A peculiar Christmas feast and the 4th Wise Man

100_0742Polar explorer Captain Scott and his team celebrated Christmas on their way to the South Pole in 1911. As a foodie, I find their feast a little lacking in… je ne sais quoi …

After his historic Christmas dinner with Wilson and Oates, Bowers and Evans, Scott recorded in his diary what he grandly termed four courses: ” The first, pemmican, full whack, with slices of horse meat flavoured with onion and curry powder and thickened with biscuit; then an arrowroot, cocoa and biscuit hoosh sweetened; then a plum pudding; then cocoa with raisins, and finally a dessert of caramels and ginger.”

Pemmican was the classic polar food, preserved, dried meat and fat… not my idea of gourmet nosh, but Birdie Bowers, and Taff Evans both felt so filled with warmth and human kindness after this extraordinary collection of unpalatable rubbish, that they decided when they got back to England they would: “get hold of all the poor children we can and just stuff them full of nice things,” in bachelor Bowers’ words.

I just feel the polar feast could have been warmed up with a wee dram of whisky perhaps, or even a swig of medicinal brandy. But then, I feel the cold.

Bowers was responsible for this jolly Christmas celebration, having smuggled the food over and above the allowed weights for the journey. Once the recalcitrant and desperate Mongolian ponies – who had suffered so terribly on the sea journey to the Antarctic, and who had then struggled endlessly in appalling weather and conditions with food they couldn’t eat- had been killed, every man carried his own food and equipment on the heavy sleds.

Bowers had always sneaked his night-time biscuit to his pony. On the night before they were all killed, Wilson, St Francis’s man, gave his whole biscuit ration to the poor creatures, like the condemned man’s last meal. This was the only time I cried during the film: ‘Scott of the Antartic’ with John Mills.  I was twelve, and blow the men, it was the ponies I wept for.

Thankfully my Christmases have never been as cold as theirs, though it felt like it in the hall in which we rehearsed for the Nativity Play when I was five. I had no idea what a rehearsal was, or why we had been marched – or straggled would be a better word – to the hall just down the road. Neither did I really understand the story we were acting in. We seemed to stand around for hours in the unheated hall while teachers talked animatedly to each other, and shifted bodies and chairs around the stage.

I just knew that the white nightie thing I was wearing like all the other little girls, was freezing. To cap it all – like the other angels in their nighties – I had a boring triangle to keep chinging on. This was a watershed in my understanding of the world. I understood then for the first time, that boys had all the fun. Not only were they all dressed up as kings and shepherds, but they got to play drums and tambourines, trumpets and recorders.

I felt as aggrieved as I did when I first saw huge Persil ads, in which the dark haired woman had the grubby grey sheets, and a bright blonde had the sparkling Persil washed sheets. Apparently blondes were better than brunettes.

But that’s another story… a year later my grandmother took me to a midnight carol service. I was riveted. A boy sang the first verse to: ‘Once in Royal David’s City’ in an un-earthly soaring treble, and then read the lesson. At one point his clear voice rang out with the words “And Mary pondered these things in her heart”. My heart leapt. I had no idea what the beautiful words meant, but for many years I treasured them and pondered them in my heart too.

The next memorable nativity play was when my daughter was five, and she was playing Mary. I thought she was utterly precious as she gazed at the world with her big brown eyes, her little face framed by a blue head covering, her solemn gaze taking in far more than I ever did. I sat and watched her with tears running down my face and my heart nearly burst with love. And the same when my small son sang the solo so sweetly at his Christmas concert.

Much the same too at all my grandsons’ nativity plays, only not tears, laughter. My heart nearly burst with love then too, and lots of giggles, as the head mistress darted down from her pulpit to drag a little finger from some-one’s little nose, and then he simply used the other finger on the other hand and the other nostril as soon as she was safely back in the pulpit.

