'Stir-up Sunday' falls on 25th November this year. The last Sunday before Advent is the date when families are meant to get together to take turns in stirring the Christmas cake, pudding or mincemeat which will be eaten over the Christmas period. Whether you indulge in 'Stir-up Sunday' or not, now is the time to decide which of them you're going to make - and for me it is a choice as you really can have too much of a good thing - because you need to get ahead for a good result.
This year I'm making pudding. Actually, it was my preferred choice last year too, hence the photograph above. I was really pleased with the result but by the time it was sampled over Christmas it was too late to, so to speak, share it.
Just a brief bit of history for you if you don't want to look it up - and why would you when you've a pressing engagement with a mixing bowl. Christmas Pudding is sometimes referred to as Plum Pudding or Plum Duff. It probably evolved from Pottage, a loose textured dish eaten in Roman Britain and containing meat, vegetables, dried fruits, sugar and spices. By the 15th century it had become a firmer pudding and was a way of keeping meat which was slaughtered in the autumn, the dried fruit acting as a preserving agent. By the 19th century the dessert Christmas pudding as we now know it had arrived, with only shredded suet tying the recipe to its meaty origins. Relatively recently I was presented with a jar of sweet mincemeat by an Alaskan friend. It contained reindeer meat, so the practice of preserving meat with dried fruits is still alive and well in some communities.
Commercial Christmas Puddings are often a bit stodgy. If that kind of pudding was your first experience I can understand you wouldn't want to repeat it. It really doesn't have to be like that. A good pudding should be full of a wide mixture of dried fruit which are in sympathy with each other. It should be a little on the tart side, citrusy rather than overly sweet, held together by as little flour as possible, and boozy if your partial. Get this right and it will emerge juicy and surprisingly vibrant when steamed prior to serving.
Many recipes have been passed down through families and I wouldn't want to mess with them. I didn't inherit a Christmas Pudding recipe so I've begged, borrowed, stolen and tweaked mine over the years and I'm finally satisfied with it. I'm not saying it's better than anyone else's version but, if you don't have a recipe you're happy with, you should give this one a go. It's worth buying good quality dried fruit - currants in particular, as they can be gritty. I don't particularly like glacé cherries but I love dried sour cherries so I sometimes pop a few in to this recipe. If you haven't made Christmas Pudding before, don't be put off by the long list of ingredients. It's a simple process of mixing everything together, popping it in a bowl and steaming it.
As soon as I start weighing out the ingredients, those familiar smells of Christmas start to hit me and turn this most 'bah-humbug' Christmas-denier into an enthusiastic Cratchet. Well almost, let's not get too carried away with Christmas spirit here.
(Makes 1 x 1.5 litre pudding - enough for 8 people)
75g dried figs, chopped roughly
50g dried apricots, chopped roughly
50g candied peel
50g dried prunes, chopped roughly (or 25g chopped dried prunes + 25g chopped dried sour cherries
80ml brandy or rum
3 eggs, briefly beaten
175 Muscovado sugar
125g shredded suet (vegetable, rather than animal, if you prefer)
125g fresh breadcrumbs
100g self-raising flour
2-3 tsp mixed spice
1 cored and grated quince or cooking apple (no need to peel)
1 orange, zest and juice
Put the first 7 ingredients in a bowl. Pour in the brandy, stir, and leave to steep overnight. The next day, give it another stir.
In a large bowl, mix together the remaining ingredients. Add the soaked dried fruit and mix well.
Butter a 1.5 litre pudding basin. Pour in the mixture, flattening the top. If your basin doesn't have a lid (plastic ones often do, in which case pop the lid on) take a square of greaseproof paper and fold a pleat into it. Place on top of the basin and tie around with string to secure. Secure a piece of kitchen foil, with a pleat folded in to it, on top of the greaseproof paper to keep the moisture out. Steam your pudding over simmering water for about 4 hours. Allow to cool completely, then remove the foil and greaseproof paper caps and cover with a fresh piece of greaseproof. Store in a cool dark place until needed, then steam again for about 3 hours before eating.
If you want to reduce the quantities, a 1 litre size will take about 3 hours plus 2 hours on the day. I think it's best served with double cream, but some will prefer rum sauce or brandy butter. Leftover pudding is lovely sliced and fried briefly in a little butter.