Prue Leith On Christmas Food Traditions In South Africa - Exclusive

To Americans, Prue Leith may seem like a quintessentially English figure. She's a judge on the cozy television staple "The Great British Bake Off." She's even been awarded Commander of the Order of the British Empire. She has resided most of her life in Britain and she's of British heritage, but she was born and grew up in South Africa. Although she built her culinary reputation in the U.K., she has still maintained a foothold in her birth country by lending her name to the Prue Leath Culinary Institute, a prestigious culinary school in South Africa.

We recently watched Leith judge "The Great American Baking Show: Celebrity Holiday Special" on The Roku Channel, and it got us thinking about Christmas traditions. Every region has its own way to celebrate the holiday, and we were curious about what a South African-style Christmas would entail. In an exclusive interview with Tasting Table, Leith shared her memories of her childhood Christmases in South Africa.

Christmas in South Africa vs. Christmas in Britain

Per Leith, Christmas in South Africa was a mixture of familiar customs in a rather incongruous setting. Most of the traditions around the holiday were imported from Europe: "Whether you're Black or white, or from Dutch extraction or English extraction or French extraction, they're all pretty European, because they came with the missionaries." Leith also pointed out that for many South Africans, Christmas remains a very religious holiday, which isn't always true for people in other parts of the world.

Since Leith grew up in an English family, her childhood Christmases revolved around British food traditions, but with one major change: "The only difference between us and an English Christmas was that we would be having our turkey and plum pudding in the blazing summer. It was most unsuitable food for the middle of the summer, but we still did it because it was English." 

Since South Africa is in the Southern Hemisphere, its summer occurs during what are the winter months in the Northern Hemisphere. In some regions, the average highs in January are well over 90 degrees Fahrenheit (via South Africa Gateway).

Still, the blazing temperatures didn't stop Leith's family from sipping sherry outside at Christmas, or from trying to create some wintery atmosphere. "Our Christmas tree was an apple tree that grew outside our house, and we used to put cotton wool balls on it to try and look as if it had snow on it."

You can watch "The Great American Baking Show: Celebrity Holiday Special" now on The Roku Channel.