Christmas pudding is the classic Christmas dessert in England, and it is traditionally made today, on Stir Up Sunday. Stir Up Sunday is the last Sunday before Advent, informally referred to as such because of the words in a prayer said in Anglican churches on this day – ‘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’. Although this prayer actually had nothing to do with food or cooking, over the years it became associated with ‘stirring up’ the Christmas pudding, which needs a good few weeks to mature before it is served on Christmas Day.
Traditionally the entire family took part in making the pudding, and each member took a turn stirring it. As they take their turn, they made a (secret) wish. This is a fun way to involve the whole family in what can be quite a big undertaking, as well as to ensure no one ends up with sore arms!
In years gone by, charms used to be placed in Christmas puddings before they were steamed. From sixpences to thimbles, everything had a meaning, and each charm was reputed to tell the fortune of the finder. If you found a sixpence in your serving of pudding you were said to be going to die rich, a thimble indicated you would always be a spinster or bachelor, and a ring meant you would be married within the year. Nowadays we recognise that putting thimbles, coins and rings in your pudding is not exactly sanitary and furthermore presents a choking hazard – but some people still wrap a single pound coin in waxed or greaseproof paper and tuck it in. The person who finds that is meant to be lucky all year.
This is an old family recipe for Christmas pudding, via my husband’s late Grandmother, who was a cook in a stately home in the late Victorian, early Edwardian era. (The original recipe was in pounds, and I have halved it to make it more manageable.) Controversially, I prefer a lighter pudding, and one that takes less time to make, but if you want to be authentic, this is the pudding for you! If you would like a lighter pudding that is takes less time to steam, check out the links at the end of this post.
Nana’s Christmas Pudding as made by my mother-in-law for Christmas 2008
Nana’s Christmas Pudding
(Makes two one pint puddings or one two pint pudding)
half a lemon, rind and juice
8 ounces currants
8 ounces raisins
8 ounces sultanas
3 ounces brandy
half an orange, juiced
8 ounces suet
8 ounces moist brown sugar
8 ounces cooking apples, peeled and grated
(at the last minute or they will go brown)
4 ounces mixed peel (also known as candied peel, this is widely available in the UK and Europe and available in the baking aisles of some North American grocery stores)
4 ounces flour
4 ounces fresh white breadcrumbs
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon mixed spice
Soak the currants, raisins and sultanas in the brandy, lemon and orange juice overnight.
In the morning, in a seriously large bowl, mix the suet, flour, sugar, salt, spices, mixed peel, breadcrumbs, apples and eggs with the soaked fruit and any juice/liquor remaining in the bowl. All the ingredients should be included at this point. Mix thoroughly with a wooden spoon. You need strong arms, or assistants!
Grease the pudding basin (or basins) and fill to about three quarters full with this mixture.
To wrap the pudding for steaming you need to lay a sheet of aluminium foil over a sheet of greaseproof or waxed paper. Pick up both and make a pleat down the centre. Put this on top of your pudding bowl and wrap round firmly. Then use a long piece of string to tie the paper and foil tightly round the bowl, leaving a couple of nice long ends of string. Bring the extra string back up over top of the bowl and tie it under the string on the other side to make a handle so you can get the pudding out of the steamer easily. Trim round the edges of the paper and foil with scissors to ensure that none of it drips into the water you will put round for steaming or it will seep into the pudding and ruin it. Here is a link to a video of the wonderful chef Lesley Waters showing you how it is done.
You need a large steamer or saucepan for each pudding bowl – it needs to be much larger than the bowl itself. Place a small heatproof saucer upside down on the bottom of each saucepan, and place your prepared pudding bowl on top of the saucer. Carefully fill the edges of the saucepan with water about half way up the pudding bowl. Put the lid on the saucepan. Bring the water to a slow boil so the pudding can steam gradually. You will need to top up the water very regularly (sometimes as often as every forty-five minutes or so) so that the pudding does not boil dry. If it does, the saucer and pudding bowl will break and all will be lost.
After eight hours of steaming, remove the saucepan from the heat and let it cool down a bit before carefully removing the pudding from the saucepan using the string handle. It’s good to have a tea towel close by as the pudding bowl will be wet. Dry the bowl off, remove the paper, foil and string and sit the pudding in its bowl on a heat proof surface to cool down.
When the pudding and bowl are completely cool, remove the greaseproof paper and foil and then tie a fresh piece of greaseproof paper and foil over them just as before. The pudding improves with age, so store in a cool place away from draughts until Christmas. (The top of a cupboard works well.)
Wishing everyone lots of blessings on this Stir Up Sunday!