What is patriotism but the love of the food one ate as a child? ~Lin Yutang
Christmas. What better excuse to begin talking ‘cooking’ & favourite recipes! Christmas is for so many SUCH a great food time, forming traditions & happy memories.
Before I let myself loose on the subject of favourite Christmas recipes, let me introduce myself. I am an Aussie, of a ‘certain age’ or ‘age certain’ depending upon how kindly you’d like to look at it. I come from a land of plenty – plenty of good weather, plenty of food, & plenty diversity in cultural influences when it comes to food.
An ancient country, for somewhere between 40,000 – 70,000 years the sole population in Australia was the Aboriginal Australian traditional owners, & it has only been over the past 224 years that the country was settled by immigrants from all over the world. What brings this big melting pot together is more powerful than any cultural or ideological differences – it is the human love of sharing of food.
Europeans often ask me what is our traditional ‘cuisine’ – there’s no short answer! It’s constantly changing, experimenting, fusing, & I’d just describe it as a feast in motion. Being blessed with great food sources, we are further blessed by very talented chefs & cooks from many different cultural backgrounds, who constantly introduce us to new delights. When I was a child in the 1950’s, the major food influences were British & Irish, but very quickly joined by the first Italian & Greek immigrants. Asian food became another huge influence, & not long after came the Middle Eastern cuisines. There are many other different ‘cuisines’ in Australia, & in almost every suburb one can eat from around the world.
What is probably best-known about Aussie food is our love of the ‘barbie’ (BBQ). When I was a child, every house had some simple steel plate or griddle outdoors where meat could be grilled or sizzled, & these days whole ‘outdoor kitchens’ are common. If not the full kitchen, then at least the seriously-sized BBQ, complete with wok, grills, hoods for oven-style roasts, spits, & so on. My son says a bloke isn’t a real bloke unless he has an 8-burner, & BBQ’s are bloke territory. Must be biological –instead of throwing chunks of fresh-killed buffalo on the fire, they ‘chuck a few prawns on the ‘barbie’. Indeed, they wont let us girls into this territory (yay!), as it’s the hot-rod car they never had as a youth. Or something like that. The fact that many totally ruin beautiful food (a char-BQ) is immaterial, although I must admit that most do a brilliant job.
So when it comes to food, what is just magnificent in terms of facilitating a sense of belonging for those new to Australia, is that absolutely every new culture ends up embracing the barbie. It is our common language. You don’t have to speak English to be an Aussie – you just need to whip out the Barbie.
BBQ’s totally suit our climate as well, especially over summer, & for many it wouldn’t be Christmas if there wasn’t at least something prepared by BBQ, as it’s summer & hot as Hades. And air-conditioning in houses is still less common than otherwise. There is however a myth that we have our Christmas meal on the beach. Hmmm, a swim yes, but eat no. Beach & food don’t mix well – sand, flies galore, & broiling sun. Not good, not wise, especially if drink added to the mix, which naturally, being Christmas, it is. However the myth persists & its become a tourist ’must do’ to have a beach Christmas. Bondi Beach in Sydney particularly is Mecca for tourists – bit like running the bulls in Pamplona, because most end up burnt to blister level, &/or being (hopefully) rescued by lifesavers when throwing themselves in with gay abandon into the delicious but often dangerous surf. All good fun though!
While a beach foodie event is generally not for us, greatly favoured are Christmas holiday traditions such as beach or backyard cricket, where every age from toddler to the ancient gets a turn at batting or bowling. Rules are made up on the spot – eg if the ball hits Mums sheets hanging on the clothes-line is it a catch & your ‘out’ or is it worth a score of 4 runs? Or if the stumps (a beer carton) falls over even if the bowler didn’t hit it, is the batter or the bowler who is ‘out’? (For those who don’t know the game of cricket, don’t worry, just pretend it makes sense because if you’re in Australia over Christmas you’ll learn soon enough).
So – home together with extended family is where most of us are on Christmas Day, & that is when most celebration/eating goes on, Christmas Eve not generally being an ‘event’ as such. Foods will usually include the early English traditional delights such as Plum Pudding & roast turkey; glazed & baked legs of succulent ham; dishes from either traditional or fused global influences; fresh seafoods plucked from the oceans; cold deserts of all sorts of mouth-watering treats, but of which the Pavlova (exquisite meringue topped with cream, pasionfruit, banana etc) is the ‘must-have’.
I’m going to post a few Christmas favourites on the Food/Recipe blog, but let me share with you right now what I consider to be THE best Christmas cake, & which has been a ‘Must-have’ amongst my mob for years.
SRI LANKA CHRISTMAS CAKE
This cake is delicious, moist & slightly sticky, with spices of cinnamon, cardamom & cloves, nuts & semolina. I cut it, as is said to be tradition in Sri Lanka, into individually wrapped little logs to give as little gifts. I wrap my little bonbons in foil, then in red or green cellophane, tied with curly ribbon. It’s more like a sweetmeat than a cake, & is a fab stand-by to have heaped in a bowl when friends pop in. Note: it needs to be made at least 2 weeks in advance. Remember too, that the fruits soak for 24 hours before you start making the cake. Don’t ice it –it’s sweet enough!
Like all things cooked, use the best ingredients you can find.
60g mixed peel
60g chopped glace apricots
60g chopped glace ginger
60g glace cherries, chopped in halves
2 tablspns honey
2 tablspns brandy
1 teasp rosewater
125g raw cashew nuts
250g caster sugar
6 egg yolks (I use eggs of about 55g -60g, nit jumbos).
125g fine semolina
½ cup strawberry jam
½ cup pineapple or apricot jam
½ teasp cinnamon
½ teasp nutmeg
½ teasp ground cardamom
125g almond slivers
3 large egg whites
Place peel, currants, sultanas, apricots, ginger & cherries in a non-metallic bowl. Add honey, brandy, & rosewater. Cover with cling-film or foil & let stand 24 hrs
Pre-heat oven to 170.C (probably lower heat if fan forced). Grease & line base & sides of 30cm x 30cm tin.
Line up the kids of all ages ready for a stir & a wish
Grind or chop the cashews finely, & mix it into the fruit. Stir the almond slivers into the fruit. Cream butter & sugar until light & fluffy. Add egg yolks, beating until light.
Stir in semolina, jams, & spices (cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom), then the fruit & nuts mix. In a separate bowl (metal is best) beat egg whites until stiff but not dry & carefully fold through mixture 1/3rd at a time. I use a good size metal spoon so that it retains the air from the whites.
Place mixture in prepared tin & bake initially for 25 mins. Turn oven down to 150.C & continue cooking another 1 ¾ – 2 hours, or until cake is just set & firm to touch. Leave in tin until cool & firm, then turn it out & store (wrapped well in foil) for at least 2 weeks before cutting. It can be sticky when cutting –you may need to use a knife dipped in hot water.
Storage Keeps about 4 months. Can store whole or cut in sections & stored in tins.