It is strange in some ways because I am not even a Christian, I suppose infectious feelings of festivity are unavoidable and because I was raised in a home that did things according British and European Christian tradition at this time of year the whole thing of nostalgia comes into play too.
Normally my Christmas tree would be up by now, it’s not, last year I never even put one up. This year I have decided to ‘un-Grinch’ myself and return to my previous happy festive self and my tree will be up before the week is out, suitably adorned in tartan and red ribbons with the odd Christmas bauble stuck in between and Christmas tree lights flickering and bouncing of tinsel for added effect.
My son’s giant Christmas stocking and the family collection of Teddy bears wearing their Christmas tartan waistcoats, to satisfy the Scottish side of my soul, will be around the Christmas tree. I have so many things I love about Christmas and food certainly puts in an appearance many times in the top 20 list of things I love.
Sadly, in sub-Saharan Africa we are in the middle of summer so snow is highly unlikely and I am not a fan of heat at the best of times unlike my fellow South Africans. Present giving has long since given way in our house to simply enjoying a good meal on Christmas day, like many Africans we simply do not have the money to spend on frivolous gift giving and unless someone is in dire need of new shoes or such there will be no packages under my Christmas tree. However, we do have to eat so we spend a little extra on buying ingredients to make some of our favourite, favourites. Among these are not quite traditional English Sweet Mince Pies.
Every year my son and I run a small factory line to make as many of these as we can. There are a few small twists in my recipe which I have adapted to make use of seasonal fruit we find in Africa but it still tastes as yummy as the shop bought ones and it crosses the cultural divide of my Anglo African self. So here it is, the full recipe for African styled Christmas
Sweet Mince Pies Sweet Mince: 300g Cake Mix (containing raisins, sultanas, currants etc.) 125g Dried fruit (any mix – remember to remove pips from prunes if it has) 100g
Hard White Margarine grated (or suet for non vegetarians) 100g
Brown sugar 100g Candied citrus peel
1/2 cup Drained Pineapple pulp (a peeled, grated apple is more traditional)
1 Lemon, boiled and then cooled
1 Mashed Banana
1 teaspoon Ground Cinnamon
1 teaspoon Mixed Spice
1/2 teaspoon Ground Nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon Ground Ginger
100ml Brandy (I prefer Whiskey and even Sherry is fine)
1. Cut the lemon into quarters and remove the pips.
2. Place the lemon, cake mix, dried fruit mix, pineapple, banana and mixed peel into a food processor and blitz until it forms a paste.
3. Put the paste into a mixing bowl and add the grated white margarine (or suet), brown sugar, spices and brandy. Mix this together until it is well combined. Don’t worry too much if it seems a bit juicy at this point, I have a hint to counter this later on.
4. This is then covered and left overnight.
I have to find a cool spot here because I use margarine and because of the heat but that should not worry anyone in the Northern Hemisphere.
Pastry: You can buy ready made shortcrust or puff pastry and use that if it is your preference, it would certainly save some time but this is Africa. We do things at our own pace here so I always make my own pastry using my grandmothers shortbread recipe with some adjusting.
The measures here are based on
1 cup = 250ml,
1 Tablespoon=30ml but cooking is not rocket science so don’t get too caught up in exact measures.
12 Heaped Tablespoons (approx. 3 cups)
Plain Flour 2 Level Tablespoons Castor Sugar 1/2lb. (500g)
Butter cubed and at room temperature (I never use Margarine for pastry)
1/4 teaspoon Salt (if you used salted butter leave this out)
Zest from one Lemon (Orange is also fine, I have even used Grapefruit)
3/4 cup Granadilla (Passion Fruit) juice (or Orange, Lime or even Lemon seasonal to colder climates)
1 Large Free Range Egg beaten
1. Sift flour, salt and castor sugar.
2. Add cubes of butter and rub into flour mix until it resembles fine bread crumbs.
3. Add the zest from the citrus fruit you used for this purpose and mix it in well.
4. Slowly add the juice to this; mix and knead until it comes together as dough and is firm but pliable.
NOTE: be sure not to add all the juice at once as there is a good chance you may not need it all and depending on the flour you may even need a little more.
5. You can wrap this is in cling film and put in the refrigerator for an hour or so.
Putting it all together: This is where we go outside! Definitely a case of not being able to stand the heat so we get out of the kitchen: because of the incredible heat out here we usually set up a makeshift kitchen outdoors and tend to do the baking in the evening to avoid having the oven on in the house during the heat of the day.
1. Pre-heat your oven to 180 degrees Celsius / 350 Fahrenheit (I think Gas Mark 4 – please check first)
2. Grease cookie trays.
3. Prepare a floured surface for rolling your pastry and have cookie cutters or cups on hand to cut your rolled pastry into discs to fit your cookie tray.
4. Roll the pastry to 3-5mm thick and cut disc shapes.