Smells like Christmas spirits
Oh yes, that is a bottle of lovely dark rum. I'd happily have a little tipple of this stuff at any time of year, if I'm honest, but at Christmas, I welcome it to the table like a family member.
Why not whiskey or brandy? Well, firstly it's because I'm of Jamaican heritage, and rum is always going to be number one for us. But mostly, it's because the smell I will always associate with the festive season is the rum raisin filling for Caribbean Christmas cake, the only kind of cake I've ever known my mother to make. Somewhere in our kitchen, wrapped tightly in plastic bags, there was always an old ice cream tub that housed a pile of loose raisins and sultanas, swimming in the contents of a bottom of dark rum. The dried fruit would go in the tub in the first half of the year, alongside lashings of Captain Morgan. By the time December rolled around, the tub would be full of soft, fat, rum-drunk little berries, happily floating about. When you pulled off the lid, that sweet, sweet smell would all but punch you in the face. It was AMAZING.
Often known as Black Cake, the cake mixture itself looks pretty unremarkable until the arrival of those raisins in their rum bath; once they were sloshed into my mum's ancient, ear-splittingly loud mixer, the batter would turn a delicious deep brown, close to curdling from all that extra liquid. The aroma wafting out of the oven once those cakes start to cook is unlike anything else, largely because of the sheer quantity of rum inside. It's something I've never really got my head around - my mother is basically tee-total and gets a bit giddy off half a glass of wine. Not content with the amount of booze in the cake batter, she'd then insist on feeding the finished bakes with healthy slugs of yet more rum. I remember one year taking a little cake into work one Christmas - my apologies again to my former colleagues for getting you accidentally trolleyed at your desks.
This little trip down memory lane is really just a way to excuse myself in advance - you now know why rum features so heavily in my Christmas menu. To me, it genuinely is the Christmas spirit.
If you feel like getting a taste of the Caribbean this Christmas, try out this recipe below, adapted from the Jamaicans.com website. It assumes you haven't been soaking your fruit all year, don't worry.
Caribbean Christmas cake
6 ounces plain flour
8 ounces margarine or butter
4 ounces caster sugar
4 ounces dark soft sugar
1 pound raisins
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon mixed spice
1/2 teaspoon salt
Zest of 1 lemon
Zest of 1 lime
1/2 pound prunes (chopped)
4 shots dark rum (or brandy, if that's your thing)
Lightly grease a 9" cake tin and line the base and sides with baking paper.
Cream butter and sugar with an electric mixer until soft and fluffy.
Sieve all dry ingredients together
Whisk eggs + alcohol together.
Add egg mixture to creamed butter and sugar.
Add flour and fold in with a spatula or wooden spoon until just combined.
Bake at 180C (160C for a fan oven) for 1 1/2 hours.
The cake is cooked when a skewer inserted into the middle comes out moist but with no raw batter on it.
Leave the cake to cool completely in the tin, before turning it out onto a rack.
If you like your cake extra boozy, poke small holes all over it with a cocktail stick and feed it another shot of alcohol at least 30 mins before serving.
NB: Not to exaggerate, but I would definitely factor this cake into your unit calculations if you are planning to drive after indulging in several slices, especially if you are already consuming other alcohol...stay safe out there please, people.