The Forgotten Christmas Pudding

Rhea Mitra Dalal mixes and steams portions of Katy's Christmas pudding made with fruits soaked in alcohol for over a year at her Belvedere Road kitchen. Pics/Pradeep Dhivar
Rhea Mitra Dalal mixes and steams portions of Katy’s Christmas pudding made with fruits soaked in alcohol for over a year at her Belvedere Road kitchen. Pics/Pradeep Dhivar

Nothing makes a better end to a Christmas dinner than a rich, dense Christmas pudding. Home chef Rhea Mitra Dalal is keeping the steam and spirit alive.

The days are getting cooler and it will be winter soon. We found a nice article on the forgotten Christmas pudding.

On Belvedere Road in Mazagaon, we look for a signboard for Katy’s Kitchen. We’re told they make the best Christmas pudding in town. Minutes later, we are escorted by a staffer to an old, one-storied building. Walking up its high stairs, a toasty, intoxicating fragrance of goodness simmering on a warm afternoon engulfs us. Home chef Rhea Mitra Dalal welcomes us into what looks like a one-room kholi, lined with old trunks, vintage chairs, white tables, large degs or aluminium pots and intricate railings of windows from a long, long forgotten Bombay.

Dalal’s love affair and entrepreneurial association with food started in 2000, when she married into a Parsi family that had an established catering business. In 1976, Dalal’s mother-in-law, famed cook and archaeologist Katy Dalal had started a catering service from her home in Fort and expanded it into one of the best in the business. “She was happy to have me join in, bring new ideas to the table and be a helping hand. When she passed away 10 years ago, I changed the name from Dalal Enterprises to Katy’s Kitchen in her honour. Most of our staff is trained by her,” says Dalal.

Katy had travelled the world with her shippy husband, being adventurous with food and experimenting with local delicacies. One such find was the Christmas pudding they tried in England. The taste had stayed with Katy for long after and she recreated the recipe, referring to a couple of books. Eventually, she started making it for family and friends, and later, clients. “She was very confident of her recipe and the result had been consistently good; so, we took the plunge. Even today, making Christmas pudding is my most precious activity in the year. I feel I am carrying her recipe forward, hence the name Katy’s Christmas pudding. She may not have invented it, but she did things her way.”

The preparations start a year in advance, when Dalal soaks raisins, fruits and spices in brandy and rum for the next December’s batch. “I find it amusing how it has become a trend for five-star hotels to organise the annual cake-mixing ceremony one month before Christmas. The fruits need to be soaked for long for the flavours to develop. One year, when we couldn’t make puddings, and the fruits kept soaking until we made a batch the following year; the clients had loved it the most. So last year onwards, we started to make an extra batch that would be used two years later,” says Dalal.

Pudding V/S Cake

Puddings don’t have the bulk of the flour, nor are there leavening and rising agents. Its density comes from being packed with rich ingredients like almond flour, apples and vegetables. Also, since it is steamed, not baked, the balance is different, as is the texture. The pudding won’t rise more than half a centimetre.

Katy’s Christmas pudding is priced at Rs 1,700 (large), R900 (medium), and available on order Call/WhatsApp 9820904694

Photo credit – Aaron Santos

When the fruit is drained, the Dalals retain the beautifully flavoured mother liquid that keeps maturing over the years. The soaked fruit is well-drained and added to the final mix of flour, almond flour, sugar, jaggery, butter, eggs, apples and vegetables to achieve a multi-layered taste. It is packed densely in a mould, sealed and steamed for around six hours to be thoroughly cooked through. “The pudding is thick and because it is in a sealed container, steam doesn’t get in easily. It has to heat uniformly and cook through the middle,” says Dalal.

 

The first batch of Katy’s Christmas puddings are steamed by December 1 so that they can be couriered to the outstation clients. “What’s Christmas without a Christmas pudding after all,” smiles Dalal. “These can be had immediately or when well-sealed and refrigerated, even after a year,” she adds.

Katy Dalal, my mom in law, started a catering business from home many years ago. As she tried out new dishes and cuisines her popularity grew as did her skills and knowledge in the kitchen. One of her biggest successes has been the Christmas Pudding with Brandy Butter.

