Mortar & Pestle Story

Mortar & Pestle Story

Our favourite stories show how food can feed us on a deep level by sustaining traditions and connecting us to community. Here’s a good example.

CBC Christmas Sing-In Shortbread

Oh, what fun to sing Christmas carols while making cookies, especially when it’s for a good cause. If you’ve ever donated time or money during the holiday season, you know how irrationally good it makes you feel. That’s what the CBC Sing-In Shortbread is all about.

December 20, 2015 | Text: David Rollins
Cookie Photos: Rob Lee | Church Photos: Tam Lan Truong

First of all, for our American readers: the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation is sort of like the Canadian version of NPR. There’s a certain kind of Canadian that is devoted/addicted to the CBC in the same way that a certain kind of American has pledged allegiance to NPR. It sometimes feels like the CBC is what holds Canada together. If we could elect the CBC to run the country, we would. It’s that great.

Every year for the past 35 years, the CBC has produced a Christmas Sing-In that raises money for a local charity.

The concert also raises the rafters at St. Andrew and St. Paul, one of Montreal’s most musical churches, with choir, brass, and percussion joyously battling against one of our city’s largest and loudest pipe organs. It’s a good old-fashioned bedrock-shaking, bone-quaking Christmas concert – the sort of affair you’d imagine the Crawleys from Downton Abbey attending on Christmas Eve. Whether or not you’re a believer, if you have even a teaspoon of Anglo-Saxon blood in you, the music and pageantry conspire to uplift every hair on your body. God and sinner are reconciled.

It’s the sort of affair you’d imagine the Crawleys from Downton Abbey attending on Christmas Eve.

But it’s not just about the power of music. It’s also about a city that for decades has waited outside the church door, hours before the concert, hoping for a good seat. And a community that rallies around the cause in the weeks before and after the concert, fuelling funds into charities in desperate need of help over the critical holiday period. We’re particularly touched by this year’s initiative because the CBC is donating to a food bank in our own neighbourhood. What’s the tie-in to shortbread?

For years the crew that produces the concert would find an anonymous gift of shortbread cookies in their tech booth. The generous baker, a former member of the choir, preferred to remain anonymous but was eventually identified and has kindly shared her recipe with us. It’s a classic, simple shortbread that comes with no special instructions except that the dough should be flattened by hand. We discovered that this transmits a warmth that’s crucial to binding the ingredients together. It’s also surprisingly grounding and restorative to make something so delicious with your own two hands.

Also, I used to sing in this choir. So the whole experience of working the dough, listening to Christmas carols, and thinking about my own music-making at St. Andrew and St. Paul brought me to reflect on the natural affinity of choral music and charity. As a chorister, you’re the opposite of a soloist – you anonymously pour the strength of your voice into the ocean of sound and emotion all around you. You feel connected to something whole and marvelous. It’s both humbling and empowering, and the reward far exceeds the effort required. This is the miracle of charity. Abandon yourself to some form of extravagant generosity this holiday season. Shine your light into the greater light and make a small, anonymous difference. When you decide that it’s not really about you, the power that flows through you can be absolutely incredible.

CBC Sing-In Shortbread

by Meribah “Mebbie” Aikens

makes about 2 dozen cookies

  • 1 cup butter, at room temperature
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar
  • 2 cups flour

Preheat the oven to 350°F. With a wooden spoon, cream the butter and sugar together until smooth. Sprinkle in the flour a little at a time, stirring to incorporate. Turn out the loose dough onto a floured surface. Form into a ball with your hands. Flatten the dough with your hands, and if desired, smooth it out with a rolling pin before cutting. Cut the dough into festive shapes and prick with a fork. Bake for about 15 minutes, or until the edges are browning and you can smell Christmas.


Client: CBC | Publisher: Mortar & Pestle
Photography, Writing and Styling: Rob Lee & David Rollins (August Industries)