Christmas season lends itself to lots of delicacies, pies, puddings and the ubiquitous Christmas cake’. The fabulous “Christmas cake” as we know it infact originated in England as a humble oat porridge eaten on Christmas Eve, a transitional food after a day of fasting. Gradually dried fruits, honey and various spices were added to the oatmeal mixture, making it a delicacy, Christmas pudding. By the 16th century, the oats were omitted and some of the familiar ingredients of cake added, such as eggs, butter and wheat flour. This was boiled into a plum cake. Wealthier families, who had ovens, started making cakes using dried fruit and spices. It was now called "Christmas Cake”.
Did you know? By the end of the 18th century, there were actually laws saying that these cakes could only be consumed at Christmas, Easter, weddings, christenings, and funerals!!!
Let’s move closer to home. Right here in New Delhi, way before our family moved to Gurgaon. Come September and a trip to Chandni Chowk was due. Humongous quantities of dried fruits, candied peels, almonds and walnuts bought, steeped in rum or brandy, made way for the ultimate (and I am not being boastful) Christmas fruit cake. This was a family event, each of us furiously peeling, chopping, and dicing. All interspersed with friendly family banter. Next, came the soaking. Each one assumed there was never enough of the magical liquor and would diligently ‘feed’ the fruit what they thought imperative! All in all, a very potent concoction. A tip here, the longer the fruits mature in the liquor, the better the taste, obvious? Well I thought so too, but just good to let you know. So give it about three months of resting time.
Baking took the term ‘humongous to new heights! 3 kilos of butter, 3 kilos of eggs, 3 dozen eggs and 3 kilos of sugar along with essences, treacle, jams and about 10 kilos of the soaked fruit were all carted to Parkash bakery at Malviya Nagar in Delhi. This would then be mixed by their expert hand, poured into tins and baked at the same place. A full day’s work, completely worth it by the end of it all. For you were taking home trunks filled with 20 kilos of fruit cake, most aromatic and absolutely boozy.
That was a decade ago. Cut to now. Waist and health watching and concerns catching up, the mighty 20 kilos has depleted giving way to measly amounts. Fruit is now cut, albeit rather disinterestedly by the help. The entire process is taken care of at home. The only thing that hasn’t changed is the regular dousing of the fruit. Some traditions must continue, right?