Soon it will be Christmas Day

‘Last Christmas, I gave you my heart…’ goes the popular song by Wham! And come to think of it, we all look forward to Christmas and yet when it’s Christmas Day, most of us look back, reminiscing.

I remember the early 60s in Daman when people would start collecting eggs weeks in advance, carefully writing the dates on the eggs and storing them under layers of rock salt in tins. Back then, the ovens were not electric but made of clay and known as panela de barro, fueled by burning coconut husk which was sold in gunny sacks. Sugar was ‘controlled’ by the ration-shops and so just like the ants, we too would ingeniously start hoarding sugar, even going to the extent of using the quota in the ration cards of domestic servants who did not need sugar, preferring toddy to tea!

By the 10th of December, housewives in groups of about six would gather in the kitchen of one of their houses every night after putting the children to bed and, with coffee and gossip to keep them going, would make sweets like boroas, queijadinhos, bolinhos do coco, etc. Coconut and egg yolk were the common ingredients. In Portugal, the wine industry until recently used the whites of eggs in their processes and the residual yolks gave birth to the delicious sweets industry. I think no other sweet symbolized the fusion of the erstwhile colonies better than Bolinhos do Porto which is made of just 4 ingredients viz., coconut symbolizing India, raw egg-yolk symbolizing Portugal, cocoa symbolizing Africa and, sugar the universal ingredient!

‘But the times, they are a-changing…’croons Bob Dylan and home-made sweets are giving way to off-the-shelf sweets from Bandra, caroling giving way to recorded music, e-mails replacing Christmas cards and so on.

But there is one thing that has solidly withstood the test of time and that is the humble Bolo de Sura, a modest cake made of flour, eggs, jaggery and for leavening, toddy from which it gets it name (‘Sura’ is toddy in Portuguese). In the days of plenty, this cake was made for giving to the poor on Christmas Day. To this day, a slice of this poor-man’s cake adorns every platter of sweet that is exchanged among neighbors and friends, rich and poor.

Just like the Yule Pudding of the English, the Bolo de Sura is Daman’s own Christmas cake symbolizing the very spirit of Christmas.

Noël Gama

Copyright © 2005 Noël Gama

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