I have four Christmas cakes I’ve been dousing with brandy every month for two years now. I’m pretty sure that by this time they’re more brandy, by weight, than they are the dried fruits and nuts inside of them. I was giving them their final soak a couple of weeks ago, thinking, ‘what could I give to my readers as a little Christmas present’ when, Eureka! There it was, right in front of my face - my beloved Slovak Bapka’s Christmas cake recipe. It’s the one, I’m telling ya’, it really is.
And lest I be thought of as a scrooge, I am also going to share with you how I make my pork rinds because what is a good charcuterie board without? Also, I just happen to have two big pots of skins bubbling away on my stove at this very moment. If you’ve never made your own homemade pork rinds, I promise you, it’s worth the effort and, to my mind, you’ve never really had a pork rind at all if all you’ve tried are the commercial ones. I do a lot of work up front so that I can have jars of rinds ready to go in minutes. I’ll show you what I mean at the bottom of this post.
Everyone in my corner of the world is battening down the hatches, preparing for the great storm to come. We’re supposed to get warm weather and rain followed by plummeting temperatures and a flash freeze. The gang building our summer kitchen are signing off for frozen festivities, not to be seen again until after Christmas. Troy and I spent the morning laying down layers of bedding for the cattle. Wet and frozen does not a good insulating layer make. Cold, animals can take, but being dry is a part of that comfort equation.
I just finished reading a story about a herd of bull elks that got trapped in some lowland in the middle of winter, surrounded by six foot snow drifts. Their only source of food came from some meagre forage from the trees and shrubs they could only access by standing in the rushing river. Day by day the ice grew on their bodies and legs with no chance of it melting as they slept by the riverbanks at night. They died one by one, starved, with over 100 pounds of ice caked onto their bodies.
Our domesticated animals aren’t as tough as their wild brethren, but they’re still pretty darn resilient. It delights me to no end to watch as they put on big wooly coats, thick hides, layers of down - all these things that happen just because they were created to be in sync with the natural world. Consider the hens in lit up and heated environments. They don’t moult or slow down egg production in rhythm with the year. Heck, they’re lucky to live to be a year. I feel a sense of pride when our animals are raised as close to the wilds they were designed for as we possibly can.
I’ve been contacted by a couple of book publishers which is both exciting and daunting. It’s been so affirming and enjoyable to write here on Substack. I feel like I’ve come to know some of you. I am grateful, really grateful - not just saying that lightly, for so many of you supporting and encouraging me. A few months ago I mentioned that I would likely be going to a once a week offering and that’s what I’m transitioning to now. It’s just not possible for me to put the care and hours into writing the kind of book I want to write and to also write here twice a week with the subsequent comment interactions (which is important and valuable to me).
I think the way I’m going to move forward with this is to have one piece of writing go out on Saturdays that will be more of a mixture of what’s been offered thus far. That means, some Saturdays, it will be essays, Q&As, other times we’ll include discussion threads, some samples of what I’m writing for my book, maybe some TnT chats, some ‘around the farm, in my kitchen’ stuff etc.. This way I can spend the bulk of my writing time in the deeper, slower frame of mind stuff. The pondering, if you will.
Maybe this new schedule will be even better for you. I don’t know about all of you, but I have some Substack newsletter feeds I subscribe to that are building up in my ‘to read’ folder (and even they come out once a week, sometimes once every two weeks or so). Of course, this will also mean that almost all of my posts will be for paid subscribers, with the occasional free one here and there. I struggled with this decision, but I’m okay with it now. Having moved from the whole social media (Instagram) model of us, the people, being the commodity to now creating something here with you, and seeing so many bright minds and free thinkers doing the same, I’ve become more comfortable, and appreciative, of a model that frees us from the overlords and let’s us create and exchange appreciation and support for that creation.
And with that, we have arrived at the recipe I promised to share. Here it is, my beloved Bapka, Josephine, sharing her Christmas Cake (or “Krizmus Kek” in her Slovak/English combo-lingo) recipe with my translation below. I’d like to add that I