By BOB McCASKILL

Christmas cake. Has any Christmas icon been as cruelly maligned and underappreciated? For generations it has appeared on lists of gifts not to give.

I like the stuff. Never met a bad one. Well, seldom. I don’t cook, but I do make Christmas cake. (Me at the wheel, my wife driving.)

Our Christmas cake is dark, rich, and laden with brandy. And we do give it away.

But we also serve it to Christmas company, and for anyone planning to entertain and looking to dispose of the stuff, here’s how.

This is not a complex recipe, as in Christmas cake itself or lemon meringue pie, or turducken; it is a simple recipe, as in chips and salsa, or Beergaritas (check back in May).

It goes like this:

INGREDIENTS

  • Christmas cake (somebody will give you some).
  • Wensleydale cheese (absolutely no substitutions).
  • Canadian Club rye whiskey (I don’t like it much either).

DIRECTIONS

  • Cut the cake into man-sized fingers, one or two per guest.
  • Cut one1 lady finger-sized piece of Wensleydale for each.
  • Place the cheese fingers on the cake fingers.
  • Place the cake fingers on an elegant silver or crystal or china salver.
  • Pour one or two ounces of CC into shot glasses, one per guest, and place glasses on second silver salver.

 SERVING INSTRUCTIONS

Upon the arrival of the first wave of guests, and before offering any other refreshment, invite each guest to:

a) Honor this household holiday tradition (traditions have to start sometime).

b) Take a piece of cake and cheese in one hand and a shot glass of rye in the other.

c) Stand in a big circle and wish everyone a Merry Christmas (or Happy Holidays or whatever).

d) Take a big bite of cake and cheese and throw back an ounce or so of rye, and enjoy the flavors all at once.

e) repeat (a) through (d) with each wave of guest arrivals, although it is not mandatory nor a good idea for all early guests to celebrate the arrival of all subsequent guests. A good host will do his best, but use his judgment.

This is not a drinking game. It is a culinary event.

As with many outstanding dining experiences, the combination of the ingredients magnifies the sum of their considerable individual attributes and will, I assure you, exceed your expectations. The cake and cheese and whiskey ensemble generates a remarkable mélange of textures, flavors and sensations. (And sometimes, some shortness of breath, watering of the eyes and weakness of the knees, especially among rookies.)

Within a quarter hour of their arrival, your guests will have forgotten the chilly transit to your home, and will be savoring the good wishes and good cheer shared with their fellow guests. They may well stay a little later, but the cake goes home with them.

It has become a fond tradition at our house, and we always toast the special friend who, for many happy years, shared her tradition with us.

Merry Christmas.