Tasting the fruits of our olive tree

It’s that time of year when I reach into the back of my cupboard to find the jars of Christmas mincemeat that I made the previous year – to put in this year’s Christmas cake. (I always use Delia Smith’s Last-minute Mincemeat Christmas Cake recipe because it takes only one-and-a-half hours to cook – so doesn’t use too much butano gas).

Treasure from the deep

I have deep kitchen cupboards and only short arms, so it’s not unknown for me to encounter things back there that I’d forgotten about. Like the olives from our young tree, which I picked and preserved a while ago. Quite a while ago, as it happens. When I pulled out the jar (just the one; we had only 22 olives that harvest) I read on the label that I’d preserved them in December 2010. We did try them during spring 2011, but they were unbelievably bitter and The Boss had even suggested that we throw them away. Well, there’d been too much effort involved (yes, even for just 22 olives) so I buried the jar at the back of the cupboard and decided to leave them a little longer.

Four years later, the olives had human contact once again when I retrieved them from the buried treasure in the dim and distant back of the cupboard. We had some with our lunch one day. The Boss’s verdict? “They’re almost pleasant.”

Another year in the cupboard and they may just make the grade . . .

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Cooking up the Christmas spirit in Mallorca

We think that we’ve embraced the Mallorcan way of life rather well, but some things from home cannot be forgotten at Christmas. So, in the past few days, I’ve baked the traditional Christmas cake. After it’s been iced, nobody will notice that it’s rather darker than it should be.  For yet another year, the combined efforts of Delia Smith (the recipe) and myself (the hard graft) have been thwarted by our rather useless Italian oven.  With its smart brass fittings and matte finish, it really looks the business – but then so do many Italian things. The problem is that the thermostat has never worked properly, (the grill packed up ages ago), and the temperature goes up and down (but mainly up) like a bride’s nightie. It’s been suggested that it’s because the oven is powered by butano gas . . . ?

Spice girl

At least my homemade mincemeat looks and tastes rather fabulous (and I’ve had to taste it a few times to make sure). And so it should, with that much brandy and spiced rum in it. I even bought a small piece of festive fabric from a haberdashery shop in Manacor so that I could make kitsch little covers for the jar lids.  Sorry . . .  were you just dazzled by the sun reflecting off my halo?

Here I must confess that the oven gets the better of me when it comes to making pastry. Thankfully, I’ve found a local shop that sells a natty little line in ready-made pastry cases: I fill them with my home-made mincemeat, top them with my special crumble mix, and – venga – delicious mince pies. The Boss is ever-so-slightly addicted to these little packages of Christmas spicy loveliness, so I’ll be on production line duty for the next few weeks.

Service with a smile

One thing we do miss is the Ecumenical Christmas service which used to be held in Palma’s magnificent cathedral in early December. It was the perfect warm-up for the festive season: singing a few carols, listening to the cathedral choir, Els Vermells de la Seu, and the wide-eyed children of the Centre Stage Junior Chorus. Some of the verses of traditional carols were translated into castellano or mallorquín and, in some cases, it seemed that there were more words than available tune!

The service also included the 10th century chant known as the Sibil-la, traditionally sung before or during Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve – and Mallorca is now the only place where it’s performed. The story of Judgement Day, it’s sung unaccompanied by a lone chorister clad in oriental robes and holding aloft a rather heavy-looking sword.  Between each verse there’s a heart-stopping burst of music from the cathedral’s booming organ. I’d sum it all up as hauntingly beautiful . . .  and a bit long (plenty of time to reflect on one’s own misdemeanours, I suppose).

One year we were there, the length of the service proved to be too much for one little person, sitting close by. Just as the opening bars of “A Holly Jolly Christmas” were being played, an indignant voice (aged around three) piped up loudly from a nearby pew: “Not another one!” The little boy’s parents’ faces were as red as the Centre Stage Juniors’ sweaters, but the rest of us who heard it enjoyed a muffled giggle behind our order of service sheets.

Ah, fond memories. But I must go, Delia’s calling – Spiced Apricot and Orange Chutney, I think . . .

Love at first sight

First impressions made an impression

We bought a rustic little finca in Mallorca that needed work done on it. I’ve often been asked why. Many people say that they knew instinctively when they found the property that was right for them, quoting a ‘gut feeling’. But in my case, it was an arrow straight in the heart.

It was love at first sight. I’ll never forget the moment when I climbed out of the hire car – completely jaded from four days of intensive property-viewing – and saw the valley spread out around the pretty little stone house. I felt a funny fluttering sensation inside me and could hear music playing. (Actually, it was an orchestra of singing birds, buzzing insects and bleating lambs, with dongling sheep bells forming the percussion section.)

I was completely smitten before even stepping through the low doorway into a large airy room (the dining room, I had already decided). The kitchen could best have been described as minimalist – it would certainly have given Delia Smith a seizure – and although there were a few plug sockets around the house, they didn’t function. The electricity system produced only enough power for a light bulb or two for a couple of hours a day – if the sun had shone on the one roof-mounted solar panel.

Love is blind. I didn’t see the inconvenience of living – albeit temporarily – without an electric toaster or my hairdryer. Neither was I daunted by the prospect of having no mains services at the house or living cheek to cheek with a septic tank. And how romantic it would be, living by candlelight!

After the first flush of romance, of course, it soon became apparent that I’d fallen in love with the property equivalent of the man who leaves the loo seat up and the cap off the toothpaste, and snores all night. But I wouldn’t have traded it for anything else – then, or now. The love affair continues . . .