A Christmas pudding is the perfect finale to the Xmas festive meal. My Mum Rita’s rich Christmas pudding in a cloth was part of an ongoing tradition in our family, dating back to her great grandmother Cameron from Scotland.
In our house it was always baked on Stir Up Sunday, the Sunday before the season of Advent, which begins in the church in November each year.
This special rich treat, Christmas Pud as it is more affectionately known, is made from sweet dried fruits, fragrant spices, a generous dash of best brandy and a token surprise or two.
The idea emerged that was the fruits and ingredients should total 13; 1 for Jesus + 12 more representing his apostles.
It is great to involve your immediate family in its making. Whether you are religious or not it is a good thing to do with children no matter how old they are.
They can join in by take turns to stir the mixture for luck. One way first and then back the other way, which was symbolic of east and west where the sun rises and sets.
In the early days of building churches in England they faced east, because that’s was where the holy city of Jerusalem was and the star that announced the arrival of the baby Jesus rose in the east to guide the way.
Silver tokens or silver money were an addition (must be made of silver of the pudding will spoil) and associated with ‘luck’. You can still buy a ‘horde’ of silver threepences and sixpences from an antique coin dealer and them trade them back from your family with a gold 1 or 2 dollar piece when they are found.
That way you can re-use them year after year. Think about it as an investment in family joy. Hunting for them on Christmas day is an important part of the fun and festivities.
Why put the pudding in a cloth? Why not just a good pudding basin?
Prior to cooking the pudding you flour the wet cloth well before you add the mixture and tie it up. The flour forms a unique skin, or crust around the pudding that helps leftovers to continue to mature and taste better with age.
Hanging the pudding from stir up Sunday to Christmas Day when it is boiled again prior to serving, ensures that tradition and taste collide. But it must be hung in a cool place.
In an Australian climate this can often prove difficult, especially for people in the city or if you do not have a wine cellar under the ground. Keeping it in the fridge is the best option.
Taking it out Christmas Eve so it has time to come back to room temperature on Christmas Day before you boil it again and serve. The extra secret is to purchase the very best quality ingredients you can. The addition of quality liquor definitely aids success.
Rita’s Xmas Pudding
2.00 kg Best Mixed Fruit traditional currants, sultanas, and raisins : additions to those can be apricots, figs, prunes, pears, some glacé pineapple or glacé cherries.
The secret is to purchase the best quality available and that you can afford and chop them yourself by hand
After Soaking in 1 Cup of Best Brandy for a week or more + Add
1.5 cups brown sugar firmly packed
250g softened Butter
6 large eggs
1 cup freshly made breadcrumbs (not pkt)
2 cups plain flour (heaped)
1/4 tsp each of salt, nutmeg and mixed spice
1/2 tsp bi-carb soda dissolved in 1/2 cup cold, strong Tea
Good dash of Parisian Essence
Drench all the Fruits in your best Brandy (1 cup) and cover and put in a cool place to marinate for a few days or weeks, stirring every other day, before making the pudding
Put a big Boiler of water onto boil and place a china plate on the bottom (this prevents the pudding from sticking). It also helps you to hear that the pudding stays ‘on the boil’, which is important in the cooking process.
Cream Butter and Sugar: add eggs, flour, spices, breadcrumbs and fold into fruit with cold tea.
Add sterling silver coins or tokens. If you do make sure you tell everyone they are there when they dig in to eat it.
Prepare for Boiling:
Gather up the four corners of the calico cloth and dip the centre of cloth into boiling water. Generously flour the ‘wet’ calico cloth with Plain flour (this forms the famous pudding skin).
Drape the wet and floured cloth over a china or stainless steel big bowl and pile the moist mixture into the centre and flour the top of it before you again gather up the corners of the calico tautly and tie the pudding off very very tightly with real ‘string’ (not twine it will break). Wrap the string doubled around and around a number of times tying knots as you go making sure at the end you leave a large ‘handle’ of string tied at the top to lift it up and to hang it from.
Lower gently into half a very large boiler of boiling water. Add extra water to ensure the pudding is completely covered and place the lid on the boiler.
Keep checking and add more boiling water from a kettle kept at the ready, if required throughout the cooking process. (In the days when it was cooked in the washing Copper this step wasn’t necessary). It needs 4 hours to cook on the day it is made.
Then boil again for a further 2 hours on the day it is served.
Lift out into a bowl if possible and carefully remove the string and open the calico out. Place a large plate that has been rinsed in cold water on the top and invert it. The moisture will help you jiggle the pudding into the centre of the plate.
Wipe off the excess moisture and decorate the pudding with holly and serve with Brandy butter and clotted cream or the best rich vanilla ice cream.
You can flame the pudding with some extra warmed brandy and carry it to the table ‘on fire’. Certainly adds to the drama.
PS Hemmed pudding cloths can be purchased in some specialist kitchen ware stores. These days they all seem to be 60 x 60 square rather than 100 x 100, which is the size preferable for this quantity of mixture.
I divide the mixture and make two puddings that fit into the smaller cloths. One for the day and one for ‘afters’, usually eaten at Easter time, if it lasts that long. Or one to keep and one to give to someone you love.
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*
*Collect for ‘Stir Up Sunday’ an informal term in Anglican churches, The term comes from the opening words of the collect for the day in the Book of Common Prayer of 1549 and later (a translation of the Roman Missal’s collect “Excita, quæsumus”):