Baking up Christmas

The smell of pudding, that rich combination of fruit and sugars, pervades the house. I am home again, watching my mother becoming increasingly frustrated attempting to cover the pudding with greaseproof paper and tinfoil. The string with not go right, will not tie tight enough.

My first Christmas in Turkey in 2001, my first away from home, my first as a married woman, I cooked rice pudding.

My husband regarded the sticky mass with barely disguised wonder, comparing it to the milky rice pudding known to Turks as sutlaç. He ate it though, warned by my red-rimmed eyes that any comment could bring back the tears.

The next year we travelled to Dublin. Twelve hours later than planned, transferring through Paris instead of London we made it to my parent’s house. All food provided by my mother, helped by my sister.

The following year we celebrated my daughter’s first month of life with Christmas. In a haze of feeding and changing, I relied on my mother’s package to supply Christmas – pudding, mince, custard.

Christmas 2004 we were heading for Dublin again, this time delayed by a bomb scare in Charles de Gaulle. We arrived a mere six hours late on Christmas Eve.

Since the arrival of our son the following November we have not returned to Ireland for Christmas.

Each year I add to my Christmas repertoire. One year trifle, custard made with my mother-in-law’s rough ground cornflour; the next Christmas cake, with dried sour cherries turning the cake pink; then mincemeat, over reliant on apples. A turkey roasted but lacking the pork sausage meat in the stuffing.

Some things I make myself instead of waiting anxiously for a parcel from Ireland. Each year the recipes are honed and altered to what I can find around. Almonds are ground in the blender after being blanched to remove their skins. Dried apricots substitute for glace cherries. Candied peel is made from orange and lemon rinds. Fresh ginger is replaced by ground after a cake that was virtually medicinal in its bitterness. Dried figs are never a good idea in a cake.

The one thing that still escapes me is icing the cake. The almond icing is good, the royal icing smooth, but any hint of decorating beyond that ends with bizarre blobs of coloured icing that would look like a Dali painting if they were a little more artful.

This year I’ve attempted a pudding for the first time.

The smell is right, the colour is right. And the taste is perfect.

What special effort do you make to capture the spirit of Christmas?

  • Sounds wonderful, Catherine! I can almost taste everything you’ve described. Mmmmmm.

    My husband and I made our own turkeys this year, two drumsticks each. His were roasted with butter and spices, a fresh home-made cranberry sauce to top. I curried my drumsticks, drenched them in a coconut milk and curry sauce, cooked them until they were so tender just touching them sent the meat disintegrating. I never would have thought that the smells of curry and cranberries would go so beautifully together, but they do.

    This Christmas was, for me, one of making new traditions. I feel refreshed. And very full!

    Merry Christmas, Catherine, and wishing you and your entire family a wonderful 2011.

    xoxo
    Sezin

  • A lovely, mouth-watering post, Catherine. I applaud your persistence in creating a Christmas that both captures your memories and establishes traditions for your children as they grow.

    My husband and I went back and forth between cultures in the early years of our relationship much like you did, having Christmas with my family in California or making our own version of the holiday in our Selcuk cafe. But for several years now, I’ve been here alone with my family, so I’ve left my influence on the holiday simmer on a back-burner, only contributing Turkish meze or Mediterranean inspired salads and sweets. Perhaps next year I’ll stay in Istanbul, and Abit and I will get back to infusing Christmas and New Years with our own rather independent spirits?

    Sezin, I love the idea of his and hers turkeys – there’s a wonderful tradition we may have to adopt! And Catherine, here’s a recipe that could change your mind about those dried figs: http://www.staceysnacksonline.com/2009/04/my-new-favorite-cake-fig-lemon.html

  • Thank you Sezin and Catherine.

    I like the fact that you’ve brought your hybrid nature into the kitchen Sezin, different and yet harmonious. So glad you had a good Christmas.

    Celebrating with others is both a lot of fun and a bit limiting – whose traditions get priority, what gets made etc. Independent spirits need their freedom. Thanks for the recipe, I’ll try it out once we finish the goodies here.