Tradition and I have had an off and on relationship. There were grudging compromises, but more often I parted victoriously from its company. Going against the grain meant that I got to do things my way for a bit. I lived alone, that is, out of my parent’s home. That’s huge. It does not happen in most of Indian society unless you are physically separated from your parents by countries. I cut my long, thick hair ultra short, much to the disgust of an offended uncle. Turning tail on tradition meant that I married differently to what was generally expected (but all my family were wonderfully supportive, mainly through relief, I think). These were all positive, reinforcing outcomes, for basically, being disobedient. I think I did well, considering.
No time is more traditional than Christmas around here. This is the time to steep yourselves in the familiar, the past being carried to the present, and hopefully to the future. I do the usual British seasonal foodie indulgences such as Christmas cake, gingerbread and mince pies and revel in it. There are times though, when I consider what my contribution is. And it’s pretty much zilch. Nowt. Nada. Running light all those years meant that I didn’t pick up anything along the way. I do slightly feel like I am paying for it now and I find myself jangling my mind as if it were a locked box, full of inaccessible memories..
One recollection I have is of the one and only time I helped my grandmother at preparing Kulkuls, on a cool, misty December morning. These cylindrical, ridged – by the tines of a fork, hard, sweetened, sometimes coconutty, deep fried sweets were made to hand round to neighbours at Christmas time. Doesn’t harm to have a stash in the house for the surge in drop-in guests either. Another item was rose cookies. A hard dough is pressed into a mould that resembled the outline of a rose and again, deep fried. Ovens are very much a recent addition to some Indian kitchens. I was never a fan of these ‘treats’ and found them rather hard going on the teeth.
My favourites were the ‘Oondas’ or literally, balls. They could be made of out roasted rice flavoured with cardomom and sweetened with jaggery (heavenly when warm) or made out of nut pastes and coconut. I had a soft spot for those and would steal them from the home stash under the ‘dupatta’ or shawl of my Salwar Kameez. I was always found out though and given a sound telling off by Mai (maternal grandmother). Who then, felt bad and later, would drop one into my hand without a word and avoiding my eye.
While I have yet to try making any of the seasonally suited oondas of my community, I realise now that tradition has to start somewhere and I would do well to begin my own. It will not based on things that have been done for hundreds of years by stout, stern women, but on one simple fact. My family ask for them, enjoy it and love making it around this time of the year. And though it couldn’t be further from anything familiar in my upbringing, these Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups are nonetheless perfectly suited to the criteria and utterly delicious. I would dare to say, even more so than the most delectable kulkuls.
The yearly request for these ebony topped beauties comes from The Scotsman. He loves the food I make, is kind even if its only bin-worthy and never demands what should be placed on his plate. So, when he asks for something as simple as these chocolate topped nut treats, it’s endearing and I cannot and would not, choose to say no. The children too adore these, prising the pretty papers with their chubby, already chocolate stained fingers.
Additionally, they make excellent gifts too and survive happily in the freezer. It’s not hard work but requires repetitive, mindless rolling and squidging, which can be rather therapeutic. Another , more generously portioned way of doing these, would be to press all of the base ingredients into a 23 cm tin and top with the chocolate. Leave it to set halfway in the fridge, cut and then return to the fridge to cool completely. If its too cold, cutting the chocolate will be difficult, tending to break into faultline like shards with the pressure of a knife.
I smile as I flatten the sweet nutty base into pretty cups (with the flat ended handle of my lemon reamer), thinking of how much childlike pleasure The Scotsman will get out of these. The kids are pinching the dough and licking their fingers, giggling at the same time. It’s a lovely start to the beginning of a new, if simple, tradition, one that I can wholeheartedly indulge in. One of house, home and love.
To view and print recipe, please click here.