With the festive season fast approaching, and just less than 6 weeks to go until Christmas, we are marking our calendars for Stir-Up Sunday on the 21st November.
Traditionally known to be celebrated on the last Sunday before Advent, Stir-up Sunday is a family event in which each family member gets involved to make Christmas puddings five weeks before Christmas. Like a fine wine, Christmas Puddings need time to mature in order to absorb each unique and rich flavour.
Making the perfect Christmas Pudding
Originating in England, a traditional Christmas Pudding is dark in colour and usually soaked with brandy or other alcohols.
The famous Christmas Pudding contains 13 ingredients, each representing Jesus and his twelve disciples. As per tradition, each family member involved stirs the pudding three times and makes a wish as they stir it from east to west to honour their journey.
It was believed that if an unmarried person doesn’t join in that they will not find a partner in the upcoming year.
The origin of the Christmas or Plum Pudding goes back centuries and is steeped in tradition.
Originating in the 14th Century, known as a “Plum Porridge”, the pudding was primarily made with hulled wheat boiled in milk, seasoned with cinnamon and coloured with saffron. It was associated with meatless days, lent and advent and was often served as a plain dish.
Throughout this era, during the festive holidays, Plum Pudding was usually associated with beef; either eaten with or before the meat. This is in contrast to pudding-eating customs today, when the pudding is eaten after the meal and topped with cream or set on fire with Brandy as one of the well-known ingredients.
The name “Plum” Porridge / Pudding was given not because Plum was ever the main ingredient, but during this era, Plum was predominately used in reference to dried fruit of any variety. In 1714, King George I, also known as “The Pudding King”, requested Plum Pudding was served as one of many desserts at his first royal Christmas feast.
Historically, Christmas Pudding wasn’t even considered to be a dessert until people began using sweet ingredients like dried fruit soaked in alcohol, nuts, breadcrumbs and treacle into the mix. Through the years and many family descendants later, there are now unlimited ways to make a Christmas pudding, from adding chocolate to the mix to swapping out brandy for flavoured spirits instead.
One of the traditions that has been accumulated throughout the years is the addition of silver coins– a custom that originated in Australia. The main belief was whoever found the silver coin will have good luck waiting for them in the next year. This tradition originated from as early as the 1300s when chicken wishbones were added to the pudding mixture and were deemed to be good luck to those who found them. Over time, the practice evolved, and rings were even added, which was meant to spread luck and fortune in the form of riches and a marriage within the following year.
In some instances, this was the staple food for Christmas Eve, although in Yorkshire it was eaten first thing on Christmas morning.
It was then in the 17th Century that the recipe changes were made by the Victorians who fine-tuned the recipe to what we know today, with eggs used to thicken the mixture. Breadcrumbs, dried fruit and spirits were added – creating a sweet pudding famously known to be enjoyed with a Holly on top.
The addition of a Holly on top was believed to signify the crown of thorns Jesus wore on the cross. Additionally, you may ask; “Why do we light Christmas puddings on fire?” This is again believed to represent Jesus’ love and power.
750g mixed dried fruit
1 tbsp mixed spice
1 tsp nutmeg or cinnamon
1⁄2 cup fragrant tea or sherry
200g butter, placed in freezer for 1-2 hours
250g freshly made white breadcrumbs (made from a day-old 375g loaf, crusts removed)
6 eggs, well beaten
1⁄2 cup brandy
1.5L pudding basin or equivalent smaller bowls
Baking paper cut to diameter of the pudding basin/bowls
Good quality aluminum foil Kitchen string
Grater, chilled in fridge Trivet
- If the fruit looks a bit dry, soak it with the spices in the tea or sherry overnight or for at least a few hours.
- Grate the butter into the breadcrumbs in a large mixing bowl and mix through with a knife.
- Add the soaked fruit and spices.
- Add the beaten eggs and brandy, and encourage everyone in the family to stir the mixture (an old tradition).
- Grease the pudding bowl with butter and spoon in the mixture, just short of the rim, as the mixture may swell during cooking.
- Cover the pudding surface with baking paper cut to size, then cover the bowl with two pieces of foil pleated together in the centre – the foil should reach halfway down the bowl – and tie securely with string. The pleat is to allow for any expansion during cooking.
- Place the pudding bowl on a trivet in a deep saucepan and add enough boiling water to reach halfway up the sides to create a water bath.
- Cover and simmer for several hours, topping up with boiling water as needed (19th-century recipes invariably state 6 hours simmering to ensure a rich colour).
- Cool to room temperature then refrigerate until required.
- To make the brandy butter, cream the butter with the orange zest and icing sugar. Gradually beat in the brandy or cognac and chopped stem ginger. Put in a small bowl, fork the top attractively and put in the fridge to set. The butter will keep for a week in the fridge, or it can be frozen for up to six weeks.
- On Christmas Day, boil or oven steam for 1 hr. Unwrap and turn out. To flame, warm 3-4 tbsp brandy in a small pan, pour it over the pudding and set light to it.
Christmas Puddings remain a popular element of a traditional Christmas. If you and your family are getting involved with Stir-Up Sunday, click here to check out our range of offerings for the festive period.