Christmas is a very special time especially for children. Even more so for children in the tropics. Food and presents their primaryfocus.
The young Canadian wife of the entomologist from Alberta was out of her depth. Eager to join in and help with the Christmas party for the children; she discovered that she got it all wrong.
New to the country and to estate life in the late 1960's on a sugar estate in Guyana, Ann was welcomed by the local staff. People were friendly and as warm at the tropical sun. Bob, her husband, had accepted the job on a sugar estate owned and operated by Booker Bros, an English company.
He had a successful interview in London and felt that if they were going to travel, this was their opportunity. His training would allow him to have a real tropical experience to deal with tropical specimens. Identify them and hopefully help to prevent them from decimating the sugar cane crops.
Ann soon discovered that she was just a housewife living out in the countryside, surrounded by fields of sugar cane with no local shops nearby. Shopping had to be planned as it meant a trip into the city. The city was miles from the estate. She could take the car and make it an outing or give a shopping list to the driver who purchased supplies for the estate. There were no prepared foods. Everything was cooked or baked from scratch and she was happy to learn to cook the local dishes with help from the other Estate wives. Some were expatriates like her mostly from the UK, and the others local women. In fact, they all made her feel welcome and she was grateful for their help and generosity.
Her attempts to fit in and her good intentions to share in the joy became unstuck at the children's Christmas party. With no children of her own, she was determined to help. For the party all the mothers provided the food, cooking, baking: wrapping presents and decorating the Christmas tree.
The party was held at the “club” where all social events were held. It was where the staff gathered for drink after a days work, with visiting friends, for dances and all other celebrations. It was the hub of their social activities.
The children's Christmas party was an annual production with everyone helping. There was a Christmas fund which subsidized the cost. Ann offered to provide sandwiches as her food contribution. She made peanut butter and banana sandwiches. She was sure they would be a hit; bananas were readily available as was peanut butter. Children in Canada enjoyed these sandwiches, so her contribution should be just fine.
For children in the tropics, Christmas was a very special time. They wait with great excitement and longing for those different treats that only came at Christmas....once a year.
Fruits – like big red BC apples from Canada, grapes, pears, walnuts, almond nuts, Turkish delight, Peak Frean biscuits, Quality Street chocolates: – chocolate bourbon biscuits: biscuits sandwiched with cream or just plain shortbread. Chocolates: Cadbury chocolates: in bars or packed individually with different fillings. Cadbury & Bowser Nougat bars. Christmas was the time when they were able to enjoy food that was not available during the year.
The carols and Christmas songs were played and the children joined in.
They had no idea of what a sleigh ride was like or to dash through the snow like Frosty but they liked the songs and sang with great gusto. The sun was shining and their Christmas tree was a plastic affair decorated with white cotton wool for snow. It was also decorated with ornaments and lights. Underneath the tree was the mountain of gaily wrapped presents tagged with each of their names.
They played many games outdoors in the sunshine and waited for the moment when they were called indoors for the tea. What a spread – food that they only get to eat at Christmas. Santa, dressed in his red outfit, laughing, calling out each of their names and giving them a present. They could hardly contain their excitement.
They were allowed to choose food from the tables decorated with Christmas table cloths. The cakes were usually baked by their mothers – orange cake – baked with real fresh orange juice and zest; Sponge cake – eggs whipped by hand to produce the light fluffy cake; fruit cake iced with Royal icing and decorated with Maraschino cherries and green coloured icing for the trees.
Pies: - small meat pies (patties) filled with seasoned ground beef; pine tarts – a small triangular shaped tart with an exposed centre revealing pineapple jam. Jam made from fresh pineapples.
Coconut Ice – layers of pink and white coconut cut into small squares:
Marshmallows – also pink and white
Sugared almonds in pink and white
Chocolates and Turkish Delight to complete the feast.
Sandwiches: All delicately cut into triangles filled with either cheese or eggs.
There was also “stuffed eggs” - the local name for devilled eggs. They were pretty to look at – in halves the whites filled with the creamed yolks and decorated with a sprig of parsley and a small red chili pepper. The pepper was just for decoration. Only the adults ate the pepper.
This year there was a different sandwich on the table – what was it? The filling looked strange and unfamiliar. One bite was enough. Who made this?
Who would slice up bananas and put it together with peanut butter in a sandwich? The children avoided them and those who took one soon threw it away. All denied that it could have been made by their mother.
Bananas were fruit – eaten everyday as part of their healthy diet. Not chopped or mashed. Peeled and eaten when ripe; as were all the other tropical fruits - guavas; papayas, mangoes, oranges and avocados available year round.
Peanut butter, for those who could afford it, was made by their mothers, tasty seasoned with salt and a dash of black pepper.
Whatever this was, it was most definitely NOT FOR CHRISTMAS!
They wanted those red apples – called ice apples to differentiate them from all the other local fruits also called apples: Golden Apple; Star Apple; Custard Apple: Monkey Apple. The local apples had soft sweet flesh. The big red apples from BC came refrigerated from Canada. When bitten, they were sweet and had a nice firm crunch. Everyone knew that these were ice apples. They waited a whole year to get them.
The children ate to their hearts content and left clutching their presents.
The plate of peanut butter and banana sandwiches was left alone and sad looking on the table.
The mothers, embarrassed for her, gently explained to Ann why her sandwiches were not a hit.
Bewildered, but with some appreciation and a new understanding, she decided that she would try to make some pine tarts next Christmas.
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