A children’s holiday tea party is special. Food is the one thing that continues to appeal and excite a child. Every year, I try to add a dish that is not only a part of the seasonal theme but also a part of my memories. This year, my table displays not one but two unique festive treats. They have a story behind them.
Growing up , we had a grand old lady called Rathnamma, a ‘nanny’ in the true sense of the word. Having spent a great part of her life with British families, she was quite ‘English’ when it came to cooking. For a long time, she had lived and worked at the Kolar Gold Fields,popularly known as KGF, a colonial township that was known for it’s very English way of life !
Among her cooking repertoire were roast duck, pot roast, steamed vegetables, buttered rice and the two things that always remind me of her: rose cookies and kalkals. She was a huge part of my childhood year-end festivities and I can never eat these sweet crunchies without thinking of her.
Known in Tamil as kalakala, kalkals were a special Christmas tradition. For the Anglo-Indians, the Goan and Manglorean Christians, this was a yearly ritual in the days leading up to Christmas. As many hands were required to knead, roll and shape this sweetened dough, it also contributed to family bonding. Rathnamma passed away decades ago and this sweet became a distant memory until now. Sadly, there are very few left in the Anglo-Indian community in Coimbatore who make it. When I continued to search, I was finally directed to the Nilgiris Department Store. They get a fresh batch of kalkals supplied throughout the festive season. It comes with a cheery red and green sticker and this continues up until the end of the holidays.
The kalkals are of two kinds that vary slightly in shape and colour. While the basic dough is the same, the shape differs. The more labour -intensive one is when the back of the forks are oiled the dough is flattened over it thinly and then rolled to get the perfect curl. These curls bear the ridged indentations from the fork and are super crunchy when deep-fried. They are then tossed in a golden caramel to be sweetened. The other kind are crescent-shaped cones made by rolling and turning the dough. After being deep-fried, they are coated generously with fine icing sugar. These little nuggets filled little ceramic star containers to adorn the table.
Another typical treat in Indian Christian homes are Rose cookies. In Kerala, it’s referred to as achappam, (achu meaning to mould). These are made by dipping a flower-shaped mould into batter and lowering it into hot oil. The moulds are usually shaped like roses or daisies. Once we unearthed a butterfly mould at my friend’s storehouse. They are called cookies because of the sweet biscuity element. These days they are also flavoured with sesame or cumin but the plains ones are the tastiest. The A1 Chips outlet on Trichy road ,in Coimbatore,makes yummy rose cookies. The batter is very thin just enough to coat the mould. The end result is a crispy melt-in-the-mouth confection with just the right amount of sugar.
Rose cookies and kalkals are a few of the remnants of the Portuguese and the British Raj. They are a throwback to a time when Christmas comprised simpler treats and homely traditions. As I share these today with family and friends, I’m thankful for the chance to walk down memory lane and enjoy the simple pleasures of sharing and caring. That’s just what the holidays are about.