A CAPE Christmas, for many locals, is a strange affair that seems to have more to do with sweating on a beach with some kid’s sand in your ice cream than the traditional English Christmas that I was brought up to enjoy.
This is not a colonial notion. I am a first generation South African, with even my two siblings – Pat, and our late brother Philip – having been born in the north of England, so we had everything from tinsel and baubles to pennies (and, later, tickeys) in the Christmas pudding, the only difference being that there was more chance of a standstorm than snow.
This was slumbering Oranjemund, where my mom had in 1952 sat on a suitcase in a dusty road outside what was to be her new home and said to my dad, ‘I’m not goin’ in – if I go in we’ll have to stay’. It takes a lot of adapting, but adapt they did, but Christmases in our house never strayed far from what they would have been like had I been born in the West Riding of Yorkshire.
So I’ve never understood the passion some locals have for going to the beach on Christmas Day. We play let’s pretend, I suppose, imagining it’s wintry and wet. Long ago, my family decided that the answer to the problematic idea of a heavy Christmas lunch in the middle of a summer’s day was not to have one. We have Christmas Eve dinners, which means you wake on Christmas morning a tad jaded, but you can have a lazy day of opening presents, visiting friends or having them pop round for mince pies or a slice of Christmas cake, and end the day with left-over gammon and turkey with mustards and relishes while watching some pleasantly Christmassy fare on TV.
This year’s Christmas Eve dinner menu has a vaguely Cape touch: Amarula cream chicken liver pate, miniature roast turkey with a very Christmassy stuffing, and, instead of the obvious (and yummy) Christmas pudding, Cape brandy tart served with brandy butter and maraschino cherries to give it a festive touch.
OK, you raised your eyebrows at those “miniature turkeys” thinking that Woolies has found a way of miniaturising those to match the baby gems. But don’t take that too literally. What I’ve done is to take the idea of a traditional stuffed roast turkey and brought it down to a single portion. So it’s not a turkey at all, but a free range pettit poussin (baby chicken), stuffed and roasted, and served without too much accompaniment as this is a sizeable main course. Just remind your guests to scoop out the stuffing as this really is a proper stuffing, not something cooked seperately in a breadpan in the oven.
But first, a starter. Amarula Cream liqueur is a superb flavouring for chicken livers and gives it a delicious festive touch. Simmer a chopped onion in lots of butter (it’s a pate and the butter gives it body and helps it set to a spreading texture) with chopped garlic. Add 500g cleaned chicken livers, the nasty bits removed, and cook until pink in the middle. Don’t overcook them, they are best rare. Remove to a blender. Deglaze the pan with brandy, stirring to get all the tasty bits from the bottom of the pan.
Add Amarula Cream to the pan (don’t be shy) bearing in mind that you don’t want too much liquid to spoil the consistency. Plonk in the blender and blend until smooth, pouring 125ml cream (or less, watch for consistency) in slowly while it’s blending. Add nobs of butter if it’s looking too runny. Pour into ramekins and refrigerate to set.
Make a mango relish using dried mango, also in advance as it’s to be served cold or at room temperature. Melt ghee or butter to a very slow simmer and add mustard seeds, jeera seeds and a bay leaf. Simmer very gently undil the seeds start to crackle. Add half an onion, chopped, and simmer until soft. Add chopped dried mango, a tablespoon of citrus syrup (I used syrup from a jar of orange preserves) and a cup of sweet white wine (or dry wine and a little sugar or honey) and bring to the boil. Reduce to a simmer for eight minutes. Remove the bay leaf. Leave to cool while the mango absorbs the liquid. Refrigerate.
For the “turkey” stuffing, simmer chopped onion and celery with garlic, adding macadamias, cashews, sultanas, a tablespoon of mustard, ground nutmeg and cloves, salt and pepper, then breadcrumbs. Stir it all until it binds, season the inside of the birds and stuff them well. Brush the outside of the pettit poussins with melted butter, season and roast in a preheated 180 degree oven, uncovered, for about 45 minutes. Check for doneness with a skewer, gently pressing the chicken. Juices should run clear. Remove to a warmer drawer, covered. Where to get pettit poussin? I bought mine from specialist food supplier Sue Baker of Wild Peacock (021 801 3663).
Give the main course a local touch by making sweet potato mash. Steam it, then melt butter in a saucepan with cinnamon and any other spices you fancy, plus salt and pepper, and stir the mashed sweet potato through it. I love brussels sprouts for Christmas. The trick is not to overcook them. Steam until just tender, and toss them in olive oil and salt and pepper just before serving. Deglaze the “turkey” pan juices with white white, reduce, strain and pour over the pettit poussins.
I picture a Cape Brandy Tart as a boozy floozy with flushed cheeks, a fulsome bosom and a halfjack of Klippies in her hand, leading the chorus in some Tavern of the Seas on the Foreshore, but short of that you can make one. Here’s how:
CAPE BRANDY TART
250g dates, chopped
1 cup boiling water
1 scant teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
100g soft butter
1 cup castor sugar
1 jumbo egg
1 + 1/4 cups flour
1/2 scant teaspoon baking powder
1/2 cup chopped pecan nuts
Preheat oven to 180. Sprinkle bicarb over chopped dates in a bowl. Pour boiling water over and place in the freezer (as I do, or fridge) while you make the tart mix. Using a wooden spoon, beat butter and sugar until creamy. Mix in the egg. Sift flour through a conical sieve (or several times through a less compact sieve) with the baking powder and salt. Alternate folding the flour mixture and date mixture into the creamed butter, using a metal spoon, then stir in the chopped pecan nuts. Pour into a buttered pie dish and bake for 45 minutes and not a second more. Remove. Pour the brandy sauce over while still hot. This can be kept in the warmer drawer until needed.
1/2 cup castor sugar
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup brandy
1 Tablespoon butter
1 teaspoon vanilla essence
Bring sugar and water to a boil, stirring. Add the butter, remove from heat and stir in brandy and vanilla essence. Pour over the hot pudding, a little at a time, until it is all absorbed. I sometimes keep some aside, to pour (hot) over the slice on the plate before serving.
200g soft butter
Brandy to taste
Using a wooden spoon, beat butter and icing sugar until well blended and smooth, adding brandy until it is of a firm consistency, not runny. If it’s too runny, add more icing sugar until it’s right. Depending on how much brandy you like in your brandy butter, you may need to add more icing sugar until the blend feels right (hence no measure being given).
Maraschino cherries on their stems
Place a slice of brandy tart on a serving plate. Fill a ramekin or suitable small glass or pot with cold water, empty it, and fill it with brandy butter. Tap it out onto the plate. Top/surround it with maraschino cherries.
Some of the above can be cooked ahead. Make the pate the night before and refrigerate, covered, or with melted butter on top. Ditto the mango relish. Make the brandy tart, sauce and butter two days ahead and refrigerate, covered. The tart can be heated for two minutes on high in the microwave. Heat the sauce in a saucepan. Don’t heat the brandy butter.
No, Daisy, you can’t make the “miniature turkeys” the day before. Get a grip. And Merry Christmas.