A dear, departed aunt was always completely predictable with Christmas gifts. For the men and boys, socks and handkerchiefs, usually bought at the previous post-Christmas sales, along with next year’s Christmas cards, table bon bons, new tree decorations and other Yuletide bric-a-brac. For assorted female family members handkerchiefs, talcum powder, Rotary Christmas cakes or crochet-edged handtowels that could be fastened over kitchen handles with an attached button. These were always bought during the year at her favourite charity’s annual fund-raising fete.
I have long-time friend who is also predictable with her Christmas gift, but one keenly anticipated well ahead of the big day. An excellent cook, from a family of excellent cooks, each summer when Queensland fruit shops are fragrant with the aroma of new-season golden mangoes, she gets out the cooking pot and magics up her truly wonderful mango chutney. This is then divvied up and bottled for distribution to the fortunate chosen recipients.
The recipe is a tightly held family secret apparently revealed by a long-ago neighbour. It will be passed down to the next generation only when my friend’s preserving days are over. The finished product has a wonderful viscose consistency, with just the right balance of vinegar, salts and spices, a rich and deep flavour and generous chunks of fruit. Perfect for meats, cheeses, and assorted other dishes.No shop-bought chutney I have ever tried rivals it, nor have others given to me. And certainly not any I have ever tried to make. So treasured are the jars of chutney that her daughter regularly checks to see that only the very deserving are on the recipient list.
I still have some of my aunt’s hand towels, threadbare and holey, but I’m reluctant to despatch with them because of their sentimental value. No such dilemma with the chutney – that has to be rationed to prolong the pleasure and reduce the wait until the following Christmas. Worth staying on the “nice” list for!