Did your first Christmas cake come out of an ammunition box too? - Eastern Mirror
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Did your first Christmas cake come out of an ammunition box too?

By EMN Updated: Dec 23, 2013 11:06 pm

Easterine Kire

[dropcap]W[/dropcap]hen we were small, our mothers baked our birthday cakes themselves. They also baked all the Christmas cakes for the house. There was nothing very unusual about that. However in the fifties and sixties, they may have been the only mothers doing their baking in ammunition boxes left behind by British troops. Mother tells me that all the girls who were members of the WorldwideGuild were taught cake­making by the wife of the missionary Tanquist. This was in1945­1946. After the War, the cake baking course was taught both to students, and their older siblings who had dropped out of school. Some of the baking students included women like Mrs Riiviii Medom, Mrs Miriam Yhome, Mrs Thenumezhuii, Mrs Lhounguii, Mrs Neilakuoii Peseyie, Rev Beilieii Shiiya, Mrs Khrieii Sekhose and my mother, Mrs Khrienguii Kire. The course was multi­pronged. The girls also learned to speak English and sing English songs. At the end of every lesson, they always stood in a circle and said a prayer called the “sentence prayer” where everyone in the circle had to pray one sentence in English. Not everybody managed to pray when their turn came. However, they all learned to bake cake and as the years passed, this tradition was handed down from generation to generation, from mother to daughter and from daughter to granddaughter. Mrs Tanquist had her own homemade oven, but her students ingeniously used abandoned ammunition boxes, which were airtight and preserved heat very well.
I remember our “oven” very well. It was a heavy rectangular box, and it fit perfectly over our wood fire. But the heat regulator did not come with the box, as the Brits probably never imagined it would be used for such an activity after the boxes had served their primary purpose. So the baker had to constantly sit by the wood fire, stoking it and eventually reducing the fire to embers when a good half hour or twenty minutes had passed. Mother says they always timed the cake. If an overeager baker opened the door during the baking process, the rising cake would fall flat on its face. I can still hear Mother admonishing us, “Don’t open the door yet!” as we sat impatiently on cold winter nights, waiting for our cake to be done.
In our family, special evenings were reserved for cake baking because it involved so much labour.
First Mother would mix the flour, eggs, melted butter, sugar and baking powder in a bowl and get a burly male relative to stir the batter. She insisted that the batter had to be constantly stirred clockwise. Naturally the batter­stirrer got tired after some time. When that happened we happily took over. But our little arms soon tired from the exercise. It took at least an hour of stirring batter to get a consistency that was smooth enough to satisfy Mother. While the stirrers were busy, the others would be lining cake tins with buttered paper. My elder sister usually took charge of this task, cutting up white paper with precision into the exact shapes of the cake tins. When the batter was carefully poured into tins, in they went into the heated ammunition box and the baking began.
Looking back, I can see that the labour created good bonding as the whole family participated in it together.
One winter, my friend Viseno Nakhro Talie, and I decided we would bake a cake. When the batter was ready, I expected her mother to put their family’s ammunition box on the fire. To my surprise, they filled a big pot with sand and warmed the sand on the fire. That was their oven. When the sand became very hot, we made tin­sized depressions in it, and placed our cake tins in them. The baking took less than an hour. Our cakes were soon ready. The advantage of the sand layered pot­oven was that the sand prevented the cakes from burning easily. A drawback we discovered with the ammunition box­oven was that cakes would burn quite quickly if not taken out precisely in time. Back then, it never occurred to us to write to the British army and ask if they could correct this design flaw. And now, forty years later, it has become irrelevant since electric ovens can be easily bought from the Army Canteen or from the departmental stores in town.
I count it a great privilege to have grown up in a period when mothers made such ingenious use of abandoned ammunition boxes. I shall tell my grandchildren with great relish of the good old days when Christmas cakes tasted way better because they were made with love and watchfulness and applied creativity.

By EMN Updated: Dec 23, 2013 11:06:32 pm