When I was a child Christmas was a very big deal, not just for the presents we received on Christmas morning, but because it was the time we celebrated the birth of Jesus Christ. It was Jesus’ birthday, and while we didn’t have many hard and fast Christmas traditions in our house, one I looked forward to was going to Midnight Mass with my mother and grandmother on Christmas Eve. I have to admit, part of the excitement was being out and about at midnight, standing in a church filled to capacity, filling the midnight air with Christmas Carols. And after Mass we would head home for my favourite tradition…..cutting the Christmas Cake after church and sitting down with my family to coffee and cake and unwrapping one present before we went to bed, which was often about 2am.
I can’t imagine taking my 6 to a Midnight Service on Christmas Eve, they would be unbearable the next day, so we have started our own family traditions. Each year every member of the family chooses a new decoration to add to our Christmas Tree, which goes up promptly on the second week of November along with the lights display on the front (and back) of our house. I love Christmas, and make it last as long as I possibly can, and nothing can convince me to take down the tree before New Year’s Day. Another tradition is the collage of family photos taken throughout the year that makes up the front of our Christmas cards and e-cards.
And most of our other traditions revolve around food. The food we give as gifts to teachers and family and the food we serve on Christmas Day. I’m hopeless when it comes to planning my Christmas Menu. I like to try new recipes each year and spend hours debating which ones will appear on our table, but there are two recipes that never change, and they both come from my husband’s family. Apparently my husband’s grandmother had a bakery in New Zealand, and this Spicy Fruit Cake recipe is the one she used to bake and sell in her store. Everyone loves it, it’s not too heavy and doesn’t contain any glacé cherries or nuts, though you could add them if you wanted to, and I have been known to soak the fruit first or douse the cake in sherry or brandy with great results. My mother-in-law even used it to bake our Wedding Cake and even though I have a printed copy of the recipe, I have kept a copy in her handwriting to pass on to my girls.
The other recipe is our Plum Pudding, another mother-in-law recipe which she thinks she found in an old New Zealand CWA Cookbook. It’s another soak the fruit if you want to recipe, and if you’re like me and still doing things at the last minute Christmas Eve, you can even make it then and no-one will ever guess that it is a “made the night before” kind of pudding instead of one of those “hanging in a muslin cloth for months” kind of puddings. And it contains grated carrot, so in my books it’s even good for you.
Spicy Fruit Cake
1 1/2 Cups Cold Water
1 1/2 Cups Brown Sugar
57 grams Butter
1 Tbl Golden Syrup
2 1/2 Cups Plain Flour
225 grams Raisins
450 grams Sultanas
1 heaped tsp Baking Powder
1 small tsp Baking Soda
1 small tsp Salt
2 tsp Mixed Spice
1/2 tsp Cinnamon
1/2 tsp Ginger
Wash the fruit and place it in a saucepan with the water and sugar.
Bring to the boil and simmer gently for 6-8 minutes.
Add the butter and syrup and mix to combine. Set aside to cool.
Beat the eggs and add to the cooled fruit mixture.
Sift the remaining dry ingredients and mix well.
Lightly grease your baking tin and line well with baking paper.
Bake at 150C for 2 1/4 hours.
Wrap the cake in a towel to cool. This avoids a crust forming.
Optional: Randomly prick the surface of the cake with a fork then pour sherry or brandy over the top of the cake while hot.
I usually make 1 1/2 times this recipe. The amounts are in brackets.
1/2 Cup Sugar (3/4 Cup)
1 tsp. Cinnamon (1 1/2 tsp.)
1 tsp. Mixed Spice (1 1/2 tsp.)
1 Grated Carrot (1 1/2 Carrots)
1 Cup Sultanas/Mixed Fruit (1 1/2 Cups)
1 Tbl. Butter (1 1/2 Tbl.)
1 tsp. Bicarb. Soda (1 1/2 tsp.)
3/4 Cup Milk (1 1/8 Cup)
Place all dry ingredients except soda into a bowl.
Add fruit and carrot.
Warm milk and add butter and soda.
Add liquid to dry ingredients.
Place mixture in greased basin/steamer.
Steam for 3 hours or until skewer comes out clean.
Optional: You can soak the fruit overnight in rum, brandy or sherry if you like.