The parchment papers covering the plum puddings strained at the strings knotted around their girths. Spicy steam curled and wreathed from the deep pot, mingling with the aromatic fragrances of pine boughs and the sweet scent of friendship.
I stuck my head around the corner.
“The small puddings are almost done.”
“They smell divine. What’s happening with the pressure cooker?”
“It’s fine. Pressure’s steady.” Actually, I was suspicious of the monstrosity and its soft hiss and hoped Sarah would finish her phone call so she could tend to it herself. We’d decided to use the pressure cooker for the large plum pudding, otherwise we’d be up until the wee hours.
She continued with her call. “Just use the regular candles. Tell them I said it would be fine. Bless you.”
Sarah bustled into the kitchen.
“Now, where were we?”
“Between chopping cranberries and grinding nuts,” I replied.
“Ah, yes. The cranberry loaf.”
That’s all she said before the phone rang again.
“Pastor Sarah speaking...”
I ground nuts and chopped cranberries. Then, Sarah returned and scooped flour, measured cinnamon, and buttered pans. After spreading the stiff batter into two loaf pans, we licked the spoons.
“What’s next?” We flipped through the Christmas book, seeking our favourite recipes.
“Mincemeat tarts!” we sang in harmony and laughed.
Sarah rummaged in the baking cupboard to fetch the proper tins, but before she could find them, the phone rang.
The pressure cooker gave a shuddering sputter as Sarah passed, and I glared at it.
“Hi! I haven’t heard from you for a while. What’s new?”
I cut the shortening into the flour, added the ice water, then rolled it out, the pastry stretching with each pass. As always, the never-fail pastry didn’t fail.
Congratulations and a short prayer.
I pushed the round bits of pastry into the located tart tins, and by the time I was ready to fill the little shells, Sarah had hung up.
“Dale has a new job. They’re buying another house.”
“That’s wonderful,” I exclaimed.
Sarah spooned mincemeat into tart shells, then slid the first pan into the oven while removing the cranberry loaves. Done to perfection.
I put a kettle of water on to boil; it was time for a cup of tea. The phone rang again, and Sarah shook her head.
“I’m sorry. We’re not getting to visit, and you’re doing most of the baking yourself.” She scooted around the corner to relieve the phone’s insistent clamoring.
The pressure cooker gave a belch and spewed droplets over the stove. I stirred honey into our tea, then gave the stove a wide berth as I took our cups into the living room and sat down.
“...peace that passes understanding and wisdom that comes from You, Amen. Take care. Bye.”
Sarah and I sat in companionable silence for a few minutes while we drank our tea, enjoying the moment, the scents, and the quiet.
“Well, let’s get on with it, shall we? We can make a batch of something while we’re waiting for the plum pudding in the pressure cooker.”
I creamed butter while Sarah blended flour and confectioner’s sugar, and once again, as if on cue, the phone rang. Sarah smiled apologetically. I brandished the buttery spoon in a farewell gesture.
“Oh, my. How are you doing now?” I heard Sarah’s voice, gentle, comforting, then long spells of silence.
Snap! The pressure cooker produced more ominous clicks. In an effort to drown out any more harbingers of doom, I gathered up dirty utensils and filled the sink with sudsy water.
I tiptoed through the living room to get the teacups. Pastor Sarah was deep in prayer with the caller.
When I returned to the kitchen, the smell of hot metal and plastic permeated the air. Crack! Something was definitely awry. I jumped as more cracks followed. Sarah returned.
“Pray for the Johnsons. They’ve had bad news.”
Another very loud crack. Sarah turned off the burner.
“It’s boiled dry. Let’s pray it’s okay. The pudding, too.”
Miraculously, the glass pudding bowl wasn’t broken, the pot wasn’t even scorched.
Sarah laid her hand on the cooled cooker. “We were fortunate. We might have had a ruined pot or worse. Prayer is rather like being in a pressure cooker, don’t you think? It’s immediate, intense, hot. The fruits are sweet, not always what we wish, but always effective and powerful. That’s my sermon for the day. How about another tea?”
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