by Esmerelda Weatherwax (Sept. 2007)
The last Sunday before Advent is called Stir up Sunday. There is a tradition that this is the day when Christmas puddings are made but the name comes from the collect for that day.
Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people; that they, plenteously bringing forth the fruit of good works, may of thee be plenteously rewarded; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Christmas puddings should really be made earlier, to give them a chance to mature. I like to make mine from late September onwards usually during October. The fact that I make my own Christmas puddings has given one or two people the erroneous idea that I can cook. My friends, especially those who have known me for 30-40 years (from school and university) recall meals which prove different.
Like the time, having been introduced to Chinese food at the age of 20 I decided that this fried rice was rather tasty, somewhat different from the rice pudding which was the only way I had ever previously eaten rice, and just the thing for my tea. So I melted a generous helping of lard in the frying pan (this was the 70s, pre low fat oil and suchlike) and poured in a cupful of rice. Which would have been pudding rice as I had no idea that there were so many different types of rice; basmati and long grain were an unknown country. I stirred and stirred then bewailed in bewilderment that my evening meal was still crunchy.
My cooking did improve. I have fed a family for nearly 20 years but I do stick to what I know, and what I know best are roasts, casseroles and things which cook slowly. I delegate fried eggs and grilling to my husband.
Back to the matter of puddings – this is my basic recipe or receipt as the Victorians called it (another language change you understand) for a Christmas pudding. It started life as a recipe of Marguerite Pattern’s from her book which my mother bought me when I left for university but over the years it has varied. I have not gone metric in my cooking. If you don’t understand Imperial measurements a conversion chart is here.
8 oz sugar white, brown, Demerara, whatever you like or have in stock.
2 oz flour, plain or self raising.
4 oz suet. I use vegetarian suet for the sake of my sister-in-law.
1-2 lb Fruit. Sultanas, currants and seedless raisins, maybe some chopped prunes if you like them and have some handy. I like cherries and apricots in themselves but not in my own Christmas pudding; you may feel differently.
2-3 teaspoons of spice. Cinnamon and nutmeg or mixed spice if that’s what you have in the cupboard. I wouldn’t personally advise ginger or cloves.
8 oz breadcrumbs. I spent too much time in the early days grating loaves and bits of fingernail trying to get really fine single crumbs. Then I realised that the bread only needs to be crumbled as you would for a bread pudding, not as you would for coating fish. So long as the crusts are removed the bread need only be crumbled with the fingers into very small pieces.
4 eggs. If you only have 2 or 3 eggs handy add more liquid, see below.
1 grated cooking apple or a grated carrot depending on what I have available. I tried parsnip one year and it was fine. I have never tried swede and wouldn’t fancy turnip.
¼ pint liquid. Something tastier than water such as milk or orange juice. I once juiced a couple of oranges which were a bit sour to eat but they gave a nice tang to the pud. I then added a splash of brandy or was it whiskey. I have been known to open a bottle of Guinness, half for the pud and half for me. Any dark ale would be suitable but I wouldn’t fancy using lager.
If you like you can add ground almonds and/or mixed peel or desiccated coconut.
Mix the fruit (and nuts, peel etc if included) together, add the flour, spice, breadcrumbs and suet. Beat the eggs and liquid into the mixture and stir well.
At this point I make everybody at home give a stir and make a wish. I don’t add silver sixpences or lucky thimbles; finding an emergency dentist on Christmas afternoon is not my idea of post Queen’s speech fun.
If the mixture looks a bit too wet add some more breadcrumbs, flour and fruit. Use your judgment and common sense. I make a pudding for myself, one for my parents in law and usually have one or two spare. I can’t be specific about quantities so don’t try to pin me down. Divide the mixture between whatever pudding basins you have to hand that look likely, having greased the inside of the basin first. Cover with greaseproof paper, then foil. The mixture will keep in the fridge while the first puddings are being steamed. I use a slow cooker and steam each pudding for 12+ hours, in shifts. If you are steaming on a conventional oven then 4-8 hours depending on size should suffice. If you want to use a microwave consult the handbook because I haven’t a clue.
After steaming allow to cool, be careful not to get water into the cooked pudding, re-cover with fresh greaseproof and foil and store in a cool dry place. Do not be tempted as I was once to re-cycle a paper bag – it needs to be pristine clean and fresh.
On Christmas day while the dinner is cooking re-steam for another couple of hours. Serve with cream, custard or brandy butter (which I buy in Sainsburys).
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