Christmas in Sri Lanka


In this island nation, hot curries are what most Sri Lankans eat throughout the year. But Christmas is different. That’s when roast turkey with stuffing and fruit-laden steamed puddings hit the table.

These dishes, accompanied by a salad, vegetables and dinner rolls, appear in upper-middle-class homes, whether Christian or not (Sri Lanka is 70% Buddhist).

Turkeys are shipped in from the United States, but the pudding is English in origin. The English, Sri Lanka’s most recent Colonial rulers, bowed out in 1948. The Dutch and Portuguese, who preceded them, also added cakes and sweets to the national larder.

Shanthi Casie Chetty, the daughter of a Sinhalese mother and father of Dutch descent, teaches cooking in Colombo, the capital city. She’s studied pastry making in Switzerland and regularly gives a course in Western-style desserts. Recently, she demonstrated the pudding during a pre-Christmas series of classes.


Ceiling fans whirred overhead warding off Colombo’s steamy heat as Casie Chetty chopped fruits. It didn’t seem to matter that Christmas pudding seems more suitable to colder climes. With one end of the room open to the breezes, she showed how to marinate the fruits in a mixture of brandy, sherry, vanilla, rose flavoring and the spices that have drawn traders to the island for centuries.

Rather than using pre-ground spices, she lightly roasts cardamom seeds, whole cloves, nutmeg and a cinnamon stick in a dry skillet and grinds them into a powder. Along with raisins, currants and candied peel, the pudding includes cashews, which are another important crop in Sri Lanka, and preserved ginger.

The fruits should marinate four to five days or even longer to enhance the flavor. The marinating fruit can be stored at room temperature, and Casie Chetty advised her students to stand the container in a pan of water to ward off insects--a precaution that is perhaps unnecessary in countries outside the tropics.

If you want to duplicate Casie Chetty’s work in Los Angeles, the only seasoning that may be hard to find is rose flavoring. The best source for this is Indian markets. Preserved ginger means ginger cut into chunks or slices and packed in syrup, some of which is added to the pudding. This product is carried in Chinese markets.


If possible, the pudding should be mixed and steamed well in advance to allow the flavors to mellow, then resteamed before serving. Here is the recipe.



3/4 cup raisins


3/4 cup golden raisins

1/2 cup currants

1/4 cup drained preserved ginger

1/3 cup candied orange and lemon peels, chopped


2 tablespoons brandy

2 tablespoons Sherry

1 teaspoon Mixed Spice Powder

1 teaspoon vanilla


1 teaspoon rose flavoring

5 to 6 drops almond extract

1/4 pound butter

1 cup sugar


1/2 teaspoon grated lime zest

3 egg yolks

1 to 2 tablespoons milk

2 cups soft 2 day-old bread crumbs, broken into small pieces


1/2 cup cashews, chopped

Dash salt

2 egg whites

Brandy Butter


Wash and pat dry raisins, golden raisins and currants and chop. Drain 3 to 4 tablespoons syrup from ginger preserves and set aside.

Chop ginger. Combine ginger and fruit peels with raisins and currants. Add ginger syrup, brandy, Sherry, Mixed Spice Powder, vanilla, rose flavoring and almond extract. Place in jar, cover and marinate 4 to 5 days to mellow flavor.

Cream butter with sugar and grated lime zest. Beat in egg yolks. Add milk, mixed fruit, bread crumbs, cashews and salt and mix well. Beat egg whites until stiff. Fold into fruit mixture.

Turn into greased 5-cup bowl. Cover with grease-proof paper and steam 6 to 8 hours. Re-steam 30 minutes before serving. Serve with Brandy Butter. Makes 8 to 10 servings.


Mixed Spice Powder

6 cardamom pods

3 whole cloves

1 inch cinnamon stick


1/4 whole nutmeg

Remove seeds from cardamom pods. Place cardamom seeds, cloves, cinnamon stick and nutmeg in dry skillet and warm over low heat until crisp. Do not allow to burn. Grind to powder in spice grinder. (Use 1 teaspoon for pudding recipe and reserve remaining for future use.) Makes 1 tablespoon.

Brandy Butter

1/4 pound butter


1 cup powdered sugar

1 1/2 tablespoons brandy

Cream together butter and powdered sugar, then beat in brandy.