Guest blogger, Cathy Donovan, writes: Certain women have the luck of marrying men who love to cook. I was not one of them. My husband Tommy was a tall, lanky Irishman, with cornflower blue eyes and a wide smile. He could make a respectable soft-boiled egg, but that’s about it. However, he did make one thing and only at Christmas time.
Tommy was born of Irish parents, and a Christmas pudding was always at his holiday table, along with a trifle. When he first proposed making trifle for my family, I had visions of a fancy confection with homemade custard in a footed Waterford dish. His trifle was far more down to Earth, a simple layering and mixing of seven ingredients. The recipe was long ago perfected by Tommy’s two aunts, Delia and Sheila, who lived to be 100 and 101, each drank a Smirnoff martini daily, with an olive, not a twist and shared their recipe with us.
One Christmas eve, as our small daughter Molly watched, Tommy tied an apron on his 6’3” frame and began making the trifle. He gathered the ingredients I had purchased for him: fruit cocktail, Jell-O (yes, Jell-O!), strawberry jam, Birds English Custard mix, heavy cream for whipping and the essential ladyfingers. And the rum. That was most important ingredient.
As the snow fell, Tommy prepared his trifle. He boiled water for the Jell-O and let it set. He lined a Pyrex lasagna dish with ladyfingers and told us of Christmases spent with his aunts and cousins in Vermont when the aunts cooked this very same the trifle. When he finished layering all of his ingredients he spread the top with whipped cream and decorated it with 6 maraschino cherries, cut in half and arranged in 2 simple lines. The trifle was then put in the fridge where it spent the night awaiting my family the next day. That Christmas was the third of 24 Christmases that Tommy, Molly and I spent together, with our families, serving the trifle. My mother was partial to the trifle, as was most anyone who tasted it. Tommy’s trifle became the most requested dessert at our Christmas table.
Christmas 2008 marked my 25th year of marriage and it passed with Molly and me on our own. Tommy died unexpectedly after a short battle with cancer early in that year. He lingers deep inside of both of us, our Christmases together a clear and enduring memory. I cannot bring myself to make the trifle any longer. I don’t have the touch. Maybe one day I will make it again. But sometimes at Christmas, when I see the array of cookies and cakes set out underneath the flicker of candles burning low, I think of that trifle and have longing to taste it and to hear his voice again, just for a moment, a single second.
Editor’s Note: Though not exactly like the recipe in the story, here is a recipe for your Christmas trifle. Feel free to add rum!
1 pkg. lady fingers, split
1 can fruit cocktail, drained
1 sm. pkg. strawberry Jello
1 sm. pkg. instant lemon or vanilla pudding
Split lady fingers and arrange on bottom and sides of a glass bowl. Drain fruit cocktail, add to lady fingers. Prepare Jello, pour over fruit and lady fingers. chill until firm. When it’s firm, prepare instant pudding according to directions on the box and pour over Jello. Chill. Garnish with whipped cream and maraschino cherries, if desired.
Photo credit: Amy Lenzo