The way it used to be…

Maybe it’s because I’m growing old but somehow, Chinese New Year is no longer like the way it used to be. For one thing, these days, we get to eat and drink anything we want anytime of year, so there is no longer very much to look forward to e.g. the bak kua (barbecue meat), the special dishes during the reunion dinner, the cakes and the cookies, the made-in-Sibu Ngo Kian aerated drinks or Green Spot orange from the shop at Blacksmith Road, or even the Red Lion drinks (including ginger ale for the brandy or whisky served to visitors during the open house) and Coca Cola that we used to buy in glass bottles and packed in long rectangular wooden crates from this shop in town – Kim Guan Siang along Cross Road.

We got very excited over the less sophisticated fireworks and firecrackers – the small ones, that is…

CNY mini firecrackers

I remember how we used to tie the pieces together into one long strand to light at midnight on Chinese New Year’s Eve. Much care had to be put into it so that it would not come loose halfway. Later, they came in a roll pre-tied and I guess that took away half the fun. We also had another bigger variety but none like the explosives we have these days that can rival the two world wars put together.

In the weeks leading to the festival, my maternal grandma and the daughters would get together to make the cookies. I would tag along and follow my mother there and lend a hand in clipping the patterns on the kuih bangkit

Kuih bangkit

…using this special instrument with serrated edges…

Kuih pattern clippers

We would also make the pineapple tarts together. For that, somebody would make the pineapple jam way ahead and we would roll it into marble-sized balls. Then, the pastry was made and Sun Valley bottle caps were used to cut out the base for each tart. For the sides, long strips of the pastry were prepared. The jam balls were placed on the base and the strips were used to wrap around them. Then we would use the same instrument to clip the pattern on the sides.

I can recall what pleasure we derived from using the leftover pastry cut into very thin strips to make the designs on the tarts. Everyone would claim ownership by  having their initials on them – so mine would have an “A” on top. The kuih bangkit and jam tarts were baked in a brass traditional oven over a wooden fire with the embers placed on the lid as well…

Brass traditional oven

My last surviving single aunt gave this to me before she passed away and of course, there is no way I will use it to do any baking but instead, it is kept in the display cabinet in my house – a treasured family heirloom to cherish for generations to come!

Some of those instruments that we used to clip the patterns on the cookies had wheels on one end with serrated edges as well and when we rolled the wheel on the pastry, we would get a wavy line. We used those to cut the pieces of kuih kereta

Kuih kereta

My mother said that my grandma used to make it by the tin for the children to eat – 8 of them and they could not afford to buy cookies the way we do these days, expensive imported ones at that too!!! Well, eventually, it became a regular feature among the cookies for Chinese New Year together with this kuih gunting

Kuih gunting

Today, everybody will just buy the cookies and cakes from the shops and bakeries or somebody may know of some very nice homemade ones. But somehow I feel that it takes away to some extent, the joy of the festive season where the family would get together to get the goodies ready for the special occasion…and somehow, no matter how simple or plain they may be, I actually look forward (and my mother too) to eating these everytime Chinese New Year comes around. They’re like part of the family heritage somewhat.

Sadly, I do not know how to make them and I guess not many of us  actually do. There used to be a girl who grew up with my grandma and single aunties and took good care of each of them when they fell ill and subsequently left this world. She is able to do all that (In fact, she was the one who made and gave me the kuih kereta and kuih gunting; she didn’t make any kuih bangkit or kuih tart this year), but she’s married now and has a family of her own. The way things are going, it certainly looks like all these would become vague memories of the way it used to be…until they eventually fade into oblivion.