It was just after Christmas day when Theodore Luxton-Joyce called on Father Ignatius at the Parish House to return a book he had borrowed. The priest was not at home so Mrs Davenport, the housekeeper, invited Theodore for a cup of tea and a slice or two of her best Dundee cake in the kitchen whilst she was preparing the day’s meal.
“I say this is a decent piece of cake … what?” exclaimed Theodore, “better than any I have ever tasted … did you make it yourself Mrs D?”
“Of course …” she said with a smile big enough to brighten up a cold and grey winter day.
“Then you’ll have to give the recipe to our cook,” replied Theodore helping himself to another slice of cake, “then perhaps we’d have a decent slice of cake more often … what?
“I’ve often said to my dear wife Rose, if you were not the housekeeper here I’d have you in charge of the kitchen up at the mansion in no time … But I suppose the poor Padre deserves a decent meal every now and then … and it’s a good thing you’re here to look after him!”
Mrs Davenport was now glowing with pride as she brought Theodore a plate full of her latest batch of mince pies which she had just made.
“I’ve made these too …” she said rather coyly.
“By Jove … you’re a marvel Mrs D … have you made the mince meat too?”
“But of course,” she replied very pleased with herself, “I use a secret recipe my grandmother gave our family. I mix together raisins, currants, sultanas, orange and lemon peel, honey, sugar and spices, a little salt, suet to hold it all together, and to give it a little crunchiness I add crushed walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts and pecans … and for extra taste I put a generous measure of whisky AND brandy! Not many people do that!”
At this very point Father Ignatius came into the kitchen.
“Ah … Mrs Davenport’s famous mince pies …” he exclaimed as he picked one from the plate. “Better than any you can buy at the finest establishments in London or anywhere else. Royalty doesn’t know what it’s missing, Theodore!
“Mrs Davenport makes her own mince meat, you know. A secret recipe she’ll reveal to no one … Even the Bishop remarked the other day on the excellence of these pies!
“Which reminds me … I have to visit the Bishop today. I’ll be going in about an hour or so … I have some paper work to deal with first. Could I take two jars of your mince meat for the Bishop Mrs Davenport?”
And with that, the priest picked another pie and went up to his office.
Mrs Davenport’s warm prideful glow turned into an ashen gray as if she was at death’s door, as she sat down on a nearby chair.
“What is the matter?” asked Theodore, “you suddenly look as if you’ve seen a ghost … what!”
“If only I had, Mr Joyce,” she lamented, “it’s worse than that. I’ve no jars of mince meat left. I made twenty five two days ago and some went in the pies whilst others were given away …”
“Calamity indeed …” exclaimed Theodore … “but all may not be lost … what? Is this the jar you use?” he asked picking up an open jar of mince meat.
“Yes … it’s an ordinary jar. Then I make my own labels with the words ‘Mrs Davenport’s Mince Meat’ and I stick them on the jars.”
“All is not lost indeed …” cried Theodore as he stood up suddenly knocking the chair over as he did so, “you make two more labels Mrs D … I’ll be back presently.”
Before she had time to ask him he’d rushed out of the kitchen as fast as he could and promptly ran as quickly as his old legs could manage, avoiding slipping in the thick snow, and went to the grocery shop across the road.
Moments later he returned to the kitchen with two of the best quality mince meat jars that money can buy.
“Not up to the standard of your recipe …” he declared, “I’ll soon have these labels off by soaking the jars in some water … then we can put your labels on!”
“But … but, that’s cheating …” she hesitated.
“Cheating … what? Of course not! Would you have the poor old Padre heartbroken as he drove gift-less to the Bishop? The wise men brought with them great gifts all those years ago … and our Padre will take to the Bishop something no less valuable. Not as good as your original, mind you! But he’ll never know!
“And the Bishop … well, he lives from day to day pining for a spoonful of your mince meat to spread on his hot tea cakes and muffins.
“So you’d be doing two men of the cloth a great favor … think of all the days off Purgatory that would buy you!”
Before Mrs Davenport could protest some more, Theodore’s enthusiasm had the old labels off the two bought jars of mince and Mrs D’s labels stuck on.
He was drying out the jars carefully of any smudges of glue when Father Ignatius came in the kitchen with briefcase in hand.
“Ah … you’ve got me your mince meat” he said placing the jars in his case carefully, “thank you Mrs Davenport … the Bishop will be delighted I’m sure … you’re a Saint!”
Theodore waited until he heard the priest drive off and then he beamed “Did you hear that Mrs D … the Bishop will be delighted … you’re a Saint!”
He chuckled to himself as he drove off to his mansion on the hill.
A few days later Father Ignatius took Theodore aside after Mass on Sunday.
“Have you anything to confess?” he asked him gently.
“Ehm … no Padre! I’m far too busy to sin … what!”
“Something about two jars of mince meat, perhaps?”
“Oh … she told you!”
“The poor lady was beside herself with guilt,” explained the priest, “she told me as soon as I returned from the Bishop’s.
“You implicated me in your deceit knowing full well she did not make those two jars!”
“Not the jars … what! I doubt Mrs D is any good at glass-making …” said Theodore feebly.
“You know full well what I mean.” continued Father Ignatius, “you leave me no choice but to absolve you of your well-meaning sin and for your penance I suggest you apologize to Mrs Davenport.”
“I’ll do better than that …” declared Theodore, “I’ll buy her a huge box of chocolates … women forgive you easier with chocolates … what!”
He jumped in his car as he left a smiling Father Ignatius waving him goodbye.