Malaysian great-grandmother uses a 100YO pot pie recipe for Christmas

It certainly seems like the most wonderful time of the year in the home of Irene Hendroff and her family in Taman England, Seremban in Negri Sembilan. With just three days to Christmas, the Hendroff household is a hive of activity with Christmas preperations in high gear.

As Mariah Carey's Christmas anthem All I Want For Christmas Is You plays in the background, Hendroff busies herself in her spacious kitchen with her two special helpers – her youngest daughter, marketing and public relations consultant Lydia Mae Hendroff, 48, and granddaughter Gabrielle Brooklyn Lee, 17.

Today, they are preparing the matriarch's signature pineapple tarts and sugee cake, family must-haves for the festive season.

Hendroff (centre) has roped in her daughter Lydia (left) and granddaughter Gabrielle to prepare pineapple tarts for the festive season. Hendroff (centre) has roped in her daughter Lydia (left) and granddaughter Gabrielle to prepare pineapple tarts for the festive season.

Her husband pensioner Mark Hendroff, 82, is putting the final touches to their seven-foot-tall Christmas tree which has pride of place in their hall.

At another corner, the couple's son-in-law, businessman Richard Steven Lee, 49, and their grandson, Liam Cornelius Lee, eight, are sprucing up the Christmas garland with festive paraphernalia and colourful baubles.

The atmosphere is certainly festive as the family prepares for the festivities (athe smell of freshly baked pineapple tarts wafting enticingly through certainly lends to the atmosphere). The Hendroffs look all set for Christmas.

Lee (right) helps his son Liam put up Christmas decorations for the festive season.Lee (right) helps his son Liam put up Christmas decorations for the festive season."I am going to bake 400 pieces of pineapple tarts by this evening," says Hendroff, a great-grandmother of one. "That's a lot of work and I'm grateful that Lydia and Gabrielle have dropped by my home to lend a helping hand.

"While it’s a time consuming process to make tarts, these treats are one of my grandkids' favourite treats during Christmas. They will finish it within a blink of an eye," jokes Hendroff.

And while their decor may change from year to year, the traditional family bakes – sugee cake, fruit cake and pineapple tarts – are fixtures that have been passed down generations.

"Growing up, my mother firmly believed in keeping the pantry filled with snacks during Christmas. Nearing Christmas, I am always happy to share my cakes and tarts with friends and loved ones."

The jovial Eurasian woman relies on recipes that have been in the family for over 100 years.

"I used to help my grandmother to make her signature pineapple tarts. My grandmother insisted on grating pineapples and I was always tasked with this tedious job. Till today, I continue to grate pineapples as that’s what was taught to me by my grandmother. Jam made from grated pineapple tastes better because it’s more moist and has a more fibrous texture," says Hendroff.

This afternoon, she will be preparing her signature sugee cake, using a family recipe which has been passed down.

"Sugee cake has lots of eggs. I usually prepare it just a few days ahead of Christmas to ensure its lasting freshness," shares the grandmother of seven and great grandmother of one, who has already baked her fruit cake three weeks ago and has let it sit in her pantry to develop its flavour.

Mark thinks the world of his wife and her delicious homemade cakes.Mark thinks the world of his wife and her delicious homemade cakes.

Sugee cakes boast a rich, nutty flavor, crafted from a blend of egg yolks, ground almonds, and semolina soaked in a mix of butter and sugar. The batter is elevated with stiffly beaten egg whites, creating a creamy and indulgent texture. These delectable cakes hold a special place in the culinary tradition of the Eurasian community.

Hendroff believes in preserving these family recipes as a timeless gift to her two daughters. The mother of three sees these recipes as more than "just a list of ingredients": They are a way her grandchildren can connect to their cultural heritage.

She’s taking great pains to teach Lydia and her eldest daughter, homemaker Annalee Victoria Hendroff, 54, the tricks of the trade.

"Preserving traditional recipes is not just about passing down flavours; it's an heirloom of our culture, a way to connect to our roots. Teaching these recipes to the next generation ensures that our heritage remains strong."

Lydia chips in: "While pre-ordering is convenient, the true joy lies in crafting dishes, cakes, and cookies from scratch. It's not just about the flavours; it's about creating moments of togetherness and infusing each recipe with the warmth of shared effort and love."

Rooted in tradition

The festivities start at Hendroff's home on Sunday, which is Christmas Eve.

While it is common for the observance of Christmas to begin for many families at sunset on Dec 24, Lydia shares that their celebrations begin a bit earlier, during lunch.

Mark is thrilled to celebrate Christmas with his great-granddaughter Kaylee Yap.Mark is thrilled to celebrate Christmas with his great-granddaughter Kaylee Yap."Christmas Eve marks the night before the birth of Jesus Christ. Celebrations often begin in the evening with special church services and prayers. Many cultures have established the tradition of starting Christmas celebrations on the evening of Dec 24. However we have practiced our (lunch tradition on the eve) since the time of my great-grandparents.

"It could have even started way before that. This tradition is on my mum's side... the Beins clan. We continue this tradition since it's has been in our family for many generations. We usually chill out by cooking together, watching Christmas movies and chit chatting. We will also do any last minute Christmas shopping and all the grocery shopping," she says.

So their Christmas meal prep actually begins on Dec 23. Hendroff will be preparation for her traditional Christmas dishes that will include Kristang dishes like debal curry, prawn sambal, asam fish, and chap chye (mixed vegetables). Another sought after dish is chilli pickle, where green chillies are stuffed with dried shredded young papaya and dried prawns and flavoured with vinegar, onions, turmeric and toasted mustard seeds.

Hendroff (right) is grateful her eldest daughter Annalee (left) has learned how to make her family's signature chicken pot pie.Hendroff (right) is grateful her eldest daughter Annalee (left) has learned how to make her family's signature chicken pot pie.

Besides these signature dishes, Hendroff has also taught her daughters to make chicken pot pie, another traditional dish which has been in their family for generations. The filling comprises fried chicken cutlets, cocktail sausages and potato wedges that are cooked in a brown stew.

"Unlike most pies, our family’s version has a thick gravy. I learned this from my mother and her version differs from the recipe which I learned from my mother in law.

"But during Christmas, it is a must to have my mother’s version of the pot pie,” said Hendroff.

For Lydia, bonding over a Christmas meal is a wonderful way to connect and create lasting memories.

Christmas weaves a tapestry of love, binding families closer. Christmas weaves a tapestry of love, binding families closer."We always look forward to Mummy’s sumptuous lunch on Christmas Eve. Each of us will be tasked with different duties. Annalee, my sister-in-law Kay and I will lend a hand to Mummy in the kitchen. My only brother Mike will prepare his yummy prawn sambal and fish head curry. Meanwhile, our nephews and nieces contribute by managing tasks such as setting the table and organising post-lunch activities like games."

For the Christmas Eve dinner, it is a must for the family to have roast turkey and the condiments that accompany the roast. After that, the family attends Christmas Eve service at the Church of the Visitation in Seremban. Following that, they adjourn to Hendroff's house for Christmas prayers, supper and the much-awaited exchange of gifts.

The following day, they gather again for lunch comprising the night before’s left overs and a few more family favourites like stew, noodles and roast chicken.

After lunch, the families head back to their respective homes for their own celebrations. Lydia usually drives up to Petaling Jaya, Selangor with her parents to visit her 102-year-old paternal grandma.

While it’s sounds like a busy weekend ahead, Hendroff is looking forward to Christmas.

"There’s nothing more special than having loved ones with us during Christmas. What truly counts this season is fostering a sense of togetherness within our family," she concludes.

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Christmas , Sugee cake , Roast turkey


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