Yesterday dawned crisp and snowy, but our excitement was dimmed within minutes as it fast became wet and sleety. Bummer. Still, this was no time to grumble because there were things to be done in the kitchen... yesterday was 'Stir-Up Sunday'. The Sunday before Advent is one of those days when the religious and culinary worlds meet in perfect harmony: '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.' So reads the collect of the day; and the injunction to 'stir up' has been adopted in the kitchen too, as this is the traditional day for preparing the Christmas pudding. A plenteous reward indeed!
Of course one needs to begin the process a day in advance as the dried fruits need to be plumped up with a good overnight soaking in rum. I just love the smell that pervades the kitchen during this process, and the way that the fruit swells stickily in its alcoholic bath. But is it wrong to relish the smell of hard liquor first thing in the morning??
I love the way that the fruit makes up such a large proportion of the pudding mixture. Why, there must be at least 2 of your daily portions of fruit in each slice of pudding! Somehow it never feels like a health-food when you're eating it though...
I have to confess that I didn't really know what suet was until I made my first Christmas Pudding. Since I found out I use vegetable suet instead of beef suet because, well, bleugghhh! Beef fat belongs on the edge of a steak, not in a dessert!
My trans-Atlantic readers may be interested to note the English robins pictured on the teatowel. Very different to the larger, orange-breasted bird that shares its name.
Traditionally all the family have to have a stir of the mixture, so Rob and I both had a go with the wooden spoon. Apparently you're meant to make a wish when you're doing it but I didn't know that bit. Rob was on the phone with his brother when I presented him with the bowl and spoon so I don't think he did the wish either. Mind you, at the time he was discussing the huge cost of making a Christmas Pudding (having just gagged in horror when I told him the price of the dried cherries) so he was probably wishing that he had bought that half-price Tesco Finest pudding we saw on offer on Saturday...
I usually pile the mixture into one large bowl and make a huge pudding, but this year I divided it into two, one to be taken to Devon for Christmas Day, and one to be scoffed by the two of us during our pre-Christmas Christmas Dinner.
This is the third year that I have made Christmas Pudding. I have never really been a big fan of it in the past. Added to the fact that it is traditionally eaten at the end of the biggest meal of the year, I have never actually liked the taste much - too dark, too dense, too heavy. However, these homemade puddings have been an absolute revelation to me. They are lighter in colour and in texture (if not in weight!) and the taste is worlds away from your average shop-bought pud. Making your own also gives you the freedom to add more of the ingredients you like the most, so my recipe is freely adapted from Nigella's in How to Be a Domestic Goddess. I prefer the squidge of sultanas and raisins to the traditional but mean-sized currants so that's what I use. I adore the sourness of dried cherries, so add them instead of the dried blueberries Nigella specifies, and whole blanched almonds go in in place of the marrons glaces. I love the crunch they provide. I detest candied peel, so that's definitely forbidden. I don't bother with coins either - a dental emergency is possibly the last thing I would welcome on Christmas Day.
As much for my own reference as yours, this is the recipe I use. I know I'll forget by next year unless I write it down!
200g mixed raisins and sultanas
100g glace cherries, chopped
100g dried cherries
100g dried prunes, chopped
Soak fruit (above) overnight in 170ml rum
Mix soaked fruit together with the following ingredients:
90g self-raising flour
150g shredded suet
150g brown sugar (dark or light, depending on preference)
1 medium cooking apple, roughly grated (to provide 120g)
1/2 tsp mixed spice (I use a pot of 'Pumpkin Pie Spice' bought in Canada)
generous grating of nutmeg
pinch of salt
3 large eggs
zest of an orange (although this year I used 1 tsp Boyajian Orange Oil instead)
60g whole blanched almonds
Butter 1 large, or 2 smaller, pudding basins, spoon in the mixture and press down with the back of a spoon. Cover with a pleated piece of greaseproof paper, and then with a lid (or tie on a foil lid, as I do), and steam for 3 and a half hours.
Rewrap the pudding and store somewhere cool until Christmas. Reheat on the day by steaming for another 3 hours.
Flambe if desired (Nigella recommends using vodka for the best flame).
Serve with brandy or rum butter, or - our favourite - Rum Sauce. Ho ho ho!