Yummy Christmas Cuisine
Dee Williams reminisces about seasonal treats
Have you ever wondered why savoury ham, stuffed turkey, fruity cakes, speciality cookies and eggnog are so popular during the Christmas season? That’s because they are widely recognised as being vital to Christmas menus and deeply entrenched in the culture of the holiday season. They’re also used in various ways in each culture and eaten at this special time of year…
Preparing lunch or dinner on Christmas Eve and Day are very time-consuming and tiring tasks, though they’re also rewarding ways in which to entertain family and friends.
My childhood and adulthood in Sri Lanka had Christmas lunches with a spread that always included yellow rice, meat curries and vegetable dishes – usually, prepared using a host of condiments. Traditional Christmas fare is enjoyed differently in the Sri Lankan food scene. And living in Australia for 15 years has seen the traditional Christmas dishes in my household change into fusion cuisine.
Roast turkey is now one of the mains at Christmastime in our home. At first, preparing the turkey was extremely difficult and learning the art of roasting it to perfection took a couple of years. I learnt that the best way to have the meat juicy and tender is to brine it for 24 hours prior to cooking.
Since then I have experimented with many different marinades, and my best pick is to add herb butter for a crispy skin and moist roast turkey. Also, I have prepared a turkey biryani instead of the roast dish biryani over the last two seasons, and it has been a winner.
Glazed ham is my personal favourite. The head of a boar was the edible centrepiece on the richest holiday tables in Tudor England. A common claim is that the tradition of eating ham is related to the pagan ritual of sacrificing a wild boar to the Norse god Freyr during harvest festivals.
Christmas ham remains the cornerstone of holiday menus around the world wherever the season is celebrated. Nowadays, you can find so many different glazing recipes on the internet. I prefer to glaze my ham with the flavours of South East Asia.
Eating plum pudding during the season originated with a Roman Catholic decree to make the dish with 13 ingredients to represent Christ and his 12 apostles. ‘Stir Up Sunday’ takes place before the season of Advent and families gather to make this pudding. They take turns to stir it from east to west to honour the three Wise Men and their journey to honour Jesus at his birth.
There are so many variations of fruitcakes that come from different parts of the world in this season. They are rich, dense, sweet and boozy. I love the Sri Lankan Christmas cake and believe that nothing can beat its delicious goodness!
Christmas in our household is not complete without fruitcake. Usually, I start the preparation – soaking the fruits and nuts in brandy, spices and essences – between late September and early October so that these absorb the flavours. This cake needs to mature for it to be absolutely flavoursome.
I learned how to prepare fruitcake at a very young age from my mum while sitting at the dining table, and chopping the fruits and nuts required to make the treat. Once the cakes had baked and cooled down, we would wrap them and distribute these goodies to our neighbours and extended family.
These are some of the memories that I cherish most about the Christmas season.