Some 30 years ago, pregnant with my first child, my husband and I decided to spend Christmas with my friend and her husband in Southampton, England. Valerie and I had been pen pals for nearly 20 years by then and we had enjoyed their visits to the U.S., as well as a trip to England we had made a few years earlier.
We’d done quite a bit of sight-seeing on our first trip to England, so this one was mostly focused on our friends, their family and the Christmas season. It was a beautiful time of long walks in their neighborhood, drives into the Black Forest, visits to the seashore, evenings before the fire and great meals around their dining table.
The meal I remember most was on Christmas Day. Vallie (as everyone called her) and her husband, Christopher, were determined to give us a traditional British feast. Both their parents were joining us for the day.
We began preparations the day before and by noon on Christmas Day, the table was laden with a roast turkey, prawns (Vallie’s favorite shrimp), Yorkshire pudding, many beautiful vegetable dishes and English Trifle. The table was set for a feast, with wine goblets, flowers, candles and, at each place setting, “crackers” — festively wrapped tubes of paper holding little treasures, such as a bookmark or tiny toy, and paper hats and whistles. We had learned that the stodgy Brits like nothing more than a good laugh, so we joined in popping our “crackers” before donning our hats to eat.
We didn’t realize this would be our last visit to England, though they returned to America several times. In a few short years, Vallie would begin a battle with melanoma. She fought hard, but the cancer took her life when she was barely 40 — a beautiful, well-loved, gracious woman whose life ended too soon.
I still prepare Vallie’s version of Trifle for special family events, and every time I do, memories of our Christmas in England come flooding back. I’d like to share her recipe with you. Enjoy.