Mrs Watson’s delicious mince pies

The tales of lock-down (2)

If you haven’t read « The old lady and the caring neighbour », go and read « the tales of lock-down », which I have renamed from « the confinement tales ».


Jeanine Watson had now known her eccentric neighbour Aladaran for nine months. They had shared many walks, cakes and conversations.
Jeanine loved talking about her childhood and life, whilst Aldaran was more reserved.
When she had told him about her experience of the second world war, she had been one of the children sent away to the countryside, he had seemed to know the topic well, which was surprising considering he didn’t even look forty, or just about.
Jeanine thought he must have studied it so well that it gave him the impression that he had lived it.
Aldaran had in fact experienced that war in his childhood as well, even if it had affected him differently, but he couldn’t explain to her how faes had been affected.
It was one of the rare subjects concerning his childhood he had talked a bit about.

They had also discussed music, which is a totally safe topic when one wants to hide their age as long as one doesn’t mention having been to a concert that had happened around sixty years ago. Aldaran had stopped himself right on time and had corrected himself by talking about having seen a video, whilst hoping Jeanine wouldn’t know whether this concert had been filmed or not.

Christmas was getting closer so Jeanine had brought up the topic of holidays with the family.

“I hope we will be finally able to go out and see people. I intend to spend Christmas with my family!” She had announced during their latest walk.

She wasn’t complaining about the situation, she understood the need for those restrictions, but Aldaran knew she missed her family.
Luckily, she could see them during video calls regularly.

“How do you celebrate them, usually?”

Jeanine had come alive and Aldaran had guessed she was going to talk about her favourite activity.

“First, we decorate the house. And the garden, of course. But in a delicate way, not with those bright red and flashing lights. I like what’s natural: wood, paper, cloth… I have some decorations that are sixty or more years old, in clay, very pretty. Angels, painted by hand. We can’t find that sort of things much these days, it’s a shame. Everyone prefers plastic but you can’t compare them. Clay lasts, and it has a different feel. And then, I cook.”

Her eyes shone brighter, then.

“You know I love cooking. Christmas is a time to really show my talent. The kitchen, which is already my domain, is forbidden to all unless someone wants to peel vegetables or do some washing up. I don’t mind delegating this, but I do everything else. Cooking vegetables and meat, food presentation… I really enjoy it. My daughters didn’t use to understand, they had the feeling I was doing it because I felt I had to fit into a certain role. Then we talked about, and I explained to them that I love cooking. You have to pay attention, know what you want to do before hand but be able to adapt to what’s happening, and feeding people is a way to show we love them and to take care of them.”

She smiled.

“Of course, I wouldn’t want to do Christmas meals everyday, but once a year I enjoy the challenge!”

Aldaran, who had no difficulties picturing Jeanine barring the access to the kitchen to the rest of the family, was a bit concerned.

“Are you sure it’s reasonable to do it all alone?”

“You remind me of my daughters, they say the same. Maybe I’ll delegate a bit more this year, but they don’t know how to do all this. It’s not that they are bad cooks or that I think they wouldn’t be capable of doing it, but I’m not sure they are very interested in it. It requires a lot of time and work, and they don’t necessarily have it. I start to think about the menu two month earlier, to be sure I can find something that suits everyone – between those who don’t eat meat, those who don’t eat fish, those who want this dessert or that one… Then there is the shopping, you have to choose well the ingredients, and then the preparation – I start a few days earlier. I am retired, I can, but when you work, it’s harder.”

“You remind me of my mother. She starts asking us what we want for Christmas in September. I am not at all in the Christmas spirit by that point, so I always answer something slightly out of topic. One year, she decided to follow what my brother and I had said and made us a rice salad, like the one we eat when we go for a pic-nick on the seaside. It was a change from the traditional roast!”

Jeanine laughed heartily.

“She could have made you some BLT sandwiches!”

“Note that we wouldn’t have minded either. What’s important for us is to be together. My mother used to stress out a bit about those meals, but lately she has relaxed a lot. I will suggest the sandwiches, she might find the suggestion interesting.”

“And does she make mince pies?”

“No, that’s not part of our traditions.”

“How many are you?” asked Jeanine with a twinkle in her eyes.

“It changes a lot, depending on who’s in the area and if friends come over. I see where you are going with this, you’re not going to make pies for all of us, are you?”

“If I make ten of them, will it be ok? Just so you can try them. And if you like them, I might consider giving you the recipe. If you promise not to share it on the internet. It’s a family recipe, after all.”

“That’s really nice of you! Does it exist for vegetarians? There are some in the family.”

“Ten of each, then.” She though for a while. “And if we can’t meet up for Christmas, we can always freeze it all and do Christmas in July. It’ll be a change from sandwiches and rice salads!”


[BLT: bacon lettuce tomato, a classic sandwich.
Mince pies can sometimes be made with suet (animal fat), hence the “vegetarian” option.]

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