Allyson Gofton's Christmas flavours
When we lived in France, Christmas was about the Christ child, with Christmas Day the only public holiday and everyone back to work on Boxing Day. Food for the feast that follows the midnight mass is glorious and always customary — oysters, foie gras, pain d’epice and goose.
In a country where we lack an annual calendar of traditional feasts — mostly due to our declining interest in the church — it’s still encouraging to see that we want to celebrate Christmas with special foods. Celebrating feasts through food, beyond Christmas, offers family and friends great excuses to have a get together and be a little indulgent — in the culinary sense.
Many once-traditional feasts are pretty much only celebrated now by our new immigrants. Harvest festivals, very much a northern hemisphere celebration, are celebrated in their autumn, our spring. Diwali, Oktoberfest, All Hallow’s Eve and Hanukkah all hark back to the celebration of having grown enough food to survive the winter ahead.
In China, they celebrate spring with the Chinese New Year festival, while many Catholic countries enjoy the celebration of Mardi Gras before the frugal four weeks of Lent. For us, Easter has become more about the extra-long weekend.
Sadly hot cross buns are sold weeks before Lent, spoiling their specialness, and the joyous tradition of an Easter egg hunt for the kids seems to have become a licence for a children’s chocolate feeding frenzy.
A Kiwi Christmas must compete with end-of-school year exams, summer holidays and a bombardment of advertising for presents and, of course, food.
For those in the kitchen preparing the feast, the KISS theory is never more relevant than on Christmas Day. With our invitation list now above two dozen for Christmas Day, panicking about what food to serve, with only one oven to do the cooking, is not an option.
I’m working on taking the traditional flavours of a classic 1950s Kiwi Christmas and weaving them into a more contemporary menu that can easily be cooked in advance of Santa’s arrival.
Turkey, my daughter’s request, is to be boned, stuffed with home-made suet-rich fruit mince meat mixed with equal quantities of minced pork and rolled and roasted the day before.
The ham will only be glazed and, like the turkey, served cold. Slow roast fillets of beef (a recipe I will share next week) will be the only item requiring the oven.
New potatoes will be boiled with handfuls of fresh mint, slathered with butter and flaky salt. They’ll be cooked early, drained and returned to the pot, first covered with a clean tea-towel and then the lid.
This way they stay hot for a good hour or more. The salad, which will only be torn crisp salad and herb leaves, will be partnered with my nana’s homemade boiled egg dressing (made a good week in advance) and the asparagus will only have olive oil and salt to garnish.
Kumara never appears — and even if it did, with this year’s pricing, I think it would miss out adorning my table anyway.
The dessert will feature dried fruit, nuts, cinnamon or cloves and, of course rum and or brandy. Both these spirits are flavour essentials in the hard butter sauce that traditionally melts into a slice of hot, Christmas pud.
This year I’m making a divine prune and rum tart, a recipe I first published in 1995 and which has remained a firm Christmas favourite. Rum-soaked prunes on a crispy, short-pastry, tart base are covered with a buttery, light, ground almond batter and all is baked into a mouth wateringly delicious tart.
Made a good few days ahead and kept refrigerated, it will provide all the usual flavours, without the fuss.