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 –
To Collar Brawn
Take a quarter of brawn, lay it in salt three days. Then take some all spice, cloves & mace & season it. Boyle it in a cloath very soft with some vinegar, salt & water till it be tender. Then rowl it over new with another cloath & fresh tape as hard as possible. Then let it be cold. Then boyle yr pickle with some brawn with a little fresh water. Let it be cold & keep ye brawn constantly in it tyed up. Make fresh liquor once a fortnight.