‘ 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.
These are the opening words of the collect for the day in the Book of Common Prayer of 1549 as used on the last Sunday before Advent, the beginning of the Christian Christmas season. The story is as housewives listened to the verse they would be reminded to go home and make the family Christmas Pudding. As many recipes for Christmas Pudding require a period of several weeks for the pudding to mature, I know people who make them for next year’s consumption, this Sunday became an informal time for the family to gather and make up their pudding.
As I was growing up, we followed the tradition as my family got together in the kitchen. Everyone took a turn to stir the large bowl of pudding mix and make a special wish for the year ahead. The pudding mix is stirred from East to West in honour of the three wise men and some people add a silver coin, a sixpence, to the pudding mix, finding the coin brings good luck. The Christmas pudding is one of the essential British Christmas culinary traditions assumed to be another of the many made popular and almost sacrosanct by the Victorians, alongside the Christmas Cards, roast turkey and the decorated tree. In reality, the spiced, fruit pudding was most likely popularised by George I, bringing the tradition over from his native Hanover.
I love baking at Christmas, the smell of all the warming spices and all the rich delicious cakes and pastries, Gingerbread Houses, Stollen, Pannatone, Mince Pies and the Christmas Pudding. This recipe is from one of my culinary inspirations my Aunty Mary, a brilliant cook, it really is the best I’ve ever encountered with lots of dried fruits, citrus peel and good soaking in some good beer, and now I work for a brewery how the circle has turned. We used to spend most of the day sorting through the dried raisins and sultanas to make sure there were no small stones in the bags, then they would be left overnight in stout. The secret to this pudding is patience, spend plenty of time in preparation, cook slowly and then wait for five weeks, you won’t be disappointed. Enjoy.
Aunty Mary’s Christmas Pudding makes two x 2 pint puddings
350 gr Dried Sultanas
350 gr Dried Raisins
150 gr Candied Mixed Peel
100 gr Dried Apricots, cut into small pieces
100 gr Dried Figs, cut into small pieces
100 gr Glace Cherries, quartered
50g blanched almonds
2 large Bramley Cooking Apples
250 gr Butter, taken straight from the fridge
150 gr Plain flour
150 gr fresh White Breadcrumbs
100 gr Dark Muscovado sugar
3 large eggs
2 tablespoons Brandy
1 tablespoon Dark Treacle
Juice and zest of two Oranges
1 level teaspoon ground Cinnamon
½ teaspoon freshly ground Nutmeg
½ teaspoon ground Allspice
Using a colander wash the sultanas and raisins under the cold tap and drain. Place into a large glass bowl or plastic container with the candied peel, apricots, figs and cherries and pour in the stout. Sore in the fridge overnight stirring a couple of times. Prepare the remaining ingredients as follows; roughly chop the almonds. Zest and juice the oranges into a bowl then peel, core and chop the apples into the same bowl, stirring to stop the apples from browning. Drain the dried fruits in a colander. Whisk the eggs, brandy and black treacle together in a small jug. In a second very large bowl, mix all the flour, sugar, spices and breadcrumbs.
Combine the all of the ingredients apart from the butter and stir well. Holding the butter carefully in its paper, grate a half of it into the bowl, then stir everything together. Repeat with the second half of the butter is grated, then stir for a good couple of minutes. Get all of your family to stir the pudding, and everyone can make a wish. Butter two 1.2 litre/ 2 pint bowls and put a disc of baking paper in the bottom of each then spoon in the pudding mixture. Cover with a double, folded layer of baking paper, with a central pleat to allow the pudding to expand when cooking. Hold in pace with a large rubber band, then tie very tightly with butchers string. Cut off any excess baking paper. Place each bowl on a large sheet of thick baking foil and bring the edges up over the top, then put another sheet of foil over the top and bring it down underneath to make a double package (this makes the puddings watertight). Carefully tie with more string, and make a handle for easy lifting in and out of the pan.
Gently steam the puddings in a double pan for eight hours, topping up with water as necessary. Remove from the pans and leave to completely cool overnight. When cold, discard the foil and baking paper messy wrappings and reseal in fresh baking paper, foil and string. Store in a cool, dry place until Christmas.