Christmas is a time to celebrate the birth of Jesus and spend time with family. Food has always been an important staple that brings my family together during the holidays and though we have been split apart by moving all over the world, the tradition still remains in some households. Here are what I call a few “Christmas Cocktails” of memories I have from celebrating this joyous occasion. I end it with some history of our music.
It was fascinating to watch my mom make her black cake, a staple during Christmas in Trinidad. She’d buy all her fruit products, currants, raisins, mixed peel and maraschino cherries, put it all in a blender until is turned into a syrupy mush. The rum was next and then the alcoholic concoction would “rest” for several weeks looking like lumpy tar. The aroma was intoxicating…literally! It needed to be mixed with regular cake batter and I helped mom mix it then my brother and I would fight over who would get to lick the spoon or bowl. When she was ready to bake it, the smell seeped into the streets, making the neighbors drool. Once it was done, the pan was heavy like a ton of bricks; I couldn’t imagine what it did to one’s stomach, plus she had to saturate more rum into it. All my relatives hovered to savor her creation, except me. The taste was repulsive, but it was a work of art watching her make it.
An ode to Ham….the staple of my family’s house at Christmas time.
Mom was the queen of the ham
But she has gone to lands afar
To me they call for sustenance
Because mine is always the star
Forget the turkey drumsticks
Or the gravy and the mash
Hog is what my kin crave
When it comes they make a dash
Spiral sliced like a windmills blade
And skin with a sweet sticky glaze
Topped with fruit and spices
A taste to forever be amazed
Not a single moment goes to waste
When the meat intercepts the door
They ravish it like wild animals
Till nothing is left of the boar
Punch de Creme
Punch de Crème is a traditional Christmas beverage much like Eggnog. What makes this drink unique is the added touch of the lime and Angostura bitters (can be found in Caribbean stores), that gives it a cool, citrus flavor. Any white rum can be used to make this and it is best enjoyed with crushed ice. This drink tends to get any Christmas party started as it did with my family.
The recipe included here is taken from the “Naparima Girl’s High School Cookbook” from TriniGourment.com.
3 tins evaporated milk (15oz. low-fat)
1-1/2 tins sweetened condensed milk (14 oz ea.)
1/2 cup rum
2 teaspoons Angostura bitters
zest of one lime
1. Beat eggs with lime peel until light and fluffy
2. Add evaporated milk
3. Sweeten to taste with condensed milk.
4. Add bitters, grated nutmeg, and rum according to taste.
6. serve with crushed ice.
During Carnival we whine and dance to soca music. At Hindu weddings we shake our hips and flare our hands to chutney. At Christmas, our Hispanic heritage has given us parang to enjoy. Shared by the country of our neighbor Venezuela, they are festive songs sung in Spanish that are usually played with instruments like the guitar, cuatro, maracas, mandolin, a wood-block and sometimes the cello. My cousins and I would love to watch our parents dance in styles of the waltz, salsa and meringue. Grandfathers danced with their daughters. Aunts danced with their brothers. Husbands and wives would embrace in delight to enjoy the Christmas fete, as their feet shuffled in six or eight beat steps and hips swayed like a palm tree in a Caribbean breeze. It was the dance of family, the dance to love, the dance to celebrate when Christ was born!