Friday, 16 December 2016

Sweet Dreams!

You’re not exactly unaware of Health & Safety and as the season of goodwill approaches, your defences go up even further. You have read all the warnings about unfused fairy lights and dangerously mobile festive trees. You know better than to undercook the turkey and you take care not to set the house alight along with the plum pudding. Carving knives are kept out of reach of little fingers and none of your guests are overfilled with the Christmas spirit before driving home. Every year you manage to reach the evening of 25/12 without having succumbed to any of the hazards lying in wait for the less aware. You fall asleep that night, the Christmas fairy smiling benevolently upon you and yours. Once again you have bypassed the terrors of the season, haven’t you?
On Boxing Day you visit Aunt Kate, a sprightly, feisty lady who scrimped coupons to keep her family in white flour and treacle during the war. You present your gift and sit down to a sumptuous Christmas tea before returning home. It is all there; the heaped cold turkey and ham, the cranberry sauce and Branston pickle, the bread and butter, the mince pies and slabs of cold plum pudding. The tea is over and you have done yourself proud. You’ve tasted everything on the table and, pleading gastronomic exhaustion, prepare to leave. But Aunt Kate has a wicked gleam in her eye and though you have done everything to avoid it, you know you will not escape tasting her special Rich Dark Fruit Cake. The recipe was in her mother’s family, and her mother’s family before that. Really, how can you not..? Smelling of liquor and boasting a thousand calories per cubic centimetre, raisins winking malevolently beside bleary yellow almond paste and rock-hard white icing, you can hear the theme music of Jaws, the movie, as the dark-brown danger approaches. Aunt Kate urges you on, and on. Finally, determinedly, you bite into a slab. Your tongue curls in loathing, your teeth blench in fear, but it is too late. A myriad of sweet-stuffs descend to your stomach and invades your pitifully pleading cells. You fall into a half-faint… In your diabetic coma the Christmas fairy waves her sparkling wand over a vision of days of yore when fruit picked and preserved during summer months brought welcome sweetness to bleak mid-winters. For older people with memories of wartime rationing Rich Dark Fruit Cake undoubtedly evokes a certain nostalgia. For someone about to expire from cold and hunger on a frozen Arctic waste, it just might be a life-saver. But for a well-fed modern palate and stomach, in overheated surroundings, it is nothing short of medieval torture. Slowly your sugar rush subsides and the world once more slides into focus. But your ordeal is far from over. The gastronomic terrorist is standing in front of you, smiling sweetly, unaware of her assault on your digestive tract. ‘Will you have another piece?’ she asks, moving the plate forward. The Christmas fairy waves her wand manically as your hand reaches out…

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