Published in Prima Magazine December 2009
The Missing Recipe by Nicole Carman
One Christmas, when we still had the cottage; before he got ill, before he got old – my father did a quite extraordinary thing. An unexpected kindness, a rare, unselfish act.
The prelude to Christmas had been potent in our house. My mother and grandmother had spent the last few weeks down in the kitchen, hatching plans for the feast. There was a constant sound of whisking and beating – plump sultanas mingled with orange peel and soft suet. The bubbling and simmering of steamed puddings emitted a sweet smell of cinnamon and clove that clung to the house like a winter cloak. There had been an ongoing poring over cookery books amid much excited talk of a new recipe for the turkey stuffing. It was to be something altogether different, an exotic blend of apricots, nuts and spices. A minor rebellion against the traditional sage and onion.
Christmas Eve finally came; we left behind a dank and dreary London and headed down to the coast for the festive holiday. Everybody appeared to be leaving the city, but rather than a stampede of cars, the mass exodus resembled a slow, snail-like trail of motorists, leaving in their wake wet slimy tracks upon the rain drenched roads. The car was weighed down and we were a tight bundle in the back seat, cramped and impatient to arrive, but the thought of all those presents, wrapped and ribboned and ready to be opened, kept us cheerful and giddy with Christmas spirit.
When we finally arrived at our small, but perfectly formed and much loved country cottage, the fire was lit and a Christmas tree procured. Tiny magical lights glowed through the dense emerald branches and sparkling silver baubles dangled and danced. My father sat at the piano while we hung our red and white stockings over the fireplace. It was late and we were tired when the hall clock chimed, and so, if a little reluctantly, we wound our way up to bed.
But before I had time to drift off to sleep, I was roused by my mother’s tears. Not hysterical tears, but quiet persistent sobs. I could hear my grandmother and her attempts to console her. Listening intently I began to comprehend. Somehow, in all the excitement of leaving London, the new Christmas recipe had been left behind. Although my mother was a very good cook, I had never seen her make any dish without the use of one of her trusty cookbooks, so I knew what a blow this would have been for her. The recipe was complicated and she would never have attempted it alone. But there was nothing to be done, and so she dried her eyes and stole away to bed.
The next morning, Christmas morning, we woke early for that most exciting, celebratory day of the year. So engrossed in unwrapping the presents that lay at the end of the bed, I had quite forgotten about the evening’s upset – but not, apparently, had my father. For while the house had slumbered he had left that snug, warm haven and driven through the night back to London. There on the kitchen table, in time for my mother’s early morning entrance, lay the missing recipe.
And so with incredulous gasps of delight and the spilling of several tender tears of gratitude, the Christmas festivities were back in full swing and my father had given my mother a Christmas gift she would not forget.