I started helping her with the making after K and I were married and I always found it to be one the most fun things to do with her. I like to believe it also made her happy to see me pitching in.

Piles of raisins, black currants, dried prunes and a host of other, then unfamiliar, ingredients would be cleaned  and then put in a huge plastic barrel. Then endless bottles of rum and brandy would be poured in, and K would also fling in the leftovers from random opened bottles of wine and other suitable liquor that was handy. In a week the alcohol would have to be topped up as the shriveled fruit would be plump with the booze and would have risen way above the alcohol in the barrel. The barrel would be sealed up and forgotten till a week before Christmas.

Large quantities of juicy red winter carrots have to be grated. Along with this a mountain of apples are grated.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fresh bread crumbs, white flour, demerara sugar, molasses, candied ginger, ground almonds, butter, freshly powdered nutmeg, cinnamon and cardamom, and eggs are all mixed in a huge vat. The soaking fruit is drained and then added to the mix.

 

 

 

 

 

The tins are buttered and lined with butter paper. Then the pudding mix is filled in, topped with a circlet of butter paper and then sealed either with a lid or with aluminium foil. The larger pudding moulds come with a lid, the smaller ones don’t.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Steam the puddings for 4 hours and they are ready to be dispatched. We recommend that the puddings be steamed once again for an hour before serving.

The brandy butter is a delicious accompaniment to this pudding. Blend regular salted butter with powdered sugar and a generous dash of brandy. Chill the butter till it is nice and hard.

Ma in Law would serve the pudding with a dash of drama. She would light half a cup of brandy and pour it over the pudding. We would put off the lights of course!

I have taken over the mantle of Christmas Pudding maker now. And I look forward to Christmas every year when we do a special Christmas menu and these traditional Christmas Puddings.

 
Photo credit – Ketan Pandit

You can purchase Katy Dalal’s “Delicious Encounters: Innovative Recipes Parsi, Indian and Western Paperback Cookbook” for a low price from here:

Shab-e Yalda: When Light Shines and Goodness Prevails

Yalda on December 21 is celebrated in many parts of the world. Eating watermelon in the winter is believed to keep you healthy in the new year. Watermelon seeds are one of the items in the health food – parsi vasanu and the gujarati word is “char jat nu magaj”.

Yalda Festival  Table

(Shab e Cheleh)

By Rita Jamshed Kapadia

Shab-e Yalda: When Light Shines and Goodness Prevails

Everywhere in the world, people observe various seasonal days of celebration during the month of December. Most are religious holy days and are linked in some way to the winter solstice in the Northern Hemisphere. Yalda, an ancient Iranian Festival, is celebrated on the eve of the winter solstice and goes several thousand years back in the country’s history. The tradition originated from the Mithraism religion. “Yalda” is a Syriac word meaning birth, and it was believed that Mithra, the Persian angel of light, was born during that night, which was then called Yalda.

Yalda is  a Syric word imported into the Persian language by the Syric Christians. Early Christians linked this very ancient Persian celebration to Mithra, goddess of light, and to the birth anniversary of Prophet Jesus. Ancient Iranian Zoroastrians believed that on December 21 darkness is defeated by light. On this night, family and friends get together. Dried nuts, watermelon and pomegranate juices and delicious snack are served. Classic poetry and old mythologies are read aloud.

As the longest night of the year, the Eve of Yalda (Shab-e Yalda) on December 21 is also a turning point, after which the days grow longer. It symbolizes the triumph of Light and Goodness over the powers of Darkness. During this night, Iranian Americans, along with Iranians around the globe, hold gatherings and stay up late, eating pomegranate, watermelon and a variety of nuts. They also read poetry, especially by the poet Hafez, who is a highly respected and adored 14th-century Persian mystic poet. Hafez’s poetry books have been gaining a foothold in American classrooms and popularity among Americans. Here is a line in the poetry of Hafez that I found interesting – “Look at the sun in quest of light, you may find it.”

