ROB INGRAM LOOKS AT HOW CHRISTMAS DINING HAS CHANGED OVER TIME.
OKAY, EVER SINCE ALVIN and the Chipmunks and The Muppets hijacked Christmas, piped carols have rung through our shopping malls earlier and earlier. But has anyone — like me — noticed that the Christmas meal has also become an extended event? There was a time when it was up early to shell the prawns and invent a salad or two. Even taking over the kitchen on Christmas Eve to glaze the ham while Channel 9 presenters, who had drawn the short straw, grimaced through another Carols By Candlelight at Melbourne’s Sidney Myer Music Bowl. But these days, we’ve got the apron on while it’s still November. Crikey, I’m old enough to remember when laboursaving was all the rage. I’ve even got a cupboard under the sink full of long-forgotten utensils and gadgets to prove it. Some will recall there was once a time when we were only too pleased to throw an assortment of ingredients into the pressure cooker. We would dredge something out of the boiler on the all-enamel electric range, switch off the electric frypan, put aside the electric mixer and retire to the kitchen table. Of course, that was back in the days when electricity was affordable. But, for whatever reason, meal preparation has changed. Now, two-income families with cash to spare, friends to impress and aspirations to satisfy are mad for a bit of high living and the kitchen is the focal point of their social display. Inexplicably, the kitchen has ceased being labour-saving and become deliberately time-consuming instead. Today, sophistication is growing your own herbs (in the kitchen garden or on the kitchen window ledge), baking your own bread, pickling your own vegetables, curing your own meats, simmering your own stocks, making your own vinegars and creating not only your own pesto but your own pasta, too. Food preparation has become sophisticated by becoming primitive. Today’s to-die-for kitchen not only has engineered stone benchtops and hi-tech refrigerators with wi-fi-enabled touchscreens for looking up recipes, but the full range of French peasant kitchenware — wooden spoons, meat mallets, wire whisks, meat hooks, stone mortar and pestles, manual coffee bean grinders and handmade pottery. Now, let’s get started on the meal. Spring is a good time to recondition the soil in the pots you’ll use to grow the tarragon, chervil, chives and parsley you’ll need for your favourite sugar snap, lime, ricotta and fines herbes salad. After the last of the late frosts, get in the cherry tomatoes and grape tomatoes for the spiced tomato dressing to excite the prawn and avocado salad. And don’t forget to pickle the nectarines to accompany the glazed ham. Want to try your hand at a native ingredient theme? Tracking down lemon myrtle, native thyme, aniseed myrtle and mountain pepper to go with the turkey is trendily timeconsuming. Why not throw in some fried saltbush, too? This mission can help stretch out the wonderment of Christmas over several weeks. Of course, it’s especially nice if the whole family contributes to the Christmas table. Christmas often excites children and chipmunks more than it does us adults. So get the kids involved in twisting grapevine cuttings into wreaths. It will bring a sullen silence to their Santa hysteria — making the home a much nicer place. Oh, and one last tip. Don’t forget to schedule a nice nap before the guests arrive.
THERE WAS A TIME WHEN IT WAS UP EARLY TO SHELL THE PRAWNS AND INVENT A SALAD OR TWO.