For many years I was an Irish ex-pat living in South Africa. For the first few Christmases I tried to keep up the Irish tradition of cooking a turkey and all the trimmings on Christmas Day. As you do. Nelspruit, the town in which I lived in the lowveld area northwest of Swaziland, experiences high humidity and temperatures of over 30 degrees at the height of summer and Christmas falls right in the middle of that extremely hot season. So it was an uphill battle. But, being a traditional Irish Mammy, I struggled on regardless for the first few years.
My Christmas Day would begin with my hair immaculate and my loose cotton dress unwrinkled. The very epitome of cool efficiency, I would have prepared the bread sauce the night before and boiled the ham. Potatoes would have been peeled and left in cold water – in the fridge of course. My family would gather around the Christmas tree to open their presents in true Irish fashion. The doors to the patio would be open and the pool would glisten invitingly blue and cool (un-Irish, I freely admit) as I set the table, al fresco, for eight or ten family members and friends. My parents often flew out from Ireland to join us and my mother would sit with two electric fans going full blast; one on either side of her overheated self.
I would then repair to the kitchen to organise the turkey, roast potatoes, gem-squash and other vegetables in season. Plum pudding would be steaming and the brandy butter would be setting nicely in the fridge. So far so good – at about 11.00am, that is. By 1.00pm, however, the scene would be somewhat different. At the height of the summer’s heat and humidity, my hair would be standing on end and my dress wrinkled, while perspiration rolled horribly down my back and elsewhere. By 4.00pm, when dinner was ready, I would be completely wrecked. Everybody else would be merrily pulling crackers and helping themselves to bread sauce while I would be in a state of frizzy-haired collapse.
After about three or four years of this heroic endeavour to maintain the Irish tradition in the lowveld of South Africa, where hippos roared in the Crocodile River just down the road and bush fires were a regular occurrence, I threw in the towel. Christmas dinner became a late night Christmas Eve event and we ate cold turkey sandwiches around the pool on Christmas Day. Much better.
Now, after having lived at home in Ireland for several years, I have become an ex-pat once again in Italy. This year I was the one who travelled to Ireland to celebrate Christmas with my family and friends in Dublin. My eldest daughter did the cooking, though I was roped in to make the bread sauce (no packet stuff for the Irish Mammy!) and the most strenuous thing I did for the four nights in Dublin was to pull a rather robust luxury cracker.
I am mortified to admit that, though I now live in culinary heaven in Italy, I did stop off at a supermarket in Dublin to pick up some Flahavan’s Progress Oatlets and Lyons Green Label tea. Some Irish habits are absolutely impossible to change, no matter how hard I try.
I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas and that 2014 will be brilliant for one and all. Happy New Year.
December 30th, 2013. Veneto, Italy.