Family Food Fare and Favourites
Join me as I dig through my memories, and recipes, to rediscover my family’s food “back in the day” and how those food habits have changed over the decades to today’s diverse and multi-cultural cuisines. This is my theme for the 2021 A to Z challenge.
Christmas celebrations were so important as a family and Xmas food festivities only made the day more special.
There would have been commonalities between families, but then each would have maintained their own traditions depending on their location and the size of their families. My own family was a small one with only a few extended family members in the approximate vicinity. In a similar way Mr Cassmob’s was a small family but they were at a vast distance from both of his parents’ families.
Despite the small numbers, the ceremony of the day was undiminished. The silver cutlery would be laid out on the white lace tablecloth, the silver dishes polished and the crystal bowls provided to display treats like walnuts, ginger, chocolates or jelly lollies. The main meal would usually be chicken in my earlier years because it was an indulgence due to cost. Roast potatoes and vegetables would accompany it and Xmas pudding with custard, and often ice cream and cream would follow. The timing of our meal would depend on dad’s work shifts, because after all, the railway yards didn’t care about special days. As I mentioned previously, watermelon would be available for a snack during the heat of the afternoon. Drinks would be cold cordials, often homemade, or perhaps a ginger beer. Mum was often running late making the Xmas pudding so it didn’t get long to mature. Shortbread was a required treat and might even be made on Xmas Eve. Mum had her own Xmas Cake recipe that she made each year, a tradition I continued after my marriage.
Over the decades of our marriage, our Xmas food and traditions have morphed and changed with time and circumstances. We too have a small family, though most years after relocating back from PNG we would spend the day with one or other branch of our families. I think this is a tradition in many families where one year is with the wife’s family, and the next with the husband’s. In PNG we had great times with all our mates who hadn’t headed back to Oz for their holidays. Everyone contributed to the food on the day and the cleaning up, the kids had a whale of a time hanging out together and we would often make a version of Sangria for the day. Even the local parish priest would drop by to join us. Those Christmases were the only ones where we had turkey as it’s not our favourite meat dish. Each family would contribute their speciality from pudding to cake or salads. And all that duty free alcohol meant it was well libated.
Once back in Australia, our main Christmas festivity would include the glammed up table and silver. The main dish would be roast pork and veg accompanied by Xmas pudding, cake and shortbread. When our daughters worked part-time in hospitality we started having the Xmas feast on Xmas Eve and then head on to Midnight Mass. (The good thing about Midnight Mass when they were little is that they would sleep in.) For several years I continued mum’s Christmas cake as well as a new one that I liked better. The green peppercorn Xmas Cake that became our favourite.
It was in Darwin that the biggest changes came, with a complete transfer to a different festive meal that was more suitable to our climate given it might be as hot as 35+C (95F) during the day. Seafood was bountiful and incredibly fresh so was introduced as the main course along with salads but for many years, the tradition of the pudding continued. And while the sons-in-law avowed they didn’t like shortbread, it’s amazing how quickly the contents of the plate disappeared.
Christmas in Darwin was always best when the Wet Season had kicked in, and the humidity was no longer so fierce. I remember one year where the little ones had a great time getting muddy in the driveway after the rain. It was also traditional to invite friends who may have been alone and far from home for the celebration.
Each year we would try a new salad or two and try to add some celebratory element to our day. Coffin Bay oysters might be imported and grilled with fancy dressings and/or smoked roasts cooked in the smoker. One year I cooked a Coconut Meringue Cake but it was the introduction of Tiramisu by one daughter that has become a traditional dessert option while the traditional Xmas pudding has been dismissed, helped along by my inability to eat dried fruit.
Some meals would be quite formally presented, others would be very casual just hanging out together with no fixed timeline to the meal but never going hungry. I’ll treasure the memory of the kids filling their nerf guns from the frozen water in the Yeti eskies last year and then running amok with them. We love the years when it’s our turn to host the family or even when we return to Darwin to be with the family there. Special times and memories.
Did you have big family gatherings at Christmas?
Do you have different food traditions now than you did when growing up?
Have the Xmas pudding and Xmas cake survived the culinary cut?
You might be interested in these previous blog posts about how we’ve celebrated Christmas.