Friday, 6 December 2013


Thanksgiving being later this year, the whole holiday season has seemed to just suddenly appear out of nowhere!  It hit me yesterday – attending first Sunday of advent services and coming home to open the inaugural box on that Advent calendar that has been sitting on my counter for weeks calling to me – that it’s time to break out the holiday cards and start baking and planning menus and decorations and renewing all the wonderful family traditions that this season brings.   If I close my eyes, I can smell the spice-laden kitchen and the welcome heat of the oven that receives a continually rotating array of goods for baking. 

Cookies are my specialty – I generally make anywhere from sixteen to twenty different varieties every year at this time, and I have a tradition for that as well.   I pore over my recipe files and books for a week or two, picking out the family favorites that simply must be made, and finding several more new ones to try.  Then I go through them all to make up a grocery list, purchase the supplies and spread them all out on my kitchen table within easy reach.   The measuring cups and spoons and whisks and mixers and all the paraphernalia of baking line up on the counter ready for duty.   I start on a Friday evening right after work, making up several different batches of dough that can be refrigerated for baking later.  Then I rinse out the mixing bowl to start on another right away.  Early on Saturday morning I am back at it, baking the previous night’s efforts while I make up more batches of dough.  The extra warmth of the kitchen at this time is always welcome.  And the smells – ah! the smells!  Chocolate, of course.  Cinnamon.  Raspberry jam.  Vanilla extract, and toasted almonds or hazelnuts. Coconut, and caramel and… sugar.  They all merge together into a welcoming balm that brings contentment even in the bustle of activity – aromatherapy at its best!

All this activity continues straight through to Sunday evening.  (Quitting time depends somewhat on how well my feet are holding out.)  Whatever I have accomplished in that time is what gets made for the year.  Myriad varieties of bars and drops and meringues and roll-and-slices and cut-outs.  And if I have estimated well on the ingredients required, not too much remains on the kitchen table to find room for in the pantry!  Instead, my dining room table and freezer are stacked with storage containers, just waiting to fill platters and gift boxes.  For me, once the cookies are completed, Christmas-tide has begun!
Of course, there’s still a lot to be done, both in the kitchen and in the house.  I shop for gifts throughout the year, but they must be wrapped and many of them mailed to distant family and friends in a timely manner.  The house gets a good cleaning, top to bottom.  More cooking and baking ensues for safekeeping in the freezer until wanted.  Decorations are brought up from the basement and tucked into a corner of the dining room until they are wanted. 

That’s another tradition of quite long standing in my family.  Although I put a wreath on my front door after Thanksgiving, the rest of our decorating is done on Christmas eve.  The anticipation of it is half the fun; gathering all the family who are home to participate supplies the rest.  I hereby confess that I absolutely love a decorated Christmas tree, but I dislike the actual doing of the decorating.  In my younger days, I solved that problem by hosting a tree trimming party every year.  I supplied homemade dinner, dessert and “wassail”, and that was enough of an inducement to get my friends to trim the tree for me!  One added bonus of this diabolically clever plan was that, although it was never required, most friends showed up with an ornament as a gift.  I have the loveliest assortment of novel ornaments now as a result and each one brings warm memories of people and Christmases past.  I equally cherish time spent with family readying the house for festivities.  They join in even without the promise of food and drink – but of course I still do cook for them. 

Cookie platters would not have been a commonplace Christmas-tide tradition in Regency England.  Families then would have had their Christmas puddings and Twelfth Night cakes, among other treats.  But it was traditional not to decorate a house until Christmas eve.  (And the decorations all had to come down on January 6th, or the house risked bad luck.)    Here is a snippet from my latest novel, A Fitzwilliam Legacy, that describes the results of one Christmas eve effort at Pemberley.     

“Lizzy joined in the collective expressions of delight on entering the north parlour, Mrs Reynolds and her staff having outdone themselves in the room’s dressing.  Evergreen boughs draped tables and mantle, filled window ledges, edged door openings – accented here and there with ivy and mistletoe, cones and holly berries.  Ribbons of velvet and striped satin intertwined among the branches of garlands to increase by their contrast the convivial setting.  The room glowed softly from the flickering light of beeswax candles established at doorways and windows and in wall sconces, their flames mirrored in the polished silver sticks and candelabras and reflected, jewel-like, in crystal.  The fireplace remained dark, but had been prepared and awaited only the master’s hand to set ablaze the massive log filling the hearth.  But sensation redolent of yew, box, rosemary and bay, mingling with candles and warmed spiced ale, after being enclosed all the afternoon, was released upon the opening of the doors, and brought a sigh of contentment from Lizzy as she surveyed the scene.”

Christmas also would have been a time, just as it is for me every year, for gathering together family and friends, as Jane Austen herself wrote in Emma.  “At Christmas every body invites their friends and thinks little of even the worst weather.”

I have shared with you a couple of my traditional activities to prepare for Christmas.  I would love to hear some of yours as well.  And as the primary subject of this article is cookies, I would like to know: what is your favorite Christmas cookie?  Share it in a comment below, and you might win a copy of my current two-volume novel, A Fitzwilliam Legacy (Volume I: Seasonal Disorder, Volume II: New Year Resolutions.)  

I have one paperback set and one ebook set to giveaway.  And if you visit my blog over the coming days ( you may even find a few of my favorite cookie recipes there!

