In the Anglican Church Book of Common Prayer, “The Sunday next before Advent” falls on the 2oth November 2016. This is the day on which, after Church, the Christmas puddings were made in my home when I was a boy [and I do not need to point out that this was some time ago!].
As a little boy I was very aware of Stir Up Sunday. Stir Up Sunday is the last Sunday before advent on the Christian Calendar and the day on which, by tradition in our family, the Christmas pudding was prepared.
There are English records of what was then known as Christmas Porridge going back to the 14th century with ingredients such as beef and mutton, prunes, spices and wine rather than the fruit and nuts which we know today. In England in 1664, Oliver Cromwell banned the pudding as he thought eating it was “a lewd custom inappropriate for people who followed God.” King George 1st brought back the pudding in 1714, but it was Prince Albert, Consort to Queen Victoria, who introduced the pudding as we know it today – probably from Germany in the middle of the 19th Century.
The sadness is that today we buy our Christmas puddings and our children have not had the fun of Stir up Sunday.
While my brother and my only task as boys was to put a handful of tiekies and sixpences and a card of sterling silver charms – bells, reindeers, buttons, snowflakes and horseshoes – all sterilised in boiling water and bought each year for the purpose into the pudding and give a stir and “make a wish for Christmas”, major preparation began the day before as my grandmother, keeping up the tradition of her British born parents, fulfilled the various tasks required.
Pudding bowls of different sizes were readied. These had been pressed into service in winter for steamed puddings, usually of the vanilla kind with a generous dollop of either golden syrup or lemon curd in the base of the bowl which would then, on its upending just before being served flow down the sides of the pudding providing a sauce for it. There was also the “Spotted Dog” aka “Spotted Dick” which was a pudding made with raisins and currants, heavily laced with Rhum Negrita, a Barbados Rum which was kept in our kitchen for cooking.
My grandfather would always add an extra slug much to our amusement with the comments to my grandmother “you never put enough in” so much so at times that if you breathed on a window pane after eating a slice it would in all likelihood have cracked.
Squares of greaseproof paper were cut, small circles for the base of the pudding bowl so that the pudding would turn out easily, pudding cloth was cut with a large pair of pinking scissors, tying twine at the ready and the bowls buttered – melted clarified butter with a pastry brush – and floured and put upside down on a plate in readiness for the steaming the next day. Eggs were taken out of the fridge so that they would be at room temperature when used.
The dried fruit was soaked overnight in KWV brandy in small bowls with saucers on top. Nutmegs grated onto small greaseproof squares and wrapped up in paper twists overnight to keep as much flavour intact as possible. Suet fat bought from Uncle Morris Sher the local butcher had been hardened in the deep freeze and then grated was ready for use in the fridge. Large steaming pots were filled to the required depth with water and triangular wooden trivets soaked overnight to give them weight. The trivets prevented the pudding bowls from being in contact with the base of the pot where there was the most direct heat.
My grandmother had large earthenware Derby Pottery bowls in which cakes, pastries and pudding were made and these were the recipients of eggs, flour, liquids, fruit and spices and the all important brandy ready for mixing with a large wooden spoon. At the right moment we were summoned to the kitchen to stir in our silver and make the wish – we stayed of course to lick out the bowls after the batter had been measured out and weighed to ensure that each pudding was the same size.
The Christmas puddings were then covered with the greaseproof paper with a fold in the middle in case of expansion, the mutton cloth was tied on with a big loop for ease of putting into and taking out of the pot. The steaming seemed to go on all day as they were steamed for the first time for cooking and then put away wrapped in greaseproof paper in the cool pantry so perfect for keeping the puddings until the were finally steamed on Christmas morning.
The day before Christmas the Brandy Butter or “hard sauce” was made by creaming and beating until fluffy equal parts of butter and icing sugar. Our farm butter was always bright daffodil yellow so the Brandy butter was always sunshiny in colour. Brandy was beaten in until the mixture could take no more and then the mixture was rolled in greaseproof paper to appear sliced like thick pennies with the pudding after lunch.
The pudding always came to the diningroom table accompanied by a jug of warmed brandy which was ceremonially poured over the pudding when all were looking on in great excitement and anticipation. Match applied and the blue flames danced round the pudding.
We could hardly wait to tuck in. Jugs of runny custard were de rigueur if you could not take the alcohol in the Brandy Butter.
Leftovers were fried for supper and served with the scrapings of brandy butter and custard, which, if we were lucky were left over.
You may miss the last Sunday before Advent, but there is still time, here’s my favourite last minute Christmas pudding, courtesy of a favourite aunt who died many years ago, for you to make and to get your children to help you. I’m afraid you can’t use anything less that one rand coins now!
CLICK HERE for Aunt Muriel’s Christmas Pudding recipe.