None of them were magnificently garbed magi, just lowly shepherds … but we all sang the sombre, beautiful carol, ‘We three kings of Orient are…’ My favourite wise man is the fourth one, and that old Christmas legend telling his story is one of the most beautiful Christmas stories, to my mind…

He had set out with the other three Magi, but on the way, they came upon a traveller who’d had an accident, and the fourth wise man stopped to help him. Seeing he would be a while, he told the other three to carry on with their journey, and he would catch them up. But he never did, for he kept meeting some creature or traveller who needed his help to get them to safety, and by the time he got to Bethlehem the kings had been and gone, and so had the Child he was seeking.

He spent many years following the trail which had always gone cold when he got there, to Egypt and Nazareth and elsewhere. He was constantly delayed by yet another needy person who asked for his help. The gifts he brought and the stock of gold he had carried with him for the journey, dwindled until he had hardly enough left to buy himself food.

And then he heard that Jesus was in Jerusalem. He hurried there, and arrived in time to stand and watch Jesus carry his cross through the streets. He had one final treasure that he was keeping to give to the One he had been seeking, a beautiful sapphire jewel. But just before Jesus passed, a Roman soldier began to assault a young woman. The fourth wise man intervened, and by now, old and frail, was unable to stop the soldier. Finally he offered him his last possession, the precious sapphire, his gift for the Messiah, and the soldier took it and left.

At that moment Jesus reached the fourth wise man, and he knelt and asked Jesus’ forgiveness for having nothing for him because he’d stopped so often on the way to help the hungry or lost or needy. And Jesus looked at him and said: ‘For as much as you have done it unto these, you have done it unto me.’

In other words… we are all one… so a happy Christmas-tide to us all, dear friends around the world of blogging.

Food for threadbare gourmets

When Christmas is here, our little purply-red plums are ripe, and though I gave this recipe last year, I think it’s worth repeating  The plums which are only so-so for eating raw, are delicious when cooked. Every-one who receives a basket of these fruits also gets the recipe I use – borrowed from Nigella Lawson.

To a kilo of plums – more or less, use 300 ml of red wine – more rather than less! Nigella says stone them – I don’t bother, the stones come out quite easily when cooked.

Put the plums in an oven proof dish. In a saucepan boil the wine with two bay leaves, half a teasp of ground cinnamon, two cloves, one star anise, and 200g of honey. Pour over the plums, seal with foil or a lid, and bake for an hour or longer at 160 degrees, until they’re tender. You can keep them in the fridge for three days, and you can freeze them.

Serve with crème fraiche, ice-cream, or custard. I also think they’d be good with rice pudding on a cold day. The aromatic scent while they are cooking is so delectable that I’d love to catch it in a bottle and spray it regularly around the kitchen.

Food for thought

“My idea of Christmas, whether old-fashioned or modern, is very simple: loving others. Come to think of it, why do we have to wait for Christmas to do that?”                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               Comedian  extraordinaire, Bob Hope  1903 – 2003 His grandson said that when asked on his deathbed where he wanted to be buried, he characteristically quipped: “ Surprise me .”

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63 Comments

Filed under cookery/recipes, food, great days, history, love, philosophy, spiritual, The Sound of Water, Thoughts on writing and life, Uncategorized

63 responses to “A peculiar Christmas feast and the 4th Wise Man

  1. Dear Valerie, I wish you and your family a wonderful Christmas. Love, Paula

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  2. Love your Nativity/Christmas stories; each one precious. Our plums aren’t out yet so perhaps this recipe is one that I will be trying post Christmas. May you have a joyous Christmas, completing lacking in pemmican 🙂

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  3. Thank you Gallivanta – so glad you enjoyed my little Christmas ramble..
    yes, I think I’ll be missing out on pemmican this year !
    Happy Christmas to you and yours…Valerie

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  4. Thank you for all those Christmas stories, that 4th wise man is the one we should try to emulate. Your nativity play tale reminded me of The Best Christmas Pageant ever by Barbara Robinson, it’s a delightful story which makes the reader look at the old story with fresh eyes.

