A King Tradition


The King Family. My maternal grandmother (center front) and her siblings Pre WWI.

A King Tradition

When I was growing up in the 50’s we always had a house servant and a gardener to help keep the household running smoothly.  Our ‘cookboy’ was John.  Mom hoped to keep him for a long time so she invested a lot in him.

John was illiterate, but eager to learn. Mom was eager to teach him the ways of the kitchen to free herself up for other things.  John still ate a traditional meal of mealie meal (thick grits) and gravy in his kai in the evening over the open fire in a black three legged pot. Mom’s kitchen was a challenge.

A King Tradition

John quickly learned to make a stew served on a bed of white rice, or a cottage pie with its browned crust of mashed potato. He made the Sunday roast beef with roast potatoes and pumpkin, gravy and vegetables from the garden, amongst other favorites.

But Mom reserved the baking and desserts for herself.  She enjoyed it.  Not the least of these joys was making the annual plum pudding for Christmas.  This tradition dated back to her maternal, English, King family, 1820 Settlers to Port Saint John’s on the Wild Coast of South Africa.

A Christmas Pudding needs to be put up preferably a couple of months before Christmas, the earlier the better.  It’s time to begin when the grocery shelves display the ingredients in early October.  A lot goes into a Christmas pudding.  First of all, the ingredients list is formidable: dried fruits of all sorts, raisins, currants, sultanas, prunes, apricots, candied peels of lemon, citron and orange, fresh carrot and apple.  Treacle, sugars and spices, suet and a splash of stout or two (with a good amount left over to keep you going).

All this is mixed together.  Everyone gets to stir for good luck: silver charms, tickeys (thruppenny bits) and sixpences thrown in to the mix for added good measure, before the whole lot is turned into a pudding basin.

I remember Mom, as well as the kitchen itself, in a huge sweat, toiling over the boiling bath set over the stove, her normally bouncy curls plastered down over her forehead as the puddings roiled straddled over two burners for eight hours.  It was a task not for the faint hearted, adding all this extra heat and humidity to the October heat outside, before the rains came.

Mom always set a lovely Christmas table with a small artificial red Christmas tree in the center with miniature ornaments.  We all crossed arms, snapped our Christmas crackers open, donned our paper hats and read our fortunes out loud.  After the roast came the plum pudding, boiled again for another two hours, turned out on a fine china plate and set alight with a good dousing of warm brandy. Generous dollops of cold hard sauce were applied and we all tucked in, full as we were, searching for lucky charms and hard cash.  If we didn’t find any we had another slice.

The Rhodesian Dairy Board introduced a plum pudding flavored spumoni but   despite the difficulties imposed by availability and weather tradition dies hard.  However inappropriate, we cling to it through the generations, all the more dear with the passing years.

‘Standards’ had to be preserved during the years of sanctions during the terrorist war years despite supply shortages due to Prime Minister Smith’s disastrous Unilateral Declaration of Independence in 1965, and the empty shelves of the later Mugabe era.   What would we have done without South Africa for a life line to all things good as well as essentials?

I’ve retired to the Pacific Northwest and the hot toil in the kitchen is a welcome retreat from the fierce winter storms raging outside. The fertile Willamette Valley beyond the Coastal Range of mountains provides us copious supplies of fresh dried fruits.  All is good.  Just as well my family persevered!