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Friday, December 14, 2012


Christmas is a mixture of both religious and secular traditions in India and more especially in KGF in the olden days.  It’s a time of celebration, of family and friends, of feasting and socializing. Christmas is a fascinating mix of traditions that combines pre-Christian pagan rituals with modern traditions. Every family has its own customs and traditions while celebrating Christmas. Some of these customs and traditions are universal in nature while others may be a result of inculcating local practices and customs. Christmas is therefore the season for traditions, preserving old ones and creating new ones
 In India, Christmas food varies from state to state and communities. Christmas meals in Anglo-Indian families are quite elaborate, under whose weight a table can literally groan, starting   with appetizers and going on to 4 course or 6 course meals. Each family has their own traditional recipes for these dishes that are served on Christmas Day. A lot of traditional sweets are also prepared and exchanged with other family members and friends.

The traditional Christmas Fruit Cakes, Christmas Puddings, Marble and Chocolate Cakes, Yule Logs, kalkals, Rose Cookies, Fruit Cakes, Bole Cake, Dodol, Coconut sweets, Beveca, Marzipan Sweets, Peanut Fudge, Cashew Nut Fudge, mince pies and many other sweets and goodies and savouries such as Murkus, Adrasams, Panyarrams, etc are prepared specially for Christmas, a month or fortnight in advance, filling the house and neighbourhood with enticing smells. This is the time, when the whole house is in a festive mood, with the anticipation of Christmas, and every one in the family chips in to help prepare those heavenly delights.

All these Festive Treats are legacies of the various European invasions in India. The Portuguese influence on Indian food was felt as early as 1498, when Vasco da Gama entered India. Various Christmas and Festive Sweets such as Kalkals, Dodol, Bebinca, Fritters, Coconut cookies, Egg Custards, etc are also of Portuguese origin and are prepared every year in every Christian home all over India.

However, the traditional Christmas Fruit Cakes, Christmas Puddings, Marble and Chocolate Cakes, Yule Logs, Fruit Cakes, Bole Cake, Marzipan Sweets, Peanut Fudge, Cashew nut Fudge, Mince Pies and many other sweets and goodies are the legacy left behind by the British. Many other Indian Savouries and sweets are also prepared at Christmas time in Christian Homes. While Cakes and other baked delicacies are some times bought from the local Bakeries, no Christian family in India particularly the Anglo-Indians would let Christmas go by without preparing Kalkals and Rose Cookies at home, assisted by the whole family.

Each family had their own traditional recipe for making the Christmas cake, which was sometimes handed down from generation to generation. The dry fruits and nuts that went into the Christmas Cakes were chopped finely well in advance and soaked in Rum and were normally baked 3 or 4 weeks earlier and then iced just before Christmas.

Just as the fruit had to be soaked in rum much in advance, the grapes for the home made wine had to be soaked in October to be ready for Christmas. Ginger Wine however, was prepared just before Christmas. Ginger wine wasn’t exactly a wine. It was more a ‘Cordial”. A little Ginger wine was drunk as a digestive to wash down all the rich food that was consumed over the festive season.

My mum would start the preparation of the traditional sweets and treats that are a part and parcel of Christmas a fortnight before Christmas. Kalkals, Rose Cookies, Fruit Cakes, Coconut Sweets, Christmas Pudding, Bole Cake, Dodol, Beveca, Marzipan Sweets, Peanut Fudge and Guava cheese and a lot of other goodies were prepared in abundance by her. The whole house would smell enticingly.

One of my strongest childhood memories is the enticing aroma of the cakes baking in the oven at Christmas time in KGF - of us children sitting around the dining table making KalKals. We’d compete with each other to see who rolled the most kalkals. (Kalkals are made from sweetened dough and look like small shells which are later deep fried in oil and sometimes covered with icing sugar).

KALKALS or KULKULS are prepared all over India at Christmas time. A variant of ‘Filhoses Enroladas’ a Portuguese Christmas Sweet, Kalkals, (always referred to in the plural) are crunchy inch-long curled or shell shaped sweetened fried dough Sweets. Sugar and flour are combined with eggs, milk and butter to a soft dough and then small marble sized balls of this dough are rolled on the tines of a fork or a comb to form a shell or a scroll, then deep fried in hot oil. The dough is sometimes rolled out and cut into different shapes such as hearts, spades, diamonds etc with cutters or a knife and then deep fried in hot oil. The Kalkals / Kulkuls are later frosted or coated in hot melted sugar syrup.


Making Kalkals is a time consuming process and thus requires many hands in its preparation. Hence a few days before Christmas, a separate day is designated as ‘Kalkal Day’ when every member of the family spends a few hours rolling out his/her portion of the kalkal dough. While one doesn’t know how the name ‘Kalkals / Kulkuls’ got its nomenclature it is probably because of the “curls” of this particular Christmas Sweet.

Rose Cookies are delicious fried Anglo-Indian Christmas Treats. Though named as Cookies, they are not cookies in the strict sense as they not baked but deep fried in hot oil. Rose Cookies are also known as Rosette Cookies, Rosa Cookies, etc and are prepared with a sweetened batter consisting of Flour, Eggs, Vanilla Extract and Coconut milk. Believed to be another culinary legacy left by the Portuguese in India, they are known as Rose de Coque or Rose de Cookies in Portugual. (They are also known as Rosettes in Sweden and Norway). The crisp cookies are made by plunging a special hand-held ‘Rose Cookie Mould’ or ‘Rosette Iron’ lightly coated with a sweet batter into hot oil. The
Rose Cookie Mould or Rosette Iron is a long handled gadget with intricately designed iron moulds of different flowers such as roses and daisies. The Mould or Iron is heated to a very high temperature in oil, dipped into the batter, then immediately re-immersed in the hot oil to create a crisp shell around the hot metal. The mould or iron is shaken slightly, till the Rose Cookie gets separated from it. The delicate golden brown, light and crispy cookie thus separated from the mould /iron floats to the top and is taken out from the hot oil with a flat porous spoon. Though a time consuming and laborious process, Rose Cookies are incredibly delicious

Now a days, people prefer to buy the Rose Cookies, Kalkals and Cake from the local stores and bakeries. The old thrill of making them at home is now fading as families are getting smaller and people breaking away from tradition. These memories of Christmas of the days in KGF will remain in our memories for ever.


Reuben D said...

Thank You for an excellent account of Christmases of old. I am getting ready to fire up a batch of Rose Cookies here in Chicago with winter fast approaching. I miss some of the fabulous food enjoyed with my friends in Madras and Bangalore. I look forward to acquiring your books on recipes.
Have an excellent Christmas!

Anonymous said...

It was an amazing account of the X'mas seasons, my mom used to yell at us for not preparing proper kalkals and then dad would pitch in to help..! those amazing days will never be forgotten , specially when mumma and dadda talks about KGF stuff and joins the fun during the X'mas season that too in muscat,Oman...!!