Sunday, 25 December 2011

Mrs. Seacole at Christmas

Excuse this for being rather out of period for this blog, but as it's the season of festive cheer (hopefully) I thought that a look back to Christmas towards the end of the Crimean War might be in order. This extract comes from Mary Seacole's memoirs 'The Wonderful Adventures of Mrs. Seacole in Many Lands' published in 1857.

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So Christmas came, and with it pleasant memories of home and of home comforts. With it came also news of home—some not of the most pleasant description—and kind wishes from absent friends. “A merry Christmas to you,” writes one, “and many of them. Although you will not write to us, we see your name frequently in the newspapers, from which we judge that you are strong and hearty. All your old Jamaica friends are delighted to hear of you, and say that you are an honour to the Isle of Springs.”

I wonder if the people of other countries are as fond of carrying with them everywhere their home habits as the English. I think not. I think there was something purely and essentially English in the determination of the camp to spend the Christmas-day of 1855 after the good old “home” fashion. It showed itself weeks before the eventful day. In the dinner parties which were got up—in the orders sent to England—in the supplies which came out, and in the many applications made to the hostess of the British Hotel for plum-puddings and mince-pies. The demand for them, and the material necessary to manufacture them, was marvellous. I can fancy that if returns could be got at of the flour, plums, currants, and eggs consumed on Christmas-day in the out-of-the-way Crimean peninsula, they would astonish us. One determination appeared to have taken possession of every mind—to spend the festive day with the mirth and jollity which the changed prospect of affairs warranted; and the recollection of a year ago, when death and misery were the camp’s chief guests, only served to heighten this resolve.

For three weeks previous to Christmas-day, my time was fully occupied in making preparations for it. Pages of my books are filled with orders for plum-puddings and mince-pies, besides which I sold an immense quantity of raw material to those who were too far off to send down for the manufactured article on Christmas-day, and to such purchasers I gave a plain recipe for their guidance. Will the reader take any interest in my Crimean Christmas-pudding? It was plain, but decidedly good. However, you shall judge for yourself:—“One pound of flour, three-quarters of a pound of raisins, three-quarters of a pound of fat pork, chopped fine, two tablespoonfuls of sugar, a little cinnamon or chopped lemon, half-pint of milk or water; mix these well together, and boil four hours.”

From an early hour in the morning until long after the night had set in, were I and my cooks busy endeavouring to supply the great demand for Christmas fare. We had considerable difficulty in keeping our engagements, but by substituting mince-pies for plum-puddings, in a few cases, we succeeded. The scene in the crowded store, and even in the little over-heated kitchen, with the officers’ servants, who came in for their masters’ dinners, cannot well be described. Some were impatient themselves, others dreaded their masters’ impatience as the appointed dinner hour passed by—all combined by entreaties, threats, cajolery, and fun to drive me distracted. Angry cries for the major’s plum-pudding, which was to have been ready an hour ago, alternated with an entreaty that I should cook the captain’s mince-pies to a turn—“Sure, he likes them well done, ma’am. Bake ’em as brown as your own purty face, darlint.”

I did not get my dinner until eight o’clock, and then I dined in peace off a fine wild turkey or bustard, shot for me on the marshes by the Tchernaya. It weighed twenty-two pounds, and, although somewhat coarse in colour, had a capital flavour.

Upon New Year’s-day I had another large cooking of plum-puddings and mince-pies; this time upon my own account. I took them to the hospital of the Land Transport Corps, to remind the patients of the home comforts they longed so much for. It was a sad sight to see the once fine fellows, in their blue gowns, lying quiet and still, and reduced to such a level of weakness and helplessness. They all seemed glad for the little home tokens I took them.

There was one patient who had been a most industrious and honest fellow, and who did not go into the hospital until long and wearing illness compelled him. I was particularly anxious to look after him, but I found him very weak and ill. I stayed with him until evening, and before I left him, kind fancy had brought to his bedside his wife and children from his village-home in England, and I could hear him talking to them in a low and joyful tone. Poor, poor fellow! the New Year so full of hope and happiness had dawned upon him, but he did not live to see the wild flowers spring up peacefully through the war-trodden sod before Sebastopol.

The Wonderful Adventures of Mrs. Seacole in Many Lands

2 comments:

  1. Thanks for including of the most underrated women in history! I loved reading her autobiography. Keep up your great work!

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  2. Yes, if you didn't know how long ago it was written you'd think she was a very modern woman indeed!

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