Yet perhaps the differences are most noticeable when it comes to how you celebrate the festivals that crop up throughout the year. Did you always open all your Christmas presents before breakfast? Or was the agony prolonged until the formal Aunts and Uncles arrived after the festive turkey? Did you only ever paint eggs you had blown yourself? Were you familiar with the concept of the Easter Egg Hunt?
I pondered family differences last weekend as three generations assembled in a corner of England. By nightfall the family was all present and correct. Our side rolled up fresh from Birmingham airport, our children proudly wheeling their wheely bags into Nanny and Grandad’s house. My little elves brought laughter, good cheer, and an awful lot of mess.
My husband’s brother took a circuitous route from London via Birmingham, was met by his lovely girlfriend, and they completed the rest of the trip by car. As the freshly-carved pumpkins nestled in the rockery, and the children’s eyes shone with excitement, we commenced a long-standing ritual – a bit early this year - the celebration of Guy Fawkes, and my Father-in-law’s birthday.
The first time I attended this celebration, I stood in awe as the well-oiled machinery rolled into action. Under the careful eye of my Mother-in-law, my Father-in-law taped old bedspreads to the dining room floor. Years of experience had taught them that by dawn, food, mud and grease would be well ground into the carpet. The table started to groan under the weight of grated cheese, ketchup, jars of pickles, bread rolls, knives and forks, glasses and bowls of nuts and crisps. Meanwhile, in the kitchen, the jacket potatoes were filling the oven and pan after pan of fried onions were adding their fragrance to the house. The sausages were lined up on plates and industrial amounts of baked beans were at the ready. The mince pies nestled in a tin, the thick cream impatiently awaiting its moment.
It turns out that it was ever thus. From earliest memory my husband has huddled around a fire eating jacket potatoes, hot dogs and beans whilst his Dad has launched fireworks from a pipe in the garden. The neighbours would come, the neighbours’ children would come and other friends and colleagues would drop by. Some brought food, others brought fireworks. As the eating and drinking began and the show commenced, there would be much ribbing if someone had offered sub-standard explosives. As the years have rolled on, the gathering has diminished, but the tradition remains strong.
This year there were 10 of us - two of us interlopers - Deborah and myself. We caused some consternation by adding to the menu. I had devised a soup, and Deborah – who hails from a land north of Luton – gave us ‘black peas’. When I heard that the recipe simply is: Black Peas, I was all for adding garlic, stock and spice, but my Mother-in-law urged caution. How right she was. Although they were a tad overcooked (by about an hour we think), the addition of vinegar to the black pea mix produced an amazing alchemy. All the water around the peas thickened instantly and with a sprinkling of salt these bad boys were delicious.
My soup was also hailed a success, as were the frankly terrifying fireworks I’d bought earlier in the day. How it is possible to unleash weapons of such potential destruction from your garden is beyond me. Every year I mutter, ‘how long until these are banned?’. This year my mutterings were drowned out by the wailing of my two year old; she is clearly too young for public displays of gunpowder. The evening came to a peaceful end with us sipping red wine and shivering uncontrollably as the fire died down.
I am fully on board with this family’s bonfire night tradition; I particularly enjoyed the slightly drunken staged photo we managed before the children went to bed. We balanced our cameras on the bird bath then raced excitedly down the garden to the whoops and cries of those already assembled. This last little ritual almost seemed the most important part of the evening; we have so few photos of everyone together. I plan to continue the celebration of Guy and my Father-in-law for many years to come, and I may have to add this soup to the evening's menu. It's best served in a cup and eaten with a teaspoon. It doubles up as a great hand-warmer.
Guy Fawkes' Roasted Pumpkin Soup with Croutons
If you are very organised, the pumpkin roasting part of this recipe can be done up to 24 hours before.
I like my soups really thick, a broth if you will. If you don't like it so thick, simply add a little more stock, but be careful, you don't want those croutons to sink now do you?
1 culinary pumpkin
3-5 cloves of garlic
salt and black pepper
olive oil for basting
2 large carrots
4 small leeks or 2 large ones
1 small potato
a handful of fresh coriander
a pinch of hot ground chillis (I cheated and used English Provender's 'very lazy red chillis')
a litre of boiling water
2 gluten free stock cubes
6-8 slices of gluten free bread for the croutons (I used this)
oil to fry
- Pre-heat the oven to 200 degrees Celsius
- Cut the pumpkin into wedges and scoop out all the seeds and messy inner bits
- Peel the garlic
- Put the wedges and garlic onto a baking tray and pour over a good glug of olive oil. Use your hands to make sure each wedge is coated with oil. Grind over the salt and black pepper
- Place in the oven for about 10-15 minutes, then turn them and cook for another 10 minutes until they are tender. Leave them to cool
- Peel and chop the carrots into large chunks, prepare the leeks and also chop into large chunks. Peel the potato and chop into chunks
- Put the carrots, leeks and potato into a large saucepan and add some olive oil to prevent sticking. Heat them very gently for about 10 minutes, making sure they don't stick
- Add the chopped fresh coriander and the red chillis and stir
- Mix the stock cubes with the boiling water and add to the pan. Bring the pan to the boil and leave to simmer uncovered until the carrots are tender. Remove from the heat
- When the pumpkin wedges are cold, peel off the skin so that you are left with the soft inner part. Wipe any salt and pepper that gets left on the skins onto the flesh, you don't want to waste any flavouring, make sure you keep the garlic too
- Using a ladle, remove about three ladlefuls of stock from the saucepan, keep it safe in a jug. I do this because I'm always paranoid about ending up with a runny soup; you can always add more stock, but you can't take it away. You can have that motto for free.
- Put half the flesh into a blender, then add a few ladles of vegetables and stock from the pan
- Blitz the mix, and transfer it to a bowl or a clean saucepan. Keep repeating this until all the stock/veg and pumpkin/garlic is blended
- Now have a look at your soup and decide whether it's thick/runny enough. Add more stock if required
- Now to the croutons. These are fiendishly easy and reminded me of the fried bread my Dad used to make when I was little. Cut the crusts off the gluten free bread and slice the bread into cubes
- Pour enough oil into a frying pan to completely cover the base, then add an extra glug or two. You want about a centimetre of oil in the pan
- Heat the oil until it is hot but not yet smoking. Put some sheets of kitchen paper onto a plate
- Add the croutons to the oil and watch them sizzle. You'll have to turn them when the one side is brown, it's a bit of a painstaking procedure, but worth it. Brown the other side, then remove the croutons and put them onto the plate with kitchen paper. Ta-daaa! Isnt' that clever, you made your own croutons! I was very proud of myself.
- When ready to serve your soup, warm it up, put it in cups and add a generous handful of croutons. Carry the cups outside to your guests, and remember, never go back to a firework that has failed to ignite.