For days pungent smells of cinnamon and nutmeg have wafted out my cookery room as we mass produce mince pies for carol services and Christmas parties.
For special family gifts we’ve coloured and moulded marzipan fruits, mixed up coconut ice from Carnation condensed milk, sugar and desiccated coconut, and rolled up chocolate truffles from cheap cooking chocolate, sugar and rum essence. Some of the girls have made dark, rich fruit cakes which I’ve locked in my school larder since October, wrapped in greaseproof paper. The smell of maturing sultanas, moist brown sugar and spices reminds me of a summer holiday with Mark visiting the underground vaults of French Cognac houses. He’s given me as bottle of Courvoisier which over the weeks we’ve dribbled into some of the upside down cakes.
But now the Christmas cakes are ready for their final shroud of marzipan and icing. The cooking experts of women’s magazines crow that laborious layers of royal icing are out and it’s in with quickly rolled fondant icing so I’ve mixed up huge bowls for them ready to use. Once the cakes have this new white, smooth fondant finish we mould decorations of green holly leaves and blobby red berries ready for the final finish, wrapped in thick red ribbon tied with a giant bow.
Liz, as always, arrives late and pulls a crumpled paper bag from her cardigan pocket. A well used plastic Father Christmas emerges sitting on a sledge pulled by four red nosed reindeer. He looks identical to one I treasured as a child in the 1950s, and needs a good scrub like mine will when I retrieve him from my parent’s loft.
“I’ve got one just like him, Liz, from when I was a child.’
Liz fishes out a faded red tinsel band, circles it round her cake and secures it with a pin.
“I’ve got a cake ribbon like that too, Liz – mine’s nearly twenty years old.’
‘We always have him on our cakes, and wrap it like this.’
She points to the battered tinsel but doesn’t register my childhood memories.
Mr Bush, the headmaster, is invited with other staff to judge my Best Christmas Cake competition. I want to show him how hard we work and that his accusation that I spend lessons cooking my supper, or doing my washing in the school twin tubs is not true.
My room shows off proud displays of Christmas cakes on silver cake boards, each wrapped in shiny red ribbon and decorated with seasonal leaves and berries. Except one – a more traditional cake with reindeer and a tinsel waistband.