e're fast approaching the time of year when we make our Christmas Pudding. I like to make mine quite early so that all the flavours are nicely matured. Therefore, mine is already cooked and stored in a cool place ready to re-heat on the big day.
Most people I speak to, believe that Christmas pudding should be made on the Sunday before the start of Advent.
This year, the first Sunday of Advent is 27 November. This means that Stir up Sunday (pudding making day) will be this Sunday 20 November.
However, after further research, I have discovered other old customs and ideas about this rather special pudding.
In much older times, the pudding was commonly known as plum pudding or figgy pudding, depending on the kind of fruit that it contained. It appears that it's association with Christmas goes back to a custom in medieval Britain, that the pudding should be made on the 25th Sunday after Trinity.
This means that in the year of 2014, puddings should be mixed on 7 December, (a little late in my humble opinion!)
The story goes, that folk in medieval Britain prepared their puddings with 13 ingredients, to represent Christ and the 12 apostles. Every member of the family would stir the mixture from east to west, to honour the Magi and their supposed journey in that direction.
The Christmas pudding in the form that we are now familiar with, did not emerge until the 1830s. Previously there had been an element of savoury to the dish, with scraps of meat being used: the high fruit content was a way of preserving it.
In the mid-19th century, food writer Eliza Acton was the first to give the cannonball-shaped confection of fruit, flour, suet, sugar and spices, topped with a sprig of holly, it's name: Christmas Pudding. And that is how we came to know the magnificent, seasonal, celebratory masterpiece that is the essential end to every Christmas day lunch!
If you've never made a Christmas Pudding before, why not give it a go? It's not cheap to make but so much more delicious and satisfying than the average shop bought kind. I recommend Delia Smith's recipe, although I quite often vary it with different fruits and nuts.
4 oz (110 g) shredded suet
2 oz (50 g) self-raising flour, sifted
4 oz (110 g) white breadcrumbs
1 level teaspoon ground mixed spice ¼ level teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg good pinch ground cinnamon
8 oz (225 g) soft dark brown sugar
4 oz (110 g) sultanas
4 oz (110 g) raisins
10 oz (275 g) currants
1 oz (25 g) mixed candied peel, finely chopped (buy whole peel if possible, then chop it yourself)
1 oz (25 g) almonds, skinned and chopped
1 small cooking apple, peeled, cored and finely chopped grated zest
½ large orange grated zest
½ large lemon
2 tablespoons rum
2½ fl oz (75 ml) barley wine
2½ fl oz (75 ml) stout 2 large eggs
Start the day before you want to steam your pudding
Take a large mixing bowl and mix together the suet, flour, spices, sugar and breadcrumbs. Mix these ingredients very thoroughly together, then gradually mix in all the dried fruit, mixed peel and nuts followed by the apple and the grated orange and lemon zests.
Don't forget to tick everything off so as not to leave anything out.
Now in a smaller basin measure out the rum, barley wine and stout, then add the eggs and beat these thoroughly together. Next, pour this over all the other ingredients, and begin to mix very thoroughly.
It's now traditional to gather all the family around, especially the children, and invite everyone to have a really good stir and make a wish!
The mixture should have a fairly sloppy consistency – that is, it should fall instantly from the spoon when this is tapped on the side of the bowl. If you think it needs a bit more liquid, add a spot more stout.
Cover the bowl and leave overnight.
Next day pack the mixture into the lightly greased basin, cover it with a double sheet of silicone paper (baking parchment) and a sheet of foil and tie it securely with string (you really need to borrow someone's finger for this!). It's also a good idea to tie a piece of string across the top to make a handle.
Place the pudding in a steamer set over a saucepan of simmering water and steam the pudding for 8 hours.
Do make sure you keep a regular eye on the water underneath and top it up with boiling water from the kettle from time to time.
When the pudding is steamed let it get quite cold, then remove the steam papers and foil and replace them with some fresh ones, again making a string handle for easier manoeuvring.
To cook, fill a saucepan quite full with boiling water, put it on the heat and, when it comes back to the boil, place a steamer on top of the pan and turn it down to a gentle simmer. Put the Christmas pudding in the steamer, cover and leave to steam away for 2¼ hours.
You'll need to check the water from time to time and maybe top it up a bit.
To serve, remove the pudding from the steamer and take off the wrapping. Slide a palette knife all-round the pudding, then turn it out on to a warmed plate.
Place a suitably sized sprig of holly on top.