A hot lunch is on Terry Durack's Christmas wish list. Photo: Marina Oliphant
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Terry Durack: It has to be hot
Christmas is not a climatic condition, it's a state of mind. In my mind, it's the Christmas cards I grew up with, showing pink-cheeked, be-scarved carollers singing merrily in the street; traces of snow criss-crossing window panes; and hearty fires blazing merrily away as families gather around clutching mugs of hot buttered rum. Not that I've ever had hot, buttered rum – it sounds a bit dodgy – but my point is, this is what Christmas is all about: jolly, fat men with fluffy white beards dragging freshly cut Christmas trees through newly fallen snow. I want to stop and call out: “And a merry Christmas to you, good sirs.”
Dinner debate ... Terry Durack and Jill Dupleix. Photo: James Brickwood
On these Christmas cards, there is only one Christmas dinner, and it's hot. This is the way the world should be, and anything else is heresy. Truthfully, I don't care if it's 38 degrees outside, the dog is panting, and granny has just melted into a puddle on the carpet – it's Christmas, and There Will Be Roast Turkey. And Gravy. And Roast Potatoes and Parsnip and Pudding and The Whole Catastrophe.
Why does it have to be roast turkey? For three very good reasons – gravy, cranberry sauce, and stuffing. Yes, it could be roast goose, duck, or chicken, but please – only one at a time, and not stuffed within each other. The turducken is, I believe, a stuff-up.
And yes, you will all eat too much, and the house will resemble a disaster area, and the empty bottles could sink a small ship and you may well fall into a meat coma that lasts until the end of the Sydney-Hobart yacht race. Welcome to Christmas. That's what you do.
I cannot see the point of replacing hundreds of years of tradition with "cool" salads and cold collations just because it's summer. That's irrelevant. Christmas sits inside summer in much the same way as the ACT sits inside New South Wales – as a completely different territory.
And I won't hear a word against Christmas pudding. It's the glue that holds the whole shebang together, it keeps everyone at the table – even the kids – until it turns up. And after it turns up, you can't move without groaning anyway. It's Christmas cheer, goodwill, good times, good wishes, and family ties, all rolled up into one big, spice-laden, brandy-buttered anchor. Dickens said it best, as ever, when describing the Cratchit family dinner in A Christmas Carol. “Hallo! A great deal of steam! The pudding was out of the copper. A smell like a washing-day! That was the cloth. A smell like an eating-house and a pastry cook's next door to each other, with a laundress's next door to that! That was the pudding! In half a minute Mrs Cratchit entered – flushed, but smiling proudly – with the pudding, like a speckled cannon-ball, so hard and firm, blazing in half of half-a-quartern of ignited brandy, and bedight with Christmas holly stuck into the top.”
I mean, I could try to write about a passionfruit pavlova or an eggnog panna cotta with the same joyousness, but… there's no point. Why limit yourself on Christmas Day to those things you can eat any other day? There's all of summer stretching ahead in which to do that.
Jill Dupleix: It must be cold
Christmas doesn't have to be a ritualistic suicide-by-food year after year in the name of tradition. Has anyone looked out the window? It's hot outside. Why would anyone add to all that heat with another 3 hours at 180 degrees, for the sake of a turkey?
I've had quite a few cold, dark Christmases in the northern hemisphere, and they have been really beautiful, memorable times. I remember walking around Notting Hill one Christmas after lunch, seeing bottles of champagne perched on window sills to keep chilled, away from the central heating fugging up the windows inside. A big roast dinner and a steamed pudding makes all the sense in the world Over There. It doesn't here.
Now I relish a barefoot Christmas, filled with sunshine, and swimming, and super-cool feasting. The smoked salmon or ocean trout gravlax is ready and waiting when people start to gather. The ham is set for carving and serving with jars of seeded mustard, those expensive-but-fabulous Italian mustard fruits, sweet mustard pickles, Indian lime pickles, mango chutney and anything else in the fridge. Salads are cool and festive – tomato with mozzarella, tangy coleslaw, or brown rice or quinoa salads sparkling with dried cranberries and nuts.
If everyone wants turkey, I'll cook them a turkey, but I'll cook it in the cool of the evening or early morning, and serve it as part of a buffet; making sure there is plenty left over for white-bread sandwiches the next day. And who needs gravy when there is cranberry relish and redcurrant sauce? (Okay, the gravy is a sticking point. It is something I miss when I go cold turkey).
But let's not forget that when you live in a land girt by sea, you live in a land girt by seafood. There is something completely and utterly Australian about a long table covered in big platters of cold, cooked seafood, with big leafy salads, chunky with avocado, and lemons ready for squeezing all over everything. It's deliciously cool, for both the cooks and the entire congregation. It goes with our climate, our lifestyle and our celebratory mood. It goes with a cold beer drawn from a bucket of ice, and a glass of fresh, fruity white wine, and – definitely – a bottle of bubbly.
And I'd step away from the steamed plum pudding and a pile of mince tarts any day for some of Australia's finest fresh goat cheeses and muscatels or a huge bowl of ripe red cherries, or platters of summer's ripe berries and tropical fruits.
If Australia is ever to be a republic, albeit one with a great fondness for British royalty, then it will have to come up with its own Christmas. And in a way, it has. A lot of families choose a cool, relaxed Christmas dinner over the hot and sweaty variety. They eat Christmas dinner outdoors, the scent of eucalypt and the buzz of the odd blowfly in the air.
We're a weird mob; a strange and wonderful mix of the old and the new, the British, the European and the Asian, the urban and the rural, the silly and the sensible; and we get to celebrate all of that when we come together at the Christmas table. That's the best Christmas dinner – the one your family loves.
After this debate, Jill and Terry have decided to go cold (for lunch) and hot (for dinner), the best of both worlds. What about you? Hot, cold, warm? Inside or out? Granny's recipes or something off the iPad? It's Christmas – so use the comments below and give.
Recipes pictured, both from Jill Dupleix: