'Tis the season: Remembering George Fernandes's 2001 cake tradition to jawans as a Christmas present

Every year, Koshy’s Bakery in Bengaluru sent increasingly large amounts of plum cake to the border.

Agencies
In 2001, George Fernandes was about to visit the soldiers in Siachen, and decided to take plum cakes from Koshy’s Bakery in Bengaluru.
George Fernandes, who died at the start of this year, now seems like a politician from an impossibly different era. He could connect with people of all kinds, work across political barriers, and use cake, not as part of some self-celebrating birthday event, but as a simple Christmas present for the jawans when he was defence minister.

The cake tradition started in 2001 when he was visiting a childhood haunt, Koshy’s Bakery in Bengaluru. Fernandes was about to visit the soldiers in Siachen, and decided to take Koshy’s plum cakes as a Christmas present.

This was a big hit, except that Fernandes heard some soldiers were upset because they hadn’t got the cakes. So, next year, an even larger order was placed, and this continued with Koshy’s sending increasingly large amounts of plum cake to the border. Even in 2005, when Fernandes was no longer minister, a consignment went with the financial support of several NRIs.


This is a testimony to an unusual politician, and also to Indians’ love of the dense dried-fruit stuffed and alcohol-drenched concoctions called plum or Christmas cakes. They were brought by the British though their own tradition, which is not that old. The cakes made to celebrate Christmas in many countries tend to be simpler, like the French Buches-de-Noel, shaped like a log, or breads like Italian panettone or German stollen.

plum-Christmas-cake_iStock
The key ingredient was always the copious amount of alcohol used to soak the cake, which probably explains why the jawans loved it.

The dried-fruit and alcohol dessert the British celebrated with was Christmas pudding, which is steamed, not baked. Its key ingredient is beef suet, a fat that is hard at room temperature, but melts just enough during steaming to give the puddings their characteristic moist yet firm texture. Obviously, authentic Christmas pudding was not destined to last for long in India after the Raj, though some clubs continued to make poor imitations with margarine.

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A fruit-stuffed cake was traditionally made around this time, but for Twelfth Night, the Feast of the Epiphany that marks when the three wise men saw the baby Jesus, 12 days after he was born. There is a centuries-long tradition of cakes to mark this feast, but during the Victorian era, it was slowly supplanted by a cake for Christmas itself.

In 1884, The Times of India reported that the Maharaja of Bhavnagar had ordered “plum puddings and twelfth cakes” from Mr Buszard, a confectioner in London, but by 1899, it was reporting that the same establishment was exporting “45,000 rich Christmas cakes” along with puddings to the colonies, including India.

A taste for Christmas cakes was clearly growing and Indian bakers started making them as well. These were often given local touches, like the use of petha, candied white pumpkin, and along with the regular flour, some semolina, whose granules would swell in baking and give a distinct texture.

But perhaps the key ingredient was always the copious amount of alcohol used to soak the cake, which probably explains why the jawans loved it, apart from the novelty of getting it from a politician who really knew the value of cake at Christmas.

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Stollen, Yule Logs, Gingerbread Cookies: The Best Christmas Hampers In Town
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We’ve rounded up some of the sweetest deals that you can avail this festive season. Take a look at some of the hampers below if you’re searching for the right present to gift a loved one or colleague

Love & Cheesecake’s Christmas menu is loaded with Christmas traditions from around the world. They’ve got German Christmas Stollen, Belgian Chocolate Truffles, traditional Christmas Fruit Cake and marzipan as well as Christmas themed cupcakes. They’ve got three variations of the hamper and it’s ideal to take to a party.

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Love & Cheesecake’s Christmas menu is loaded with Christmas traditions from around the world. They’ve got German Christmas Stollen, Belgian Chocolate Truffles, traditional Christmas Fruit Cake and ma..
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Their hampers are all-natural and contain artisanal energy bars, mini energy bites, cereal mixes and ladoos, each handcrafted in small batches. They believe in conscious eating and snacking on natu..
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Foodhall has you covered with a wide variety of delightful festive surprises and goodies, all season long. Each is entirely customisable, and can be filled with delicious options like Plum cake, Christmas cupcakes, mince pies, pecan pies, Nutella babka, traditional gingerbread, stroopwaffels, marzipan and dry fruit stollen, mini matcha madelines, coconut macarons, Palmier hearts and much more.

For the first time, Foodhall is also offering three traditional Xmas log cakes, available for purchase from the pastry. Must try: Stollen!

Foodhall has you covered with a wide variety of delightful festive surprises and goodies, all season long. Each is entirely customisable, and can be filled with delicious options like Plum cake, Chri..
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India has quite a few Christmas local treats thanks to the Catholic communities. This year, Chef Manish Khanna brings to you the traditional and irresistible flavours of marzipan and fondant variants, gingerbread cookies, fruit mince pies, milk cream - a hit with all ages, Goan delight - guava cheese, sugary jubjubs, crumbly coconut cordial tarts, yule logs and more.

The price starts at Rs 400.

India has quite a few Christmas local treats thanks to the Catholic communities. This year, Chef Manish Khanna brings to you the traditional and irresistible flavours of marzipan and fondant variants..
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Handcrafted to perfection by baking icon, Le Corden Bleu + French Culinary Institute NY alumni Chef Aditi Handa, The Baker’s Dozen (TBD) has been at the seat of India’s bread revolution but this Christmas, the bakery is introducing 4 new bakes as part of its winter Christmas collection.

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Handcrafted to perfection by baking icon, Le Corden Bleu + French Culinary Institute NY alumni Chef Aditi Handa, The Baker’s Dozen (TBD) has been at the seat of India’s bread revolution but this Chri..
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