Yesterday I went to Audley End to re-visit the servants' wing, after such a successful visit in the summer with the Cottage Smallholder I thought it would be a fun place to go at Christmas. I invited my Mum and my cousin and her mum came along too.
We missed seeing the cooks making Christmas pies and puddings in the kitchens (but to be honest my Mum and Aunt are already pretty knowledgeable about mince pies and Christmas puds!). The kitchen maids were giggling over mugs of tea and chatting up the errand boy when we walked through to the scullery and pantries.
There had obviously been a demonstration of butter making earlier, but there was no-one around to explain how it had been done. No problem – Mum and Auntie knew exactly what to do and gave us a demonstration of butter patting – so if English Heritage need more dairy-maids give them a call! I loved this display of plates in the dairy – something to copy, I think :-)
We were on time for a performance by the story-teller in the great hall. He entertainingly regaled the packed room with tales of Christmas traditions – Yule logs, Christmas Trees and Crackers. Christmas dinner wouldn't be the same without pulling crackers – a particularly British tradition. When I supply illustrations for publishers one of the common 'rules' is: no crackers in the Christmas scenes. This is so the book can be published in co-editions for an international market.
The story-teller told us about the origin of the Christmas Cracker and how during World War II supplies of Tom Smith's cracker snaps were used for the war effort to make gun-fire simulation devises for the home guard. I love this idea, why wasn't there a Dad's Army episode featuring cracker-snaps? Godfrey's sister Dolly could have crocheted the snaps together and Pike and Corporal Jones would have enthusiastically volunteered to set them off with choatic results . . . but maybe the BBC didn't want to confuse the international audience!
I went to the Post Office in the next village today and, inspired by the Chritsmassy tales, I bought a small box of smart silver patterned crackers for Christmas Day. When I returned home I set off on foot to hand-deliver more cards around the village – only to be handed a giant box of glamorous deluxe crackers by a neighbour who will be joining us for Christmas Day! Enough fire power to simulate an artillery bombardment!