Kage Baker always planned for a quiet, insular Boxing Day.
Traditionally, in its homeland of Merrie Olde England, Boxing Day was the day employers gave presents to their employees – especially household servants. Those were ordinarily loftovers of food and clothing, and people either prepared boxes to hand out or brought one to work for the give-away. It all depended on which level of the stairs you were on (Above or Below) but boxes were the medium of the exchange.
Americans think it’s the day you return the boxes of gifts you don’t want. Or, conversely, put all the Christmas glitz back in its storage boxes. But traditionally Christmas does not end on December 25th; that’s when it begins – so the season actually runs on until January 6th, unless you adhere to 20th Century American customs …
Of course, this day is noted for other things as well. In England, this used to be the day the fighting season began – back in the days when boxers fought bare-knuckled, in black leather pumps and no shirts or gloves: this is when the formal schedule began. It’s when the horse racing season legally starts, too; and even in sunny California, race tracks were advertising their season openers today. More sources for the Boxing Day appellation, maybe. Or maybe not.
Kage’s personal definition was that it was a day to live out of boxes. New games, new books, new clothes – all had arrived in boxes, and would be set tastefully around her armchair to be serially sampled through the day. The contents of stockings were usually small fancy edibles – those would be in a box, as well, to be nibbled on at her leisure. The leftovers from Christmas Eve and Christmas Day dinners would be in the fridge in yet more boxes, mostly – plastic Tuppers in every size, shape and colour, preserving the broken festive meats (And creamed spinach. And mashed potatoes. And Yorkshire pudding.) for Boxing Day nibbles.
Last night, for Christmas dinner proper, I made the best Yorkshire puddings of my life. Taste in Yorkshire puddings runs to extremes – some people, like Kage, prefer a thick loaf of Yorkshire pudding, like a sergeant-major sort of dumpling. Welsh Grandda Tom served that kind; Kage usually made hers in actual loaf pans, and served it in broad country slices.
(That’s the kind Kimberly made when she actually succeeded in making it in a Dutch oven contrived over an open oak fire – the only person I know who ever made an edible Yorkshire pudding at an outdoor Renaissance Faire.)
But some people prefer little golden hollowed disks of Yorkshire pudding, that look like tiny UFOs and hold a half cup of gravy in their hearts. Those latter examples of Yorkshire pudding are the ones I initially encountered in the writings of English vet James Herriot, of All Creatures Great and Small fame. Herriot comes to hilarious grief over the delectable little morsels, but they have fired me with insane lust since the age of 17 or so. And I have tried ever since to produce them.
It’s not a question of the batter, which is the same for both – a mindlessly easy recipe of flour and milk and eggs and salt and drippings from the beef roast. No matter what you bake it in, you grease the vessel with more drippings. And Kimberly and I, after successfully making almost perfect puddings in muffins tins and popover molds, finally splurged on actual, realio trulio Yorkshire pudding pans this year … they have wide, shallow indentations, and the batter floats in the amber drippings like exotic islands …
When they had baked for the requisite half hour, I tremblingly drew them out – and behold! They were the legendary golden bowls that the lovely Zoe Bennett feeds to a sensorily-overloaded Herriot … I did it! When filled with gravy and conveyed to my waiting mouth, they proved to be as delicate as bone china; crispy on the outside, chewy on the inside, but all in a delicious thin curve of biscuity goodness: perfection. With hot gravy and rare beef.
“Pretty good,” opined our menfolk, addressing their plates with workmanlike gravity. Kimberly and I rolled our eyes at one another.
Those Yorkshire puddings were my favourite boxes this Christmas: packed full of literary goodness and wonderful gravy, brought to life from the dreams of books read in my distant girlhood. I’ve been eating the stuff all my life, but this year – Real Yorkshire Pudding. Kage would have laughed at me. But she’d have understood, too.
Happy Boxing Day, Dear Readers. May all your leftovers be as magical as mine.