And if you are still looking for a perfect gift for a Jane Austen fan, or simply a holiday indulgence for yourself, you can purchase a copy of A Fitzwilliam Legacy at the below links.  I have just reduced the price of the ebooks as a nod to the season.  This story of a Christmas-tide gathering with Elizabeth and Fitzwilliam Darcy at Pemberley is a lovely indulgence to keep your hand from straying to the cookie platter – and it’s much less fattening, too! 

Whatever your own traditions, I wish you all a joyous holiday season!

Tess Quinn

About the author

Tess Quinn is a long-time admirer of Jane Austen who became inspired to write Austen-based fiction about eight years ago.  She began publishing her writing in 2011 when asked to contribute a short story to The Road to Pemberley, an anthology.  Since then, she has published a book of all her own short stories, Pride Revisited; an early novel, Caroline’s Comeuppance; and recently a two-volume sequel to Pride and Prejudice entitled A Fitzwilliam Legacy.  Her current work-in-progress is a novel of the Darcy family that partly includes a reimagining of the main storyline in P&P.  Principles of Pride (working title) will be available in 2014.  

a Rafflecopter giveaway
a Rafflecopter giveaway


WarmisunquAusten said...

I have in my wishlist this book because I think that its plot is interesting, and I will be glad to read it.

Thank you the giveaway.

Joanne said...

There is a big round of baking in this house too - but not until next week. There will be the family recipe shortbread, almond fingers, mince pies, raspberry biscuits, ... and on Christmas Eve the Pavalova will be made. It's summer here - Christmas dinner is often BBQ based with lighter desserts like the Pav.

Maria said...

I am not very good at baking, I am very good at eating, though :) especially sweets! My mother makes a delicious homemade panettone (an Italian Christmas sweet) and cookies and other traditional pastries! Christmas is a very special period :)
Thank you for the giveaway!

Vesper said...

as it is only the two of us we don't bake much but we do love to make a cheesecake

flyinggirl4 said...

Lovely post and great giveaway. Thanks!

cyn209 said...

i so don't cook/bake i am pretty useless in the kitchen, except for the eating part!! LOL!!
but i do enjoy rainbow cookies & cheesecakes!!!!

thank you for the giveaway!!

Janet T said...

Lovely post, Tess! I think all your traditions sound great and aren't you the clever one with the tree trimming parties! :)

I've been doing a bit of holiday preparation myself and enjoying it!

Since I already have these excellent books, I won't participate in the giveaway.

Kate Warren said...

I used to bake a lot of cookies around this time of year, back before life and children got incredibly complicated. Someday I will start up again.

Lovely post, Tess!

Angie W said...

I have not started my cookies yet! I've been too busy reading! ;-)
I won't enter because I bought both books not too long ago. I will say, however, get them! They are both excellent! Loved them and added them to my tbr again file!!

TessQ said...

Thank you all for commenting!

Joanne and Anemailname, I haven't started baking for this year yet either (the picture at the top is from last year) -- I haven't found a clear weekend yet. I may have to forego the marathon baking this year and spread it out, life is just so busy.

Pavalova sounds great, I love that! (I often make an éclair ring or almond ring for dessert, in addition to the cookies, since I give so many of the cookies away.)

Cyn, ooh, I love cheesecakes too! But those I make at other times of year...

Maria, I've never tried to make panettone, I've only had the ones from a store, but they are very good too.

Too many goodies at this time of year, aren't there???

Thanks again to you all for taking the time to comment. I hope that whether it's baking, or eating, or just dreaming of sugar plums, you are all enjoying the lead up to your holidays.

(Anemailname, thanks so much for the nice comments on my novel. If you are willing, I would love to have you leave a fair review on amazon or goodreads or... wherever. As a relatively new author in this genre, I can use all the reviews I can get to let people know about my writing.)

kaewink said...

I started my christmas baking on friday and did a second kind yesterday.
First Vanillekipferl, and austrian-german seciality of vanillycookies shaped in U-form. An yesterday my childhood-favourites my granny always made for us - two plain cookies "plastered" together with jam in between and a spread of sugar with a few drops of cold coffee on top and a mokka-chocolate bean. She made similar ones with nuts on top, which were my sis favourite, but those were mine - and I have to say I tried them myself this year for the first time. They turned out quite well.

Carol hoyt said...

When my grandchildren were younger, we would mske from scratch chocolate chip cookies with a dusting of snow ( confectioners sugar) . I think they are more raw then we ended up baking.

Now, with only 3 young ones, we dip out from the roll of dough, but still have fun.

Such memories !
Loved the blog!

Anonymous said...

I admire your Christmas cookie traditions. I wish I was as ambitious. So far I only have the eating cookies tradition

TessQ said...

Thank you, ladies, for your comments!
Kaewink, your cookies sound delicious... my mouth was watering at the description of the mocha ones. And Carol, I have eaten my share of raw dough, too! (Isn't that half the fun?) Anonymous - sadly for my waistline, I have to taste everything I bake too... to make sure it's good enough to serve to others -- right??? ;-)

♡♥♬ Carolsue ♡♥♬ said...

I always make Eggnog Fudge. It's a big hit!
Digicats {at} Sbcglobal {dot} Net

Michelle said...

I don't do any special baking for the holidays, but I love to make brownies. Well, I love to eat them. The baking part isn't my favorite thing, just the eating! My mother might make pumpkin pie for Christmas. Favorite Christmas cookie is gingerbread.