These housewives, businesswomen make yummy Christmas sweets
From the traditional nevris to the German stollen, meet the enterprising housewives and businesswomen, who make Christmas a sweet reality for those celebrating the festival
At Fredericka D'Souza's Bandra West home on Mount Carmel Road, the festive season has arrived early. Though still a month away from Christmas, her home is already wafting with the smell of freshly-baked date rolls. She goes through the process of kneading the dough, rolling it flat and cutting it into thin strips, before placing a date with walnut stuffing inside each strip. She rolls it to seal the date, delicately dropping it on a baking tray. Her first Christmas order is almost ready.
Not far from D'Souza's home is Valerie Bahuguna's residence. Bahuguna, 57, who runs a home-baking enterprise, Treacles and Treats, is in the middle of a laborious cooking process, stirring her guava mix over medium heat, to prepare another popular Christmas delicacy, guava cheese. At least today, she has time to spare for a hearty lunch.
Goretti Ann Rosario with her Christmas platter, comprising East Indian favourites such as milk cream and marzipan. To place an order call: 9820501655
Ten days from now, life will get super hectic, she informs. Till until Christmas day, Bahuguna will be burning the midnight oil, waking up at 5 am, and stretching it out in the kitchen till 2 am. "If I sleep, it's just for about four hours or so," she says. Despite the rigour, both D'Souza and Bahuguna, who make Christmas a sweet reality for many in the city, won't trade their jobs for anything in the world. And while business is great, it's the joy of keeping tradition alive that makes it worth it, they say.
For Goretti Ann Rosario, 51, a housewife, who lives in Prabhadevi, starting her own sweet-making enterprise came naturally, thanks to her maternal grandmother, Rita Cecelia Valadares, an East Indian from Bandra, who began taking orders nearly 50 years ago. "Even at the age of 97, she knew her recipes on the tip of her tongue," Rosario recalls. "I must have been around five years old, when I started helping out my mum and grandma. It used to be one big family affair, with all of us cousins coming together to make these treats," she says. After Valadares passed away, Rosario's mum took over the rolling pin. "Now that mum's old, I do the cooking and baking."
Christina Michelle Fernandes prepares the Christmas cupcakes. To place an order call: 9820928420
Rosario sends out her fliers as early as November 15, taking orders till December 9. The ingredients are picked up from Lobo Stores at Crawford Market and sometimes, Goa, where you get the best cashews. "I start making sweets on December 16, the first day of the Christmas novena [daily prayer leading up to the festival], right after coming home from morning mass," she says.
It's a ritual she has been observing for years now. Rosario makes all the popular East Indian delicacies, from the rich plum cake, milk cream, marzipans, kulkuls, date rolls to candle sweets, and nevris, made using soji (semolina), plum and charoli seeds. Another delicacy you will find on her menu is the coconut thali sweet — a lot like the Goan baath — made in a special thali, using coconut, sugar, egg and butter. She usually stops taking orders on December 23, and then keeps the next two days to prepare a small batch of sweets for home.
Cuffe Parade-based Christina Michelle Fernandes, 39, who is an Anglo Indian married to a Goan, has adopted the best of both the communities to create an interesting Christmas menu. "I've converted one of my rooms into a makeshift kitchen, and because it gets so busy during this season, we call for an extra oven. I also get help from my mum, and husband, who [despite being] a doctor, chips in with the packaging and deliveries after work," she adds. Apart from the traditional delicacies, Fernandes, a professional pastry chef who runs her home business, Christina's Cake Craft, has also incorporated delicacies she learned during her travels abroad. There is stollen, a German fruit bread, and rocky road, which is a chocolate base, comprising marshmallows and rice Krispies.
Pricing it right
D'Souza, 51, joined the team of sweet-makers in Mumbai only four years ago, after her friends egged her on. The fact that the job is labour-intensive and that the ingredients, especially the price of cashews, almonds and sugars, are ever increasing, means that profits are marginal. But, it's satisfying nonetheless.
Fredericka D'Souza has started work on the date rolls. To place an order call: 9819136442. Pics/Ashish Raje
"It is profit-making, yes. Otherwise, we wouldn't have been in the business. But we need to price our products reasonably, and also, based on the cost ingredients, the labour [D'Souza has two full-time helpers], gas, and the market rate," she says. Bahuguna doesn't compromise on her ingredients, and tries to cut down on too much sugar, so that they are not loaded with calories.
The price of cashews have gone up by R30-R40 this year, says Rosario. But, they need to be less ambitious when making changes in the cost, in order to keep patrons happy, too. The customers, incidentally, are not just from the city, but from Canada, Singapore, Australia and the UK. "Most of them come on holidays, and then take a huge batch back with them," says D'Souza.
Bahuguna, Fernandes and Rosario's toiling doesn't end with Christmas sweets. After midnight mass, they return home to prepare the hearty lunches and dinners (all made-to-order) that find their way into dinner tables — from roast chicken with stuffing of cranberries and plums, to meat loaf and roast lamb with potatoes and the favourite, sorpotel. The feasting, they ensure, continues.
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