Chistmas Plum Puddings

We New Zealand folk during year have several Feast and Holidays that we celebrate, the clear favourite for our family is Christmas. We are still clinging to many of these traditions brought by our forbearers from the other side of the world. Yes, we know the seasons are all back to front, but no matter, we have kept up a pretence that it’s Winter time, we reinforce this belief with artificial snow, (A white frosting sold in spray cans). Even the Holly with red berries are plastic, and we consume the wrong food for the season. But the best, by popular vote is the ‘Plum Puddings’. These were made, and fussed over in their preparation some months prior to Christmas. Their production heralded that Christmas would soon be upon us. This celebration item starts off with the search for some unbleached calico, which seems to become harder to locate every year. This is the material the Plum Puddings are cooked in, it is then washed thoroughly, and sterilised. Further, in spite of it’s name there are no plums in this pudding, possibly there were at one time, but this fruit content has now been replaced by mixed dried fruit and a citrus peel. When the ingredients mixed with flour and spices the mixture is bound in the calico, tied tightly, then boiled for hours, with fresh water being added during the process as required. It was a good idea to make yourself absent during the process as it seemed to be a female process only. I forgot to mention that several small silver tokens or coins were always added to the mixture. Some extra were also kept on hand, these were added during carving of the duff, just to ensure that the young folk’s serving was a ‘winner’. Otherwise, boys especially, would keep on eating seconds until they were rewarded by a ‘discovery’. This traditional treat was served hot with a brandy sauce and whipped cream. Left overs were eaten cold with ice cream. Once the Duff had gone through the cooking process it could then be hung in a cool dry place for weeks. Alas today we no longer use silver coins and we are loath to add the cupro-nickel substitutes of today.

The meat served for the main course of the Christmas feast was never turkey, as it is these days. Turkeys just weren’t available in my youth. A goose or leg of lamb was more the norm. Anyway many found the goose too strong and gamely to their taste, but now I know a little more, it had more to do with the age of the bird than any other reason. Some roasted a large fowl, which at the time was a rare treat. Unless you kept chickens for their eggs it was a different story. When a bird went off the lay the unfortunate bird was consigned to the pot then the dinner table. Some who had this access to a regular ‘chicken’ meal, had another problem to deal with. Many times the younger members wouldn’t eat chicken, especially if the family had made pets of the chooks, all were given names. There was no way you were going to encourage the children to eat Mabel, Sarah, or Greta.

This was the time of the year that we also purchased Pork Hams, which was eaten cold after the first day and saw the family through the holiday break including the New Year when salads and cold cuts were the norm. Back then it was very different the way lettuce salads were prepared. Lettuce was sliced very fine, and topped with sliced tomatoes, spring onions, and hard boiled eggs. This mode of presentation never changed. Vinaigrette was unheard off, ‘Foreign Muck’ could often be heard. The lettuce salad however was dressed with a homemade mayonnaise. This was mainly Nestles condensed milk and vinegar, all copied from the recipe on the can of milk.

We loved our Pickles too, these to assist in the enjoyment of our ham. I discovered early that I couldn’t buy the kind of Pickle or Chutney I really liked, hot and savoury, so made my own. I was astounded to discover that both my father and grandfather actually did the same. I have collected recipes over the years to make these condiments, and was looking over the Family note book containing all these recipes of former neighbours and friends, of how to make same. Tom Erickson’s Plum sauce. Mrs Kee’s apricot sauce, both stand out as winners, delicious, much better than anything you can buy.

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