For some years after I bought my forest home out here in the country, 29 years ago, my neighbor lady was a tiny, feisty little English-Irish lady from England, Evelyn Burke. It’s hard to believe she’s been gone 20 years now. She passed away at 103, just missing making it into 2000 which would have meant she would have lived in three different centuries. She was still bright and feisty.

She was a direct descendant of the famous Edmund Burke, born in Ireland in the 1700s. After college, Burke moved to England where he forever became famous as an orator, British statesman, conservative political thinker and member of the House of Commons. Today, he is largely remembered for his famous quote, though probably most have no idea who said it: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”

Though separated from her famous ancestor by many generations, she had that brilliant mind and even looked like him. And although she spent summers with her grandparents in Ireland, she grew up decidedly a typical, many-faceted English lady that could change from prim and proper to bawdy in the flash of an eye, telling stories that would make a longshoreman blush. She married a Royal Canadian Air Force pilot in World War I who was shot down over France, and moved to Canada a few years later and then to Buffalo, N.Y., where she was half-owner of a speakeasy during Prohibition. And she loved her libations, especially whiskey sours.

She eventually operated a catering business serving Buffalo millionaires as her clientele. She later married a U.S. Navy man and ended up in Maine where she was engaged as cook to the famous political Sewell family in Brunswick during World War II.

Fast-forward some decades and, once again a widow, she moved to Morrill at age 86.

This is how I became the fortunate student for many old English dishes. From her I inherited the authentic recipes of Victorian England like Roast Beef and Yorkshire Pudding, now our traditional Christmas dinner. Evelyn was born in Yorkshire in 1896 and remembered watching Queen Victoria’s funeral cortege in 1901.

Many of her recipes and tips she learned from her grandmother. That would go back to the mid-1800s and who knows how much further. Take making Roast Beef and Yorkshire Pudding, for example. First-order: cast iron pans. They hold and distribute the heat perfectly. (I have a nest of six vintage cast iron fry pans in different sizes and cook almost exclusively with them.) The cast iron also is essential for cooking the Yorkshire pudding which must hit the hot drippings in the pan after the roast is taken out without it cooling the pan down even a smidgen. And for the Yorkshire Pudding batter, all ingredients, eggs, milk, etc., must first be brought to room temperature before mixing. And then, the batter must be let to set ("gluten up") an hour before cooking.

Indeed, cast iron and room temperature ingredients are the cardinal rule of successful cooking. I have cast iron muffin and cornbread pans as well as my fry pans. I had a large Dutch oven, too, but it got away from me in one of my moves. I use only the old vintage pans with the baby-butt smooth finish. I wouldn’t give any of the new cast iron pans room in my kitchen.

Another favorite dish I learned from Evelyn is “Bubble & Squeak” which I wrote about recently.

But the pièce de résistance was the English Christmas dessert, “Figgy Pudding.” Who remembers Bing Crosby or Johnny Cash or even the Muppets, singing “We wish you a Merry Christmas” with the verse “We all want some figgy pudding, so bring it right here. We won’t go until we get some, so bring some right here"?

There are a plethora of recipes, old and new, on YouTube. (Do not EVER use one that says “cook in the microwave. That is sacrilege.) Look for an authentic Victorian recipe. The main ingredients are flour, bread crumbs, chopped raisins, currants, minced apples, candied orange rind, beef suet and eggs, spiced with nutmeg, mace, salt, and lastly, but the most essential, brandy. (I like apricot brandy.)

Ideally it should be cooked well before Christmas, but is still great if not. (If you make it weeks ahead, just steam it again for an hour and serve.) When the ingredients are all mixed together, you tie it in cloth and shape close as you can into a ball. This, you steam, for a long time. You can serve it with hard sauce, brandy butter sauce, or my favorite — just pour brandy over it. Take to the table and set it on fire. (Don’t let it burn long enough to burn the pudding.) Quite festive, indeed.

I wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

Marion Tucker-Honeycutt, an award-winning columnist, is a Maine native and graduate of Belfast schools. She now lives in Morrill.