‘Knead’ for change

‘Knead’ for change

Mum's diamond-cuts, cul-culs and cookies were delicious and eminently chewable – one didn’t risk chipping a tooth as I once did after buying a packet of banana chips, writes George N Netto


The popularity (and undoubted convenience) of readymade or ‘instant’ foods have robbed most households today of the mouth-watering flavours, fragrances and aromas that memorably characterised Christmas-time cooking decades ago. Now, sadly, taste seems to have lost out to convenience.

Xmas cakes were always home-made in the 1950s and 60s — and they tasted scrumptious. I recall mum herself would manually (and labouriously) knead the dough to the right consistency. When her plump arms started to ache, we boys would readily pitch in even as she yelled, “Wash your hands well before touching the dough.” She knew better than anyone else how grimy children’s hands could be. And we were always the first to sample the yummy cake.

Mum’s home-made Xmas snacks had a crunchy crispness which outlasted that of their readymade counterparts of today. Her ‘diamond-cuts’, cul-culs and cookies were delicious and eminently chewable — one didn’t risk chipping a tooth as I once did after buying a packet of banana chips. Mum would meticulously mix the batter, cut out the required shapes with geometric precision and then fry or bake, watched keenly by us with salivating mouths.

No Xmas lunch then was considered complete without meat cutlets and pork vindaloo — two dishes at preparing which mum excelled.

The delectably appetising aroma of cutlets being crisply fried and pork vindaloo being repeatedly stirred in the pot would waft out of the kitchen window on to the road, leaving passers-by sniffing appreciatively. And her pungently sweet chilli sauce, spread lavishly on cutlets, was guaranteed to make eyes water and noses run.

At Christmas-time the store-room at home would double as a ‘cellar’ of sorts, with the musty tang of grapes fermenting in huge bharanis (earthenware jars) tantalisingly emanating from it.

The heady wine mum brewed was intoxicating enough to floor an adult if quaffed in excess. Homemade wine was then traditionally served before breakfast on Christmas day along with the home-baked cake.

Mum’s home-made guava and passion fruit preserves were in a class of their own. No artificial additives were used and we liberally savoured the essence of the fruit in all its inherent and unadulterated goodness. 

Indeed, her harshest ‘critics’ were her four sons who, in a way, enabled her to perfect her art — “it’s too gooey” or “it’s not sweet enough” or “the seeds are getting stuck between my teeth and hurting,” et al.

Mum kept a thick, handwritten notebook of recipes which she updated and treasured.

Sadly, old recipes passed down from generation to generation are now all but forgotten or ignored in favour of readymade food and condiments. Indeed, mum’s energising mutton broth, made from an age-old recipe and served piping hot, would’ve put today’s ‘instant’ soups in the shade.

If many today are deprived of the finger-licking delights of home-cooked food, it’s largely due to the invasion of ready-to-cook or ‘instant’ food items.

Yet, for all their convenience, these can never match home-cooked food which embodies two priceless ingredients not available for sale anywhere — a mother’s love and care besides her culinary skills honed by experience.


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