I used to think November was one of those strange months that was abnormally quiet in the world of food. The calm before the holiday storm, as it were.
The harvest is over. Apples have been sauced, pumpkins carved, flesh turned into pies or filling for ravioli. The quince from the old tree by my driveway painstakingly washed, chopped and simmered into thick paste or juiced and added to local cranberries and apples for Paradise Jelly. The vegetable garden has been ripped out, loaded with compost, about 60 garlic cloves planted for harvest the following July. Nothing to do except put my feet up in front of the woodstove with a cup of hot cider and watch old episodes of The Galloping Gourmet.
A relaxing November seems to be wishful thinking over the past few years. I feel this pressure to get on top of things in time for … Christmas. I said it. Christmas. Now, I’m not one of those people who get the Christmas decorations out right after the last trick-or-treater has knocked on the door. I’m a firm believer in waiting for at least the first week in December. But there are things to be done ahead of that. If you want a decently-aged fruit cake, you have to start at least a month before you plan to serve it. Even making a fruit cake usually spans several days, what with soaking fruit in liquor and so on.
Then there are the chocolate letters. I have a tradition of buying Dutch-made chocolate initials for everyone on my list. If you wait too long, you can’t find all the letters you need in the few stores that stock these treats.
Luckily, the European-style bakeries in Victoria have been keeping busy in November as well, not only bringing in the imported treats I love, but producing their own goodies for the holiday, including my favourite Italian holiday bread, panettone, the dried fruit-studded brioche-like bread with the big domed top. Start checking bakeries like Fol Epi, The Italian Bakery and Ottavio’s as we get closer to the holidays for homemade panettone goodness.
Don Genova is a Vancouver Island-based award-winning freelance journalist specializing in food and travel. Find him online at dongenova.com.