Many varieties of fruits and sweetmeats are specially prepared for this festival. In some areas it is believed that forty varieties of edibles should be served during the ceremony of the night of Chelleh. The most typical is watermelon especially kept from summer for this ceremony. It is believed that consuming watermelons on the night of Chelleh will ensure the health and well-being of the individual during the months of summer by protect­ing him/her from falling victim to excessive heat or disease produced by hot summers. Another common practice on the night of Chelleh involves young engaged men. The bachelors send a platter containing seven kinds of fruits to their fiancées on this night. The girl and her family can return the favor by sending gifts back for the young man.

The Parsi community has been celebrating with a “Haft-seen Table”  at Navroze (Nawruz) events, why not celebrate with a “Yalda Table” in the December Holiday season as well ?

FEZANA requested to create some yalda recipes. Being a indian where Yalda is not celebrated by my Parsi community, this was a challenge. Many days of research and creating  food using water melon, pumpkin seeds and other middle eastern foods, I have these easy to make Recipes for the Yalda Night below.

Here are 3 recipes created for your Yalda Table.

Sweet & Sour Pomegranate Drink

Sweet and Sour Drink

Nutty Feta Cheese Spread

Nutty Feta Cheese Spread

Sweet and Salty Spread to go with your favorite crackers !

Roasted Pumpkin Seeds

Pumpkin Snack

Pumpkin seeds are also called “Magaj” or “Magaz” in India and are highly nutritious.

These seeds are one of the ingredients in the parsi favorite “Vasanu”.

Fruit Kebabs

Simple watermelon and feta cheese kebabs.

The flavor of watermelon and feta cheese explodes in your mouth. Try it sometime.

Kebabs2

Enjoy!

– Rita Jamshed Kapadia

About Rita: Since 1999, Rita Kapadia, founder of ParsiCuisine.com, has provided recipes, food news, health tips and articles on this website. Recently, Rita has published several Parsi Cuisine cookbooks. Cookbooks are sold on Amazon.com worldwide. Our Parsi Cuisine cookbooks are a labor of love. The cookbooks began in an effort to maintain and preserve our recipes and traditions for the next generation, many of whom have been raised in USA, UK, Australia, France, Germany, Canada and other countries outside of India.

The Secret History of Shiraz Wine

By Anahita Shams

Persian miniature painting of a 14th Century Persian court banquetMusic, poetry and wine-drinking at the court of 17th Century Persian ruler Shah Abbas

Until the Islamic revolution, Iran had a tradition of wine-making which stretched back centuries. It centred on the ancient city of Shiraz – but is there a connection between the place and the wine of the same name now produced and drunk across the world?

“I remember my father bringing in the grapes and putting them in a big clay vat,” says California-based wine-maker Darioush Khaledi, recalling his childhood in pre-revolutionary Iran.

“I would climb on top and smell and enjoy the wine.”

Darioush’s family was from Shiraz, a fabled city in south-western Iran, whose name was once synonymous with viticulture and the poetry and culture of wine.

He remembers happy evenings when the family would gather, sipping wine from clay cups, and reciting lines from the 14th Century Persian poet Hafez.

“It wasn’t just about drinking wine,” he says. “It was an adventure.”

The world Darioush remembers came to an end in 1979 when Iran’s new Islamic rulers banned alcohol.

They shut down wineries, ripped up commercial vineyards and consigned to history a culture stretching back thousands of years.

Does this ancient jar hold the key to the provenance of Shiraz?

Ancient residue

An ancient clay jar has pride of place at the University of Pennsylvania museum in Philadelphia in the US.

It was one of six discovered by a team of American archaeologists at a site in the Zagros mountains in northern Iran in 1968.

The jars date back to the Neolithic period more than 7,000 years ago, and provide the first scientific proof of the ancient nature of Iranian wine production.

Chemical analysis on one of them revealed that a dark stain at the bottom was actually wine residue.

“This is the oldest chemically-identified wine jar in the world,” says Prof Patrick McGovern.

The first evidence of grape cultivation in Shiraz came around 2,500 BC, when vines were brought down from the mountains to the plains of south-west Iran, the professor says.

