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Sunday, 23 November 2014

Christmas Pudding Memories

Quite some time ago I read an article by Helen Dunmore where she said how important it was, when writing, not to forget about taste, texture and smell. I've always tried to remember this when attempting to describe something in my own writing because the smell of something can evoke so many memories and give rise to such strong emotions.

Today is stir-up Sunday and I have made my Christmas pudding or as an American friend described it to me 'that cake you Brits set fire to'! Stir-up Sunday is always the last Sunday before Advent and the tradition was supposedly introduced by Queen Victoria's husband, Prince Albert. In the past, families came together to mix the ingredients of dried fruit, spices, eggs, butter, etc. Everyone takes a turn to stir the pudding which is meant to bring good luck. In my family it has always been traditional to make a wish.

Sometimes people place a silver coin in the pudding and the person who receives this is meant to receive health, wealth and happiness in the coming year.

Anyway, measuring out my pudding ingredients, I spooned three tablespoons of black treacle into the fruit and brandy mixture. The rich, heady, aroma of the treacle instantly brought a picture of my grandfather into my head. One of his favourite things was treacle toffee from a shop called Thorntons. It came in irregular shaped pieces and was weighed into small waxed paper bags. I often bought it for him as a treat and of course he shared it with me. Just being with him made me feel safe, made me smile. He died nearly thirty years ago now but today, thanks to a few spoonfuls of delicious, dark, sticky syrup, his presence was there in my kitchen.

You can buy some great Christmas puddings these days, including gluten free ones but there really is nothing like a home-made one. I got this recipe from a magazine years ago and it's hard to beat.

Christmas Pudding

800g (1lb 12oz) luxury mixed dried fruit

Finely grated zest and juice of 1 large orange

150ml (half a pint) brandy, Cointreau or Grand Marnier

3 tbsp black treacle

1 large cooking apple, grated

50g (2 oz) each breadcrumbs and plain flour
(For gluten free replace breadcrumbs and flour with gluten-free breadcrumbs and 75g (3 oz) ground almonds)

1 tbsp ground mixed spice

100g (3 and a half oz) blanched almonds, chopped

2 large free-range eggs, beaten

125g (4oz) unsalted butter, well chilled.

Put the dried fruit, orange zest, orange juice, brandy (or other liqueur), and treacle into a large mixing bowl. Mix well, then cover and leave to stand for 1-2 hrs or overnight.

Pre-heat the oven to 180C (160 fan) or gas mark 4. Grease a 1.8 litre (3 and a half pint) pudding basin and line the base with a circle of greaseproof paper. Add the apple to the soaked fruit, along with breadcrumbs, flour, spice, almonds and eggs. Grate the butter over the mixture and stir with a wooden spoon until mixed.

Spoon mixture into bowl and level surface. Cut out two squares of greaseproof paper measuring 30.5cm (12in), put one on top of the other and fold a pleat down the middle. Place over the basin and tie under the rim with string. Then cover with a circle of foil, pressing it down around the rim.

Stand the basin in a deep-sided roasting tin (I place mine in a cast iron casserole dish) and pour in 1.7 litres (3 pints) of boiling water. Cover your tin with a large piece of foil and secure edges or place the lid on your casserole dish. Transfer to the oven and cook for 6 hours. You may need to top up the water.

When it's ready remove basin from the tin and leave to cool. Remove wrappings, re-cover pudding in fresh, dry greaseproof and foil and store in a cool, dry place until Christmas.

On the day, cook the pudding in the oven, as before for one and a half hours or steam gently on the top of the oven for 2 hrs. Serve with brandy sauce and brandy butter.

This makes a large pudding which serves 16 people. I often divide the mixture and make two smaller ones or you can just halve it and make one pudding.


Thank-you for reading. Have a lovely week.

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