When Theresa Varghese visits her friends in December, she carries a gift-wrapped, palm-sized parcel tied up with a green ribbon. She presents it, not with a price tag but with an instruction: steam it on low heat for an hour and then flambé it with brandy butter before serving. This is the traditional Christmas pudding that occupies pride of place on the family table of sweetmeats at Yuletide.
Ms. Varghese, a resident of Banaswadi, is one among the many homespun entrepreneurs in the city who have their elbows in flour well before December. They may not be Le Cordon Bleus but they do business on the principle that small is beautiful. Their profit-booking is at Christmas when they take limited orders with the premium on quality.
Plum cake, date and walnut roll, marzipans, rose cookies, guava cheese, mince pies, diamond cuts … you name them, and voila! they are ready to roll.
In a metropolis, the question of what is ‘authentic’ Christmas fare throws up several answers. Each Christian denomination has home-grown traditions to honour and protect, laced of course with the ubiquitous British legacy. While a Mangalore-Christian table may serve guava cheese, a Mumbai-born Syro-Malabar Catholic may stand by the chocolate fudge, a Syrian Christian the rose cookies and diamond cuts, and a Roman Catholic the mince pies served with mulled wine and marzipans. However, the common thread that links all in universal festive spirit is the Christmas cake or the plum cake, soaked in brandy/rum/wine, ordered or gifted, but essentially homemade.
Michelle Gafoor and her mother, Leela D’Souza, from Cooke Town, slip half and one-kg cake batter into their two electric ovens from December 1 to 20, baking 15 kg a day industriously.
Their baking rule: stop at the 300 kg mark, no more, no less.
“We use a cake recipe that has been handed down from generations. We soak the dry fruits two months in advance in rum. It’s a lot of work chopping it all up. The mixing is done between us. Over the years we have moved from hand-mixing to using electric beaters,” says Ms. Gafoor.
Elsy Koshy of Kamanahalli is busy chopping mounds of black currant, raisins, cherries, plums, nuts, dates, orange and ginger peel a month before Christmas. But what sets her apart is the scoop or two of marmalade that goes into the mix, giving it that special zest. Add mutton cutlets and rose cookies, and her table is set for the season.
Traditions must prevail. Much like the kiss under the mistletoe, and carols playing in the background is the wine that complements the plum cake. Once again, it’s the homemade wine — sweet and slightly acerbic — that is the flavour of the season.
Several wine makers emerge with their individual flavours during Christmas. James, who handpicks black grapes from the wholesale market for his wine, says: “The 21-day matured wine is the most preferred order for Christmas. It is not too fermented, is non-alcoholic, which makes it possible for children to have it too.”
Fatima Bakery and Supermarket near Johnson Market stocks grape and ginger wine only at Christmas.
These bottles are supplied by old-timers who have mastered the art of wine-making over the years. Fatima’s mince pies are made according to the age-old British recipe of using mutton fat for the pie with a sinful filling of rich dry fruits soaked in rum. It is a heady mix that flies off the shelves like the proverbial hot cakes even before you can sing… Christmas time, mistletoe and wine…
(The Christmas cakes range from Rs.300 to Rs.450 a kg and the wines go for Rs.80 to Rs.120 a bottle. Contact Theresa Varghese on 25455516; Michelle Gafoor on 98450-92630 and Elsy Koshy on 65669680.)