By the 14th Century, Shiraz wine was immortalized in the poetry of Hafez, whose tomb in the city is still venerated today.

“Last night, the wise tavern master deciphered the enigma,” he wrote. “Gazing at the lines traced in the cup of wine, he unraveled our awaiting fate.”

Persian miniature showing wine drinking
The wine-pourer or “saghi” had a special role in the ritual of Persian royal banquets.

Image copyright SMITHSONIAN INSTITUTION

In the 1680s, a French diamond merchant, Jean Chardin, travelled to Persia to the court of Shah Abbas.

He attended elaborate banquets and recorded the first European account of what Shiraz wine actually tasted like.

“It was a very specific red,” says French historian and Chardin expert Francis Richards. “It was a wine with good conservation because generally the local wines very quickly turned to vinegar.”

But is there a connection between the “dark red wine that smells like musk” immortalised by Hafez, and the Shiraz wine drunk across the world today?

Bottles of Shiraz with ancient Persian designsNapa Valley vintner Darioush Khaledi emphasises Shiraz’s “Persian heritage”

The first stop in my research is one of France’s most famous vineyards in the Rhone valley in the south and home to the Syrah vine.

According to local legend, the Hermitage vineyard was founded by a 13th Century knight called Gaspard de Sterimberg, who brought back a Persian vine from the Crusades.

Grapes growing on vine
Syrah grapes at the world famous Hermitage vineyard in southern France

The names Syrah and Shiraz are often used interchangeably. Could Syrah be a corruption of Shiraz and prove a Persian connection?

The definitive answer came in 1998 when DNA testing was carried out on the local vines to pinpoint their origin.

“Some people think it comes from Persians and others from Sicily where you have Syracuse city,” says grape geneticist Jose Vouillamoz. “But today we know all of that is wrong.

“Testing was done by two different labs,” he continues. “And it was really a surprise to find out that Syrah is a natural spontaneous crossing between two local vines from this area.”

So wherever the name came from, it seems there is no genetic connection between Syrah grapes and the wines of ancient Shiraz.

But the trail does not end there.

Portrait of James Busby
James Busby, seen as the father of the Australian wine industry

Outside of France, the biggest producer of Syrah in the world is Australia and the wine is always called Shiraz.

This can be traced back to a Scot called James Busby who exported Syrah vines from the Hermitage to Australia in the 19th Century.

His first consignment of vines was labelled “scyras” which many thought was a misspelling of Syrah.

But when I re-read his journal, I came across a line which proved he knew about the Hermitage Persian vine legend.

“According to the tradition of the neighbourhood,” he wrote. “The plant – scyras – was originally brought from Shiraz in Persia.”

At that time European wine-makers sometimes imported wine from Persia to add sweetness and body.

So perhaps Busby hoped the ancient name Shiraz would add some Persian mystique and flavour to his New World wine-making endeavour.

Echoes of Persepolis

The United States imported Syrah vines in the 1970s and the wine is always marketed under the Syrah name – with one notable exception.

Darioush Khaledi, a son of Shiraz, is the proud owner of a 120-acre vineyard in California’s Napa Valley producing what he insists on calling Shiraz wine.

“My French friends say Shiraz/Syrah comes from the Rhone and [has] a 500-year-old history,” he says. “But if you open an atlas of the world there’s only one place in the whole world called Shiraz and it has a 7,000-year-old history of wine growing.”

Carved columns at entrance to winery
Image caption Persian-style columns at the entrance to the Darioush winery in Napa Valley

He highlights his Iranian heritage in the vineyard. The entrance to the main building is lined with Persian-style columns reminiscent of the ancient city of Persepolis.

The day we visit, his marketing manager Dan de Polo is holding a wine tasting for a group of Chinese buyers.

“What’s great about Shiraz is that it’s always been a very soulful wine,” he tells them.

Soulfulness, spirit and poetry – words that come up time and again when talking about Shiraz wine.

And for Darioush, and for me, I think that is what matters most.

It is not about the DNA of the grapes, it is about the link Shiraz offers us to the spirit of our faraway homeland and the romance of its fabled wine.