biscuits, one of those love/hate things. If you love that flavour, one biscuit is never enough. If you don’t like aniseed, don’t even bother trying them. It is the rolling and cutting of the Chrabeli that is a bitter sweet memory for me now, something I always did with my mother. With military precision Mum would make sure, by eye, each Chrablei was uniform. In later years I would get frustrated with my Mum when the precision ebbed a little. Clearly now I would welcome any old random shape for one more Chrabeli baking session with Esther.
I was reminded of Mrs Sykes this morning as I am baking for my gorgeous group of postnatal mums to enjoy at the end of their yoga session. It is our Christmas special meet this morning, so I have been making mince pies and Chrabeli (traditional Swiss biscuits). There is always a left over bit of pastry after baking mince pies etc and, not being one to throw anything away, I do as my mother, Mrs Sykes and probably generations of women (and exceptional men) before her; roll out the pastry, cover half with raisins, or currants a few knobs of butter and a sprinkle of sugar. Fold over and give another quick roll so you can see the raisins and butter just peeping through a sheer layer of pastry. Brush with milk, or milk and egg and sprinkle with sugar (something I forgot in the Rebecca cake I’ve just taken out of the oven). Then bake until lightly coloured. Delicious – the bakers treat. In our family this is known as “Rebecca cake”, as I always requested this when round at Mrs Sykes.
So now, you lovely young Mums, as Christmas approaches, think of creating your own family traditions and legends. Things you can pass down to your sons and daughters. It’s not the presents, but the things you do together with love that matter. It’s the family stories that you tell year after year. These are the things that will last and bind you together as a family. The traditions and legends will always be remembered.