Like me, Charles Dickens liked to read aloud from his works. Unlike me, he got paid for it. (Image Courtesy of the Library of Congress)
My mother and I are staying with my brother and his family while waiting to move into our new winter apartment. (Warning: we will move in the next few days so this will probably be the week’s only blog post!)
A few nights ago I began reading A Christmas Carol to my nephew Michael at bedtime. To say that the ten-year-old boy is enjoying the story is an understatement. He is devouring it.
This short novel penned by Charles Dickens in 1843 is so familiar to me—as it is to much of the English-speaking world—that experiencing it as utterly new through Michael’s eyes and ears gives me special pleasure.
A Christmas Carol is the sort of text that scholar Tony Bennett (no, not THE Tony Bennett) describes as layered with encrustation.
In the essay in which he introduced this concept, Bennett talked about the ways in which the public perception of Ian Fleming’s James Bond has changed with each successive reinterpretation of the character—from the original books to Sean Connery to Daniel Craig.
Bennett likened the changes in our view of Bond to encrustation on a shell or a boat, explaining that re-visionings of a text attach themselves to and reshape the original so that we can no longer see it without them.
A Christmas Carol is one of the most encrusted texts around. Not only has it been adapted more or less as is into play and film form; its basic plot has also been used for numerous theatrical and television films (who could resist Bill Murray in Scrooged?) and holiday episodes of regular television programs.
Such familiar characters as Mr. Magoo, Yosemite Sam, and Oscar the Grouch have taken on the role of Ebenezer Scrooge, whose “bah humbug” attitude toward Christmas and his fellow humans sets the plot of A Christmas Carol in motion.
Each of these characters, like each of the actors who has played Scrooge (from Alastair Sim to Susan Lucci), has left his imprint on our mental picture of Scrooge.
The upcoming Doctor Who Christmas special, set to air on Christmas Day on BBC America, is also rumored to play with the story of Scrooge.
I can’t wait to watch it!
I have to admit that I take pleasure in Scrooge’s story pretty much every time I read or see it. In that sense it is well named. Like the carols we sing to celebrate this season, it resonates—even improves—each time we repeat its cadences.
And despite the tale’s sentimentality, it always behooves us to listen to and learn from A Christmas Carol’s message of charity, good will, and redemption.
Naturally, Michael and I have to nibble on something as we enjoy Dickens’s story of Scrooge, the Cratchits, and the ghostly visitors. (We’re willing to share both the story and the food with the rest of the family.)
I made gingerbread Sunday because I couldn’t think of anything more wholesome and Christmasy than this dense, lightly spiced treat. We ended up with two complementary aromas in the house—the warm gingerbread and the fresh new Christmas tree. Heaven!
My regular cakey gingerbread has been a bit dry lately so I played with the recipe here. You’ll find this version is quite moist, almost brownie like in spots. It has the traditional gingerbread flavor, however.
I should probably warn readers that my gingerbread (including this version) almost always sinks a bit in the middle, hence the use of the word “swamp” in the recipe title. Every bite is delicious, including bites from the swampy section.
God bless us, every one.
1-1/2 cups flour
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 cup sweet butter, melted
1/2 cup firmly packed light-brown sugar
1/4 cup white sugar
1/2 cup molasses
1/3 cup buttermilk
1 egg, lightly beaten
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour an 8-inch-square pan.
In a bowl combine the flour and spices.
In another bowl whisk together the remaining ingredients in the order listed. Stir in the flour mixture. Pour the batter into the prepared pan.
Bake until the cake tests done—from 30 to 45 minutes, in my experience. If it starts to look dried out before it is done, cover it with foil for that last few minutes. If your gingerbread collapses a bit in the middle, ignore it!
Serve with whipped cream or applesauce.
Serves 8 to 12, depending on appetite.
And now … a small reminder to all holiday shoppers that copies of my Pudding Hollow Cookbook are available for you to give your friends and relatives! I ship priority mail within the continental U.S. so there’s still time for Christmas delivery. If you’d like a copy, please visit the Merry Lion Press web site.
Tags: A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens, Christmas Baking, encrustation, Gingerbread, Tony Bennett