Eight Weeks of Christmas 2. Martinmas November 11th.



Martinmas and Armistice Day. Martinmas was considered the first day of Winter, and meteorologically “if the geese at Martin’s Day stand on ice, they will walk on mud at Christmas.” There is word of a Polar Vortex which is about to hit the East Coast of the US, and will affect Ireland next week, but though we lit a fire after lunch, here in Annecy it is not cold, just grey and dull with low wisps of cloud shrouding the mountains under a sullen sky. The entire village is quiet with not a single shop open except for the bakeries. They have a trickle of trade amongst people with big pots of yellow, orange, rust and wine chrysanthemums in the backs of their cars, people who will dine with family or friends and will also visit the graves of their loved ones, or memorials to the war dead.  With a population of 39.6 million at the time, the French lost almost 1,800,000 people during the 4 years of World War 1 and 4, 266,000 were wounded.


St Martin of Tours (Hungary AD 316) is associated with generosity, military personnel, food and the weather. He is Patron Saint of beggars, vintners, wine makers, equestrians and horses, soldiers, tailors, geese, hotel and inn-kepers and reformed alcoholics.   In Ireland (at least until recently) the fishing fleet of County Wexford did not put to sea on November 11th but in some countries, fish was traditionally eaten on that day and in Portugal, mussels. In Germany it is goose, the symbol of St Martin and in Britain and Ireland, pork. It is when the first of the newly-produced wine is ready for drinking and the end of the preparations for the winter larder, including the killing of hogs, hence “he will reach his Martinmas” or “everyone must die.”


We had a vegetarian Martinmas supper of risotto made with the last of the sorrel from the garden – the plants I brought from our garden in Cork a decade ago are pale green and quite tender, the locally bought French plants have tougher and darker leaves – and walnuts from the trees at the end of the driveway, which Himself dutifully collected every day for the past month and I dried outdoors on racks in the sun. (Then, if it has not already sloughed off, I peel away the blackened skin, crack the shells and freeze their meat; the perfect nuts I store whole in the dark, north facing garage. They easily last the year.)





I am still searching for my ‘definitive’ Christmas pudding recipe amongst the greats,  stored in the garage mezzanine (in one of the 9 plastic boxes of Christmas decorations, household linens and intimate apparel, china, son globes, books, light garlands and 4 polar bears.) They are led by three generations of Shanagarry Allens – the doyenne Myrtle, her daughter-in-law Darina and her daughter-in-law Rachel – Delia Smith who might be annoying but is eminently sensible, and the original of the species, Mrs Beeton I haven’t found it yet, and think the ‘definitive’ may be hand written in a lined copy-book. The recipe uses butter and grated carrot instead of suet. I would love to use almond butter, but it is €10 a 450g. jar and doesn’t cook well (as we’ve found substituting it for dairy butter in oatmeal crumble topping and [Martin Dwyer’s recipe] granola.)






I did get wrapping  five presents……but cursorily; later, under the Tannenbaum, they will be more embellished. At Christmas, more is more.

Isabel Healy

Isabel Healy

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    Welcome back to the world of compulsive communicators. I am not a great one for Christmas pudding but Madame’s Christmas Cake is fairly universally recognised as The Best In The World:
    Sile Dwyer’s Christmas Cake

    For a deep 8″ Cake Tin
    110g (4 oz.) Yellow Sultanas
    110g (4 oz.) Stoned Raisins
    225g (8 oz.) Glace Cherries
    110g (4 oz.) Crystallized Pineapple
    60g (2 oz) Crystallized Ginger
    60g (2 oz.) Angelica
    110g (4 oz.) Walnuts
    60g (2 oz) Candied Citron Peel
    60g (2 oz) Candied Orange Peel
    60g (2 oz) Candied Lemon Peel
    Glass of Irish Whiskey
    (this is 850g ( 30 oz) dried fruit and110g( 4 oz.) nuts in total)
    5 Eggs
    280g (10 oz.) Butter
    Grated Rind and Juice of 1 Lemon
    225g (8 oz). Caster Sugar
    280g (10 oz.) Plain Flour
    Good pinch Salt

    Note. You can use different dried fruits and nuts so long as the end weight is the same.

    This year we added Pistachios for some of the walnuts

    First prepare the tin.
    Butter the tin well and line it with two thicknesses of baking parchment deeper than the tin and coming up over the edge.
    Pre Heat the oven to Gas 3, 160C,325F.
    Soak the Sultanas and the Raisins in the whiskey for two hours.
    Halve or quarter the cherries and chop the peel (if you are using whole peel) and cut the angelica, pineapple ginger and nuts into dice.
    Beat the eggs until thick and foamy.
    Beat the butter with the sugar and the lemon rind until pale and fluffy.
    Add the beaten eggs a little at a time and stir well after each addition.
    (If it starts to curdle fold in some of the flour)
    Mix the salt into the flour and stir this into the mixture thoroughly but lightly. Then stir in the lemon juice.
    Stir in the fruit , a little at a time, and then the whiskey.
    Put the mixture into the prepared tin and make a hollow depression on the centre of the top to help it to rise evenly.

    Cook at the prepared temperature for one hour and then reduce the temperature to Gas 2, 150C, 300F. and cook for another hour at this temperature.(If you have a fan oven I would reduce it to Gas1,140C,275F at this stage.)
    From this on it is in your hands.Use a skewer to test the cake into the centre.
    It should come out clean. Depending on the actual temperature of your oven this can take anytime between 1 to 2 hours more. If the cake is getting brown on top and still not cooked in the centre cover the top with some bakewell paper.

    Once it is cooked leave it to cool in the tin.
    (If you like you can pour some more whiskey over it at this stage and more from time to time afterwards should you like a strongly alcoholic cake)
    The following day take it out of the tin but leave it in the baking parchment and wrap in tinfoil until needed.

    If you don’t want to go to the bother of icing the cake glaze the top with some warmed sieved apricot jam, make a pattern on the top with some toasted nuts a

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    We vintners are blessed with an abundance of Patron saints. Any excuse to lift a glass of vin I suppose.

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