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    • Thank you Ele, so good to hear from you. So glad you enjoyed the 4th Wise Man. I agree with you. I must try and follow up on the book you mention – it sounds like a must-read… warmest Christmas wishes, Valerie

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  5. Thank you Valerie. I look forward to and enjoy reading your posts so much – you are a treasure! Wishing you and yours a joyous Christmas. x

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  6. Anonymous

    Yes, love doesn’t really need a holiday or reason. Very enjoyable post.

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  7. A wonderful post for showing us how to get into the true spirit of Christmas and remembering it’s about others.
    Nadolig Llawen Valerie, have a wonderful time.

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  8. Thank you David, so glad you enjoyed it. Hope you too have a happy Christmas … I expect to read a full account of the menu you enjoyed on the big day !

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  9. LadyBlueRose's Thoughts Into Words

    a wonderful stroll through your incredible art of story-telling…
    Thank you for sharing …
    Wishing you and yours a Merry Christmas ….
    Take Care…You Matter…
    )0(
    maryrose

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  10. This post warmed my heart Valerie. Jesus was a very consistent, forgiving, kind soul was he not? I am picturing the sapphire burning through the soldiers palm so I am not in that category (obviously). Thanks for sharing such wonderful and entertaining stories. I love them in their colour and authenticity. Wishing you a wonderful Christmas season from a fellow citizen of the world. xx

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    • Dear Lesley, I had a chuckle at your picture of the soldier and the sapphire ! I so enjoyed your comment, and loved that you enjoyed my Christmas ramble.
      Merry Christmas indeed from another joyful citizen of our small world .XXX

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  11. Lovely post. What a great perspective of child, mother, and grandmother on the Christmas traditions. 🙂

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  12. Thank you, dear Valerie 🙂

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  13. Wonderful post and so appropriate not only for this time of the year but all year long.

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  14. A lovely Christmas post, Valerie. Merry Christmas to you and yours. 🙂

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  15. Thank you for sharing the story of the fourth wise man, Valerie. What a beautiful story ending. The plum recipe sounds delicious and aromatic. Wonderful, uplifting post all in all. Merry Christmas to you and yours. Dee

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  16. Amy

    A wonderful post, Valerie. Thank you for telling the story and reminding us Christmas is about caring about and sharing with others…
    Merry Christmas to your and your family. ~Amy

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  17. I’m afraid I lost all sympathy for Scott and Co over the ponies.
    That wise man story is certainly something to ‘ponder in one’s heart’, Our best deeds are when we are totally unaware of the fact that we are performing our best deeds.

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    • Loved your comment, I too had no sympathy for Scott who over-rode Oates on the question of the ponies, and was obstinate too over the use of dogs, which was why Amundsen beat him to the pole…
      I really appreciated your thoughtful comment about the story of the wise man, and what you say about our good deeds is so true….

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  18. Thank you so much, Valerie! Merry Christmas to you and your family! I loved the Fourth Wiseman…may we all become as he giving to those in need through love and gentle kindness!

    Linda
    http://coloradofarmlife.wordpress.com
    ¸.•*¨*•♪♫♫♪Merry Christmas ♪♫•*¨*•.¸¸♥
    ˜”*°•.˜”*°•.˜”*°•.★★.•°*”˜.•°*”˜.•°*”˜”

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  19. I love all things Scott related and had never heard of his Christmas menu (or had forgotten) – quite a feast they had!

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  20. Hello Letizia… so you’re another Scott afficionado, are you !
    There’s a huge library about him and his fellow travellers isn’t there…on the worst journey in the world!
    Yes, when you read that menu, you understand why they basically starved to death, unlike Amundsen …

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  21. Lovely post. You helped me calm down (all this Christmas preparation!) A Very Merry Christmas to you and your family.

