It would seem that a kind soul unknown to the Babbitt household has a care for Het’s husband’s feeding.
You may imagine that to receive a recipe for winter cheese gladdened Mistress B’s housewifely heart. And from Elizabeth Cromwell’s own recipe-book, too! (Het thinks she might like Mistress Cromwell. Especially her recipe for sausages. But the sausages will be made next week, she thinks.)
Take some milk or cream, and a race of cinnamon.
Scald it, then take it off the fire, sweeten it with fine sugat, thgen take a spoonful of reenet to two quarts of milk, set it by and keep it close covered, and so let it stand. When the cheese comes, strow a little fine sugar and grated nutmeg, and serve it with sippets, sops in sack or muscadine.
Another manner to make a fresh cheese presently
Take the whites of six eggs, beat them very well, and wring in the juice of a good lemon to the whites. When the cream seetheth up, put in the whites and stir it all about till it be turned, and then take it off and put it into a cheese trough, and let the whey be drawn from it, then take the curd and pound it in a mortsr with a little rose-water and sugar, and so let it stand till you send it to the ytable. Then put it into a dish and put a little cream to it and so serve it.
Was it not kind, to share such lovely recipes with Het?
Not the cheeriest of months, even with that engine of domestic devastation and her boys absent about their military duty.
Het Babbitt is somewhat at a loss.
(Remember, this is 1646, so Christmas still exists, and the Parliament is not yet so strict as to ban the celebrations altogether, although Het and her family celebrate it peacefully. Fair enough, as peacefully as anything involving her husband is likely to be.)
It is a dark time, and a lean one, and she worries about them, a little. That Hollie might not have a sufficiency of handkerchieves, because he always gets miserable colds at this time. She makes a note to find a pot of sage oil to send back with him, when he must go back to the Army. If he were here, which he is not, and is not like to be for another month – for he will be here for Longest Night, though fire and flood and all the King’s men stand between them; it is a thing of pride that he will be here for the anniversary of the night they first met – she could see to it that he was rubbed with it, and had a plaster on his chest, and a dry bed to sleep in –
Well, he is not, and so she reminds herself to hem more handkerchieves. Even in 1646 people exchange gifts – or at least they do when he remembers – and not on Christmas Day, as we do, but on New Year’s Day, instead.
Hollie’s Puritan absentmindedness notwithstanding, Het sees Christmas as a serious business of loving, and so it is her joy and consolation in his absence, in these dark November days, to prepare.
So. Handkerchieves for Hollie, and medicaments, but – well, she will think of something less practical, nearer the time. Something edible, most likely. It’s not a thing she needs to prepare. She may embroider the handkerchieves, under the pretence of a laundry mark.
Thankful, of course, being a better Puritan boy than Hollie, will neither expect nor receive gifts. This is a difficult concept to explain to a bright and loving little girl, and so no matter how much he neither wants nor expects gifts Thomazine will demand that he has them. She is not yet old enough to embroider neatly, and her hems are wobbly and uneven, and so instead she has very carefully tied bundles of lavender and rosemary and costmary with thread, to put amongst his linen. It is only the fact of his physical absence that has prevented the child from giving her friend his gifts already, and no doubt Thankful will receive his Christmas present within moments of his arrival, for if Thomazine must wait longer she may burst.
And Luce? She finds him hardest of all to think of gifts for, because he is much-beloved, and yet she is aware that he is between being a little boy to delight in nuts and sweets and little books, as Thomazine and Joyeux do, and being a grown man to receive sensible, useful things, like handkerchieves.
(If she perhaps could make him some stockings, then, in a bright, frivolous colour, as a compromise.)
So, then. It wants just over a month to Christmas. The pig’s cheek is sousing in pickle for the collar of brawn for the Christmas table. There are nuts, and apples, and pears aplenty stored in the attics, and a few raisins – not many, for they are expensive, though still obtainable even in the wars. Those she has are somewhat dry and dusty with keeping, but he has promised to bring more when he comes home, and so she is happy to plan to use the last of her store for the festivities.
There is cider, and it will be good by Christmas, being last autumn’s brewing.
It crosses her mind that she needs to go up into the attics and check her apples and pears, and that perhaps Thomazine may be the ideal partner for this cheerful, if chilly, occupation. Thomazine’s quick little fingers are deft at finding soft places in the fruit, and she can promise that any damaged pears might be baked sweet, later.
Het wishes there would be new cheese, but there will not. New cheese is a spring treat, and Hollie must make do with its ripe, buttery counterpart, in these dark, wet days. (She hopes so. She would lay out the riches of her store, for her boys, and send them back to their duty sleek and cared-for.)
Well, then. The preparations begin here, for the brawn must souse for a week or two. And should you choose to try Het’s pickled cold meat –
I have to admit to a degree of worry as I started to read this new book, because I am a great fan of Ms Belfrage’s Graham Saga.
My first worry was that it wasn’t going to be as good – and my second was that it was going to be Alex and Matthew in the 14th century: a trap that many successful authors fall into, of replicating carbon copies of their successful characters in another period of history.
Well, I needn’t have worried on either head.
I am very fond of Alex and Matthew Graham, but there is always – in my reading – that element of tension in their relationship. With Adam and Kit, despite the somewhat – unusual – beginning of their marriage, there is never any doubt for me that no matter how tumultous this period of history is, their love is solid. This is not, I don’t think, a will-they won’t-they story, set against a faintly-drawn generic historical background. It’s a story of will Fate let them, in what has to be one of the most violent, tumultous, passionate, uninhibited periods of English history. A man and a woman, who find each other, and are determined that conflicting loyalty, intrigue, and murder will not come between them.
Be not misled, gentle reader. We are not in the realms of courtly love here. We are dealing with a real and passionate period, where a brutal punishment can be meted out to a man in scenes of graphic savagery, and a woman be poisoned to death by her own family – and where the same man who raises a sword with violent skill, can make love to his wife with kindness and tenderness.
We are also dealing with a very accomplished author, who can describe love as well as pain with skill and empathy.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Alex and Matthew are very much a self-contained unit, but Kit de Courcy and Adam de Guirande are a fantastically-drawn pair of lovers enmeshed in a complicated political and social web. And a well-researched, authentic, believable one, that feels as right to the reader as a warm wool surcote.
Be warned: there is a considerable amount of brutality in this book. The Welsh Marches in 1321 were a place of unpredictable political allegiances, where a wise man keeps an eye on the main chance. Not a period where an author should tread, without a considerable amount of background research, and certainly not a period where an author who fears to describe spilled blood should go. (Just as well this author fears neither.)
I scent a long and happy relationship for this reader, with the de Guirandes….