Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories 2011: 2nd December: Holiday Foods

Thomas MacEntee at Geneabloggers is encouraging us to celebrate the 2011 Christmas season with a series of posts called the Advent Calendar of Memories. This is today’s entry.

Holiday Foods: Did your family or ancestors serve traditional dishes for the holidays? Was there one dish that was unusual?

Formal dinner on Christmas Eve.

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!

Lebkuchen stand at the Christmas markets, Nuremberg, Bavaria.

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.

Christmas treats linked to my Bavarian ancestry.

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.

Mr Cassmob and the blue dog (a canine "grandchild") having a go on Christmas Day.

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.

Christmas is coming Down Under

That's Darwin starred at the top of Australia and you can see from the blue line that we're close to the equator.

Can you believe it will be December tomorrow? I’m having difficulty doing so, even though we’re in the throes of Christmas parties, pageants and concerts and the shops are full of tinsel and gifts (thought I haven’t noticed carol music yet).

Inspired by Geneabloggers I will be doing my Advent Calendar of Memories this year…I was so taken with the thought that I’ve already put some of my stories together. I just have to find the photos to go with them…rather more of a challenge. Still, before I start in on the series, I thought it opportune to set the Christmas scene Down Under for any readers overseas. Readers at home will already know the score.

The Christmas Season Down Under is:

*        The height of the summer season – think temperatures anywhere between 25C and 40C (77F to 104F) depending on where you live, but around 30C (86F) is average. Darwin has projected temps for the coming week of 33-35C (95F) with mostly 80% humidity (which is the kicker) and thunderstorms every day. We’re in the Build-Up so that’s life here.

*        End of the school year: kids graduating, moving on to new schools, classes, teachers and friends, concerts etc. For teachers it’s all of the above plus assessments and reports. These school holidays are about six weeks long and the equivalent of the northern August holidays.

*        End of academic and financial year for anyone working in universities as well: exams and assessments, applications for entry based on final school exams, close off of finances, reappointment of contract staff, frenzied deadlines, parties etc. Not too much Christmas spirit left by Christmas Eve!

*        End of year performances/parties for any activity or sport, adults and/or children are involved with. Crazy time especially if special costumes are involved.

*        The main go-on-holidays season of the year when people pack up and go to the beach or to family for up to a month. Camping grounds around the country will be packed from around Christmas until late January. Flights are heavily booked and expensive!

*        Christmas parties are often in the first weeks of December because lots of people start their holidays as soon as school holidays commence.

*        Competition at work for who gets to take their long holidays over Christmas-January.

*        People are grumpy when out shopping because they’re hot and tired and the carparks (and shops) are full and the cars are hot when you get back to them…but that’s probably true when it’s cold and snowing too, just substitute cold for hot in that sentence, and with more clothes to deal with. 🙂

*        Needless to say, with all this hot weather, Christmas clothing has to be cool and is often casual. Over the years Australians have come to adapt their eating habits too.

*        For lots of pets it’s the time for them to have a relaxing holiday in the local pet resort, and sadly for some, it will be when they are dumped or left to fend for themselves.

*        It’s also daylight from about 4am until about 9pm so Christmas lights don’t have the same impact until later in the night. (lucky Darwin, our daylight sits around 6.15am to 7pm all year).

*        Boxing Day in Australia is a wind-down day after Christmas and a chance to kick back and watch the start of the Sydney-Hobart yacht race or to watch the Boxing Day cricket test match.

Darwin is very much a city where people have come from somewhere else – relatively few are born and bred Territorians. Consequently as many head back to their home states for the holidays and to see families, the city becomes a bit deserted but pleasantly quiet. The tourists usually avoid the hot weather and heavy rain but lately that’s been changing a bit. If it’s raining you can turn on the air-conditioning and let the grey skies convince you that it’s chilly outside as well. The downside to Darwin is that we can’t go swimming at the beach no matter how hot it is, thanks to crocs and stingers! Thank heavens, and Hendo, for the new wave pool. 🙂

I’m looking forward to reading how others spend their Christmas and holiday season through the Geneabloggers’ Advent Calendar 2011.