How I shop for our family's traditional Christmas feast

When I was a child my grandmother made a plum pudding in November and hung it in the laundry of her cottage in Melbourne. For us kids, the appearance of the pudding was the harbinger of exciting festive things to come.

With the family jam-packed into my grandparents' little house, Christmas morning saw my Nana, my mother and assorted aunts stuffing a turkey and scrubbing potatoes, to be crammed into an old-fashioned stove in Nana's petite kitchen.

I don't know how my Nana managed to serve a hot Christmas dinner for 15 or more people with such limited culinary resources.

I recall one year, as we poured gravy onto the turkey in high heat, an uncle suggesting that the following year we picnic at the beach instead. It was the early 1960s, and everyone looked at him as though he was mad.

Now, times have changed and people celebrate Christmas Day dining in all sorts of ways – barbecues, picnics, yum cha and Middle Eastern feasts to name a few. 

But for many of us, childhood traditions die hard. Every year our family decides on a picnic or a barbecue Christmas lunch. But in the end we never do; for some reason we always hark back to a semi-traditional Christmas lunch.

In lean years, and there have been many, the cost of Christmas dining seemed overwhelming – as we all know the turkey, the ham, the seafood - the lot - can set you back hundreds of dollars if you're catering for a crowd.

My kids and I devised a way to reduce costs many years ago, and continue this practice today.

What we do is hit the market and supermarket late afternoon on Christmas Eve. At this time you can pretty much guarantee that turkeys, ducks, seafood and high-end fruit and veggies will be drastically reduced.

For some it might seem odd not knowing what you'll be cooking for Christmas lunch. But the challenge of creating culinary Christmas magic with what you have foraged at the last minute has become part of the Yuletide fun in our family of passionate cooks.

We don't care if we dine on turkey, chicken, duck - or all of the above – it depends on what's been reduced on Christmas Eve.

I make a cranberry and pistachio nut stuffing in preparation for the bargains we might snare, which works just as well with turkey as with chicken (in the rare event we don't bag a half-price turkey), and have oranges and plenty of spices on hand for the happy occasions there's a plump duck on offer at up to 60 per cent off.

We've often uncovered low-priced ham, too, which might be doused in a maple, honey and mustard glaze for the Christmas table.

Seafood finds can be a real bargain-hunters extravaganza on Christmas Eve: why, last year alone we discovered big, succulent prawns slashed to 50 per cent off. As they were being wrapped I spied a crayfish, also heavily discounted, which was included in a simple prawn and avocado salad I served as a luncheon entree the next day.

Our family might continue to celebrate Christmas with a semi-traditional lunch, but one custom that has fallen by the wayside is Nana's plum pud.

Perhaps it's because it's no fun without the sixpences, or maybe because the next generation aren't fond of a heavy fruit pudding on a hot Christmas Day.

Instead we opt for light, summery desserts, including the classic Aussie favourite, pavlova.

The berries alone for the Christmas pav can set you back a packet – we like ours with a pile of summer berries, including raspberries, blueberries and strawberries. And fresh mangoes, rather than tinned, are the preferred option for another favourite Christmas dessert, Mango Tiramisu. 

While Christmas foodie foraging might not suit everyone, the last-minute hunt for the finest ingredients has become part of the festive fun for our family.

We've often wondered what we'd dine on if we found the fridges and shelves empty by the time we hit the shops - a Christmas Day sandwich? But over the past 25 years, it hasn't happened once.