I am sure every single item of the Chinese New Year Open House would bring lots of memories to you.
Today as I have a good bite of the crunchy but melt in the mouth love letters I think of those days when love letters had to be made by mums and aunts and not every household had them.
Growing up in Sibu was interesting. I am from a frugal Foochow family where making of cakes and even curries were then frown upon. Basic food (no frills) on the table: one vegetable, one soup and one meat or fish (or just salted fish) was the order of the 1950-60 era. Even eating in restaurants was unheard of for the Foochows unless it was for weddings or funerals. For Chinese New Year it was just Kua Chi, Peanuts and some sweets. With lots of Sibu made aerated water from Ta Fong or Ngo Kiong. (7 Up and Cola had not arrived yet)
When New Year came, we Foochow girls were very very envious of our Hokkien friends whose mothers could make Love Letters.
The Foochows have eggs rolls or "Long Kuong", rough and HUGE from the biscuit shops like Chop Ban Hin (the FIRST Foochow biscuit shop) in Blacksmith Road." Long Kuong " was sold as a canteen tid bit,and we never thought it was good enough for the New Year Visit. We wanted the Love Letters.
It was fortunate that many of us learned to make cakes in secondary school and presented them to our relatives and school mates. Open House was not even a term used then. Just "Come and Visit us for New Year" or in Foochow, "Come and crack some Kua Chi" kind of invitation. No parties.
Now, did we Foochow girls make Love Letters? We could not get our mothers to buy the "love letters mould" and of course no one could lend us the moulds. Family Rivalry came into place. We were also told that future mothers-in-law were on the look out for future brides for their sons. The workmanship of the love letters would be compared and names would be tugged into the recesses of their minds.
But I was glad I could convince our Malay neigbhours to make and sell us 100 love letters all packed into a medium sized biscuit tin. So that special year we had love letters to serve our guests. Subsequently we could buy love letters in the market when more and more ladies started having their family Chinese New Year business.
(photo grabbed from http://lmeichil.blogspot.com)
(Photo by Sarawakiana_)
(Photo by Sarawakiana)
When I became a teacher I was fortunate enough to make friends with a nice lady who taught me to make the Kuih Kapit in Limbang She was so gracious to me and it was a delight to make all those love letters with her. With all the charcoal fire and the moulds that she had.. I helped her roll the biscuits with a chopstick and was quite successful. From her I learn how to be generous with recipes and the art of making nice cakes and kuihs.But with children coming along, I turned into a consumer instead of having cakes or kuihs home made.
I did ask her why couldn't her love letters be called Kuih Limbang? She laughed. She was actually from Kuching. And why not Kuih Kuching? Bless her soul.
I could not remember actually her recipe because at that time I was not really into cooking and keeping a recipe book so to speak. Any way, her recipe was very "aga aga ja" Just approximate.
There is so much fellowship in making cakes and biscuits with a loving sister or mother, sitting together outside at the verandah exchanging viewpoints.
One of these days when my children come home for a visit, I will go and buy the moulds and make some love letters with them. My son has already bought a long charcoal stove (good for bbq) already....
400 ml fresh coconut milk
5 - 6 eggs
150 g sugar
150 g rice flour
90 g plain flour
Sesame seeds (150 love letters)
Would you make your own Love Letters?
Forty more years later, we don't have to really make our own love letters. And we do not actually need to train our daughters to make them so that some families would check them out for their suitability.....we can just buy some in the supermarket...
And as my mother would always say..".it does not really matter, kua ji and hua ren would be enough for good friends. And a nice cup of tea from the heart. People visit you because you have a good heart. And you visit others because you have a good heart. "
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