Mulled Wine, Christmas Cakes and Camomile Lawns

One of the great and unanswerable mysteries of tea has always been, at least to us, why anyone likes camomile tea. Oh, it’s very soothing, and it makes you drowsy, but it doesn’t smell particularly nice and it tastes worse. It’s also in our DavidsTea calendar today. That said, it’s perhaps the best permutation we’ve had of it. Or maybe we’ve just had the kind of long and miserable day that is only solved by tea that tastes the way we imagine hay might taste. Hard to say.

Or maybe the real mystery was the way everyone in Mary Wesley’s Camomile Lawn waxed rhapsodic about the smell. Honestly, it’s nothing to write home about. Perhaps the blooms are nicer. Because we’re sipping camomile in the mug with the quilted cats, and you know, it’s now awful. We even, improbably, like it. Maybe we finally acquired the taste for it. We’re increasingly thinking whoever taught us to add honey to camomile was wrong. It’s not a tea that should be sweet.  And it’s growing on us by the sip. Apparently we’ve overbreed this one for years.

The German tea was a very definite hit, though. It’s called Advent Fruit Tea, and if you, like us, wondered just what makes a fruit Advent-y, think mulled wine. It was a beautiful sample. Orange peel, cloves, cinnamon, apples, and raisins. There’s hibiscus and reship in there too, but the thing that really makes it distinctive is the elderberry. Last year DavidsTea tried a version of this. They called it Mulled Wine, and you know, it was good, we liked it. But we liked this better. The elderberry is inspired. And you could just see it wasn’t a herbal tea to go bitter.

It makes us think of Christmas Cake, maybe because that’s always what you pair mulled wine with in lieu of minced pies over here. Maybe it’s because they share ingredients. At any rate, we haven’t mentioned the cake yet, but ours is quite the tradition. We bake it with our aunt and double the recipe, which always leads to a dough so thick you have to kneed it. But we’ve long since been at the ‘feeding the cake’ stage, which involves rubbing it with brandy every night. We’ve slipped up the past few nights and neglected it, but it’s no real matter because at this point the cake is cracking the way cakes do from absorbing more brandy than is reasonable. Bring on the marzipan next.

So here’s a poem about Christmas Cake, or at least plum cake, by which we assume Williams means plum pudding, and  which is near enough to make no difference.  It gets bonus points for being one long stanza. Frankly, we just don’t have the energy for the technical gremlins tonight.

To Mrs K__On Her Sending Me an English Plum Cake at Paris
Helen Maria Williams

What crowding thoughts around me wake,
What marvels in a Christmas-cake!
Ah say, what strange enchantment dwells
Enclosed within its odorous cells?
Is there no small magician bound
Encrusted in its snowy round?
For magic surely lurks in this,
A cake that tells of vanished bliss;
A cake that conjures up to view
The early scenes, when life was new;
When memory knew no sorrows past,
And hope believed in joys that last! —
Mysterious cake, whose folds contain
Life’s calendar of bliss and pain;
That speaks of friends for ever fled,
And wakes the tears I love to shed.
Oft shall I breathe her cherished name
From whose fair hand the offering came:
For she recalls the artless smile
Of nymphs that deck my native isle;
Of beauty that we love to trace,
Allied with tender, modest grace;
Of those who, while abroad they roam,
Retain each charm that gladdens home,
And whose dear friendships can impart
A Christmas banquet for the heart!

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