Advent IV: Prose and Christmas Cake

This last stint of Advent is sponsored by Spontaneous Congregant Participation, ensuring you never know what you’ll be asked to do next! A special mention to the Wheely Donkey Manufacturers, keeping Sunday Schools everywhere in clean, reliable, portable donkeys for every occasion, forever and ever, world without end, amen.

To start with,we recant. Today’s black tea makes for 9 non-herbal teas out of 24, and even if the next two join the herbal ranks, that’s still a better balance than we were anticipating. There weren’t enough oolongs, but there are never enough oolongs.

Anyway, today’s tea is Satsuma Spice Cake, a foursome name that purports to be packed full of sweet caramelised citrus. Think Christmas Cake in a cup. N.B. There’s some fierce competition here, because Kusmi Tea does a black tea blend that really is Christmas Cake in a cup and it’s a staple of our tea cupboard. It has a very different taste, though. While Kusmi’s tea is a sturdy black blend with cloves, spices and the odd bit of caramelised orange, this is much sweeter.

We happen to quite like it. The satsuma comes through strongly, and it’s probably the use of satsuma rather than garden variety orange that adds an extra burst of sweetness. There is some additive sugar, but it’s largely there to bring out existing flavours. Of course, as we say, it does add a bit of extra sweetness, and Christmas cake puritans will probably prefer Kusmi’s Christmas Tea blend. It’s darker, subtler and without the sweeter.

But sweetness have been the harmonising note throughout this calendar. The tisanes use stevia, this black tea uses sugar. Still others had candy cane or marshmallow outright. With the exception of the marshmallows, we mostly enjoyed it, but we do gently suggest that sometimes tea is allowed to just be tea. Add the orange peel and the caramelised bits and bobs by all means, but it doesn’t have to be sweet. It can be tart, or tannin-heavy, or potently gingery; the variety is partly what brings us tea-drinkers back, especially to Advent Calendars like this. One of our favourite teas remains a daring blend of almond and liquorice root in oolong; it smelled awful but it brewed the loveliest cup of tea. We were sorry when it was discontinued.

Coming back to Satsuma Spice, though, and talking of taste, it’s that rare tea that doesn’t grow bitter with steeping. Anyone who’s ever left a black tea alone too long or not rescued a tea infuser from an oolong or jasmine in time will appreciate this. Here the satsuma sufficiently overwhelms the tannin that it keeps the tea pleasantly citrusy. And the stronger it gets, the more it tastes of Christmas cake and less of additive. Indeed, as we sit here taking our notes, it is shaping up to be a lovely tea. We may yet go tea shopping in the New Year.

Here’s a nice, long poem to read while it steeps. No Christmas Cake, but gingerbread houses get a mention. If you’ve ever attempted one you’ll appreciate the frustration they can generate – more than just cause for begetting poetry.

Advent
Mary Jo Salter

Wind whistling, as it does
in winter, and I think

nothing of it until

it snaps a shutter off
her bedroom window, spins

it over the roof and down

to crash on the deck in back,
like something out of Oz.

We look up, stunned—then glad

to be safe and have a story,
characters in a fable

we only half-believe.

Look, in my surprise
I somehow split a wall,

the last one in the house

we’re making of gingerbread.
We’ll have to improvise:

prop the two halves forward

like an open double door
and with a tube of icing
cement them to the floor.
Five days until Christmas,
and the house cannot be closed.

When she peers into the cold

interior we’ve exposed,
she half-expects to find

three magi in the manger,

a mother and her child.
She half-expects to read

on tablets of gingerbread

a line or two of Scripture,
as she has every morning

inside a dated shutter

on her Advent calendar.
She takes it from the mantel

and coaxes one fingertip

under the perforation,
as if her future hinges
on not tearing off the flap
under which a thumbnail picture
by Raphael or Giorgione,

Hans Memling or David

of apses, niches, archways,
cradles a smaller scene

of a mother and her child,

of the lidded jewel-box
of Mary’s downcast eyes.

Flee into Egypt, cries

the angel of the Lord
to Joseph in a dream,
for Herod will seek the young
child to destroy him. While
she works to tile the roof

with shingled peppermints,

I wash my sugared hands
and step out to the deck

to lug the shutter in,

a page torn from a book
still blank for the two of us,
a mother and her child.

Our Christmas tradition is Christmas cake, not gingerbread houses, and personally, we’re sticking to it. We’ve done both and while the cake dough takes two to mix, it begets far fewer tears. Trust us on this one.

We’ll leave you this Advent IV with the Advent Prose. Somehow our church never gets to them sooner, and coming from a background where we opened the Advent season with them, we’re perplexed by the choice every year. Three times is a tradition etc cetera, ad infinitum.

 

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