For those in the Northern Hemisphere this may seem like a very strange event but here in the south we like the idea very much. The day is not about presents, it’s all about the food. It allows us to experience and enjoy all the Christmas fare that is best cooked and enjoyed when the weather is cooler.
I enthusiastically embrace December 25 and battle through the day cooking traditional fare in sweltering heat, often standing near a hot oven for hours on end with sweat dripping down my back and stirring the gravy while turning puce in the face and feeling my mascara slide down my cheeks. And that’s just how it is when you have Christmas during summer.
But many Australians have long since given up the battle of cooking Christmas fare in the heat and now opt for a selection of cold cuts or a seafood buffet paired with a variety of salads. Steamed puddings have been replaced with a frozen version made not with a cake base but with ice cream being the major component. Mulled wine and hot chocolate have been passed over for chilled rieslings and beer – plenty of beer handed to you in a cooler.
So for those feeling a little ripped off or slighted that Christmas just isn’t the same without all the traditional fare, Christmas in July is a fun day where you can enjoy the cuisine that is often too difficult to embrace during a heatwave.
Last Sunday Carl and I and five other couples grouped together to celebrate Christmas in July. I was responsible for bringing the turkey. I phoned my butcher to order it a week before the event. He told me I wouldn’t have much choice of size at this time of year and that it would probably be 6kgs (13.22lbs). When I collected it, it was free-range and it was fresh but it came in at 8kgs (17.64lbs). I’ve never cooked one that size before.
I decided to stuff it with two seasonings, a forcemeat stuffing in the neck and a bread (substituted quinoa to make it gluten-free) stuffing for the cavity. I also made a hazelnut, parsley and garlic butter to rub under the skin to stop the bird from drying out in the oven. When I went to stuff the turkey I found that all the neck skin had been cut away so there was no way I could stuff that part of the bird. The skin around the cavity had also been sliced away so I could only put a little seasoning in the bird. I wrapped the seasonings in baking paper and then foil and put them in the oven for the last hour of the cooking time. I made a gravy using the pan juices, some cornflour, white wine and chicken stock. I wanted to make my own cranberry sauce but frozen cranberries were unavailable so we had to make do with jars from the supermarket.
I was feeling the pressure in the kitchen because a certain friend brought a rolled loin of pork and he was toe-tapping beside the oven asking, ‘Have you finished yet?’ and ‘Is that bird cooked yet?’ and ‘How much longer are you going to be?’ and ‘Surely you’d like to rest it now?’ as he needed the oven to finish off his pork. I pulled out the turkey after four hours and despite myself it was perfectly cooked and everyone said it was the highlight of the day. Relief!
Another highlight was that my two teenagers made an appearance. Arabella was only one hour late and Archie, who needed to sleep off an all-nighter after his gig at the Roxbury, arrived three hours into the event and as punishment I made him entertain the crowd and belt out a few tunes with his guitar.
Here’s a selection of images not taken by me because I had a few projects I was overseeing in the kitchen plus my i-Phone was being used to play Christmas music.
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