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    • Kathie, so good to hear from you. Thank you for your lovely comment..how encouraging to know that a post has a practical effect! Hope you go on keeping calm, with very best wishes for a happy Christmas, Valerie

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  22. Luanne

    What a lovely story–filled with the Christmas spirit. Thank you for being my blogging friend, Valerie.

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  23. And my weekend begins with yet another wonderful post from you. Have a terrific holiday season, Valerie!

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  24. Dear Valerie,

    I find myself looking forward to your posts. This one is a pure delight. Your quip…”blow the men, it was the ponies I wept for” nearly knocked me to the floor with laughter.
    Being raised Jewish, I was never in a Christmas pageant but I was in some kind Purim play at the synagogue when I was around four. The only thing I remember was a costume my mother made out of an old pink blanket and how embarrassed I was.
    My children, however, were raised in the church and I can still see them in shepherd costumes. Lots of sweet memories.
    Thank you for sharing your three perspectives as child, mother and grandmother.
    Give a special hug to our mutual friend this week as I understand there’s a distinct possibility of a face to face meeting.

    Shalom,

    Rochelle

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  25. I always cry when I read or listen to the story of the 4th Wise Man! Your post and the following comments have prepared my heart for the Yuletide Season. I just had to add this link – I think it will give you a smile! It goes along with your words: “In other words… we are all one…”

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  26. I just had the same touching experience attending my granddaughters’ Christmas galas at their school. We are both proud grandmothers. You also made my day sharing the tale of the 4th Wise Man. Not having ever heard this touching story, I would have expected no less of Jesus. It reminds us live his example every day and not just at Christmas.

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  27. Valerie, I wasn’t familiar with the story of the Fourth Wise Man. It’s a beautiful story. Thank you. May you and your family have a wonderful Christmas.

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  28. Another entertaining and provocative blog. Thank you for sharing your lovely memories, Valerie!

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  30. sue marquis bishop

    Thank you for sharing beautiful stories for Christmas. Can’t wait to fix. The plums. Sue
    Womenlivinglifeafter50.com

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  31. Wonderful post, Valerie – filled with Christmas cheer and thoughtfulness and so many connections of story and time. Magical… Thank you! I love your nativity play stories; a wonderful array through time. I’ve got such lovely memories of my children’s nativity plays (over the years my son has been a star, a wise man, a shepherd – and, one year, when they did a pantomime of Snow White, he was the huntsman – complete with toy horse fixed to his wheelchair!) Each year, my daughter is usually busy providing festive music on her violin – and this year, amidst the Christmas carols, the youth orchestra she plays in tackled Beethoven’s fifth (first movement) and did everyone proud. My heart was bursting too at that moment…

    Wishing you and yours a magical Christmas-time, Valerie. Have a wonderful Yuletide season!

    Melanie x

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    • Dear Melanie, what a delightful comment – I loved your nativity play memories, they sounded so tender and poignant. Your daughter sounds like mine, talented all-rounder with a great heart… Wishing you too a joyful and blessed Christmas -time, love Valerie

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  33. Thank you for the stories, so touching, the nativities and the fourth king. There’s nothing like children’s nativities for bringing both tears and laughter.
    Love the plum recipe and wonder if it would work with raspberries?
    Happy Christmas to you and yours. 🙂

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    • sue marquis bishop

      Valerie, I just re-read your lovely Christmas post… you clearly love traditions and family as much as I do….. Hope your Christmas is special this year. Sue
      womenlivinglifeafter50.com

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      • Sue, thank you so much for your lovely comment – I really appreciated it… yes, family are tradition are so precious and irreplaceable, they root us in our time and in the present, don’t they. Thank you for your good wishes, Sue, so far it has been the loveliest Christmas for years !!! I hope yours is special too, Valerie

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    • Hello Sally, a quick note before I sign off for Christmas… I think raspberries might be too tart for this recipe… but then they are so heavenly au natural aren’t they ! Happy Christmas…

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