Holiday Foods: Did your family or ancestors serve traditional dishes for the holidays? Was there one dish that was unusual?
I think our Christmas holiday foods were fairly typical of our times. The main meal was chicken which in those pre-battery days was quite expensive perhaps with some slices of ham. Sometimes I think we had a prawn cocktail for entrée (prawns, lettuce, orange seafood dressing). We always, always had Christmas pudding for dessert and Dad when offered custard, cream or ice cream would always, always say “yes please”. The table was always set with a lace cloth, best china and cutlery and crystal. It was a quite formal meal, often with just our nuclear family. Shortbread was always made (often on Christmas Eve) from a recipe belonging to my Scottish grandmother. The Christmas cake, like everything else, was homemade with quality ingredients. It’s a very moist cake which I too made for my family. Nuts, ginger and lollies always decorated the table as well as summer fruit like cherries, apricots and peaches. Dad sometimes even had a beer!
Since we’ve had our own family, our Christmas meals have changed a bit. For a long time we had a hot meal but with pork as a centrepiece instead of chicken. I was intrigued when I learned that my great-great-grandfather was a pork butcher and how they prepared their pork in the bush. It seems like a nice link to our own tradition of roast pork which was commenced knowing nothing about family history.
Over the years, like a lot of Aussies, we’ve changed to accommodate the summer temperatures. Now we have a ham and prawns fresh from the trawlers at the Duck Pond. We might have a hot pork roast on Xmas Eve and then have it sliced cold with lunch. In the lead-up to Christmas we all raid our gourmet magazines and cookbooks trying to find a new and delectable salad or two, or three, to go with the meal which is always very casual.
Years ago I found an unusual Christmas cake recipe from the Women’s Weekly which included green peppercorns and Cointreau – delicious if different and not to everyone’s taste. The family shortbread is still a must-have item. My mother’s Christmas pudding remains a tradition and on occasions when we’ve not been together it’s even been sent around the country to missing family. Around the time of my 40thanniversary of pudding-making I passed the baton to my middle daughter who has taken up the tradition. My youngest daughter has started a new tradition with her homemade tiramisu. We have lots of cheese and tasty homemade nibblies in the lead-up to the meal. Eldest daughter often takes on responsibility for the innovative treats given her love of cooking and food. Perhaps one of the innovations to our sweet treats is the lebkuchen (German gingerbread) which I buy at the local fancy deli. We adopted it after visiting the German Christmas market and is another nod to my Bavarian ancestry.
The meal itself is a rather fluid affair, spread across hours and interspersed with dips in the pool and when our daughter had acreage, a game of cricket for the energetic amongst us. Whatever happens we all contribute to the culinary splendour and always, always have too much food and each family goes home with a stack of snacks for the coming days.