A Christmas Carol and Christmas Gingerbread

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.

Christmas Swamp Gingerbread
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.

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11 Responses to “A Christmas Carol and Christmas Gingerbread”

  1. Jack Estes says:

    Another winner blog, Tinky. And the Swamp looks delicious. Give my regards to the family. Great image of you and Michael reading about Scrooge and sharing the gingerbread.

  2. Loyce Cofer says:

    Oh boy oh boy, I’ve been waiting to try some gingerbread and not the cookies, sounds wonderful.

  3. The swampy middle looks like the best bit. Kind of like the sad streak in a good pound cake. Good luck on your move!

  4. I love gingerbread – either with butter on it ….. or icing (just everyday icing made with icing sugar and hot water) I’m glad Michael is enjoying the story – he’s a lucky boy to have you read it with him – I bet you do all the voices!!

  5. Such a well written post, I loved it! And your ‘swampy’ gingerbread looks awesome! I have a soft spot (pun intended) for sad-streaked and sunken cakes and breads because I grew up with most of my mothers delicious baked goods having them!
    I hope the move goes smoothly!

  6. Carol Cooke says:

    So glad to see someone else owning up to a love of Charles Dickens and I’m delighted that young Michael is enjoying “A Christmas Carol”. I read it to my younger brother and sister growing up. It seems to portray the coldness and early dark of winter time so well. Just saw “Scrooged” again recently and it is terrific. The scene between Bill Murray and Carol Kane is hysterical. BTW, love the falling snow on the home page. Cheers!

  7. Hey Tinky….I LOVED your post on the Christmas Carol! It is one of my favorites, too….part of my own psychic “encrustations” , I suppose! In my book, no one will ever surpass the performance by Alistair Simms. What an amazing production that film version was.

    The Judith Russell painting that you posted used to hang in our Riverside Restaurant!!!! I remember when Judith painted it! I recently pulled out a couple of her Christmas paintings that we have …. she was such a treasure.

  8. Grad says:

    I love A Christmas Carol. I re-read it every year, and I watch two of the versions (Alistair Sim and Reginald Owen) on Christmas Eve. It is probably my favorite story of all time. Gingerbread, not so much. But I think I’ll remake your bagels! I still cookies to bake this weekend and will pull from your store of Twelve.

  9. commonweeder says:

    I agree that gingerbread is the perfect accompaniment to Christmas preparations. I also have the ‘swamp’ problem and found that others have it too. I just bought the Feb 2011 issue of Cook’s Illustrated magazine because it said it had figured out how to get rid of the common swamp. Now I have to find Guinness stout!

  10. Donna says:

    I love gingerbread or ginger anything (having just discovered Chimes Ginger candies). I’m also quite fond of Dickens A Christmas Carol. Fond memories of the Magoo version growing up, also recently caught the musical version with Albert Finney (thank you very much TCM). It’s a story and message that never really grows old.

    Wishing you and your family a very happy holiday season Tinky. I know the eats will be delicious! May 2011 be a wonderful, rich and tasty year for you and on this tasty blog!


  11. Judy says:

    Missing you and Jan very much! Will raise a glass to your photo on Christmas eve and have a cup of ginger tea and bread. Sending holiday love and health!