I am not a huge fan of this modern obsession of shopping for Christmas gifts ridiculously early. Before the clocks have even been put back in October, people start stockpiling cards, biscuits, Quality Street, crackers and rolls of festive wrap! Actually, I don’t blame the shopper, after all some of the best seasonal bargains can be found on the high street in October and November. It is the greedy retailers with whom I would have harsh words. Early availability of bargains, pressurises cash-strapped households into buying items months well in advance of the Big Day.
Anyway, enough of my Bah Humbugging, I want to talk about Christmas food, when early preparation is essential. Last Sunday (20th November) was ‘Stir-up Sunday’, traditionally the optimum time to make your Christmas pudding. Making it now allows the dried fruit to develop a rich, full-bodied flavour thanks to a weekly ritual of ‘feeding’, which is simply drizzling alcohol over the top. November is also the best time to make your Christmas cake. Over the next few years, Stir-up Sunday takes place on the following dates:
- 2017: 26th November
- 2018: 25th November
- 2019: 24th November
- 2020: 22th November
For more information about the fascinating history and traditions associated with Christmas puddings, cakes and mince pies, see this article I wrote in 2014. I also include lots of old Christmas pudding recipes at the article’s end. Don’t worry if you haven’t made your pudding or cake yet, you still have plenty of time.
In a few weeks’ time I am hoping to film a segment for a television company about Christmas puddings from the different eras. I have been enjoying researching and writing-up lots of old pudding recipes. It is fascinating to note trends in ingredients throughout the decades. For example, marmalade is popular in many 1940’s and 1950’s recipes.
Ration book era recipes also feature grated carrot and raw potato. In fact, I still use grated carrot in my normal pudding recipe, try it in yours, it really is delicious and helps keep the mixture moist as well as adding extra sweetness. It is important that you use fresh carrots, preferably organic. Carrots that have been lurking in the bottom of your fridge for a week or so tend to taste earthy, so are best avoided in baking.
I thought I would share with you the following recipe which I found in a recent addition to my vintage magazine collection, The World And His Wife (November, 1904). Recipe is written and created, especially for the magazine, by C. Herman Senn (1862-1934). It is a very rich version of the pudding, typical of the Edwardian era when culinary frugality, amongst the middle and upper classes, was almost unheard of.
Those who know the secret of a really good pudding prepare and cook it some weeks before it is required for table. The quantity given is for two good-sized puddings. Pour a little best brandy, rum or Kirsch round the base of the dish just before sending it to table and set it alight as it is taken into the dining-room:
Ingredients: 1/2 lb finely chopped beef suet; 2 ozs almonds (blanched, peeled and cut into strips); 1/2 lb raisins; 1/4 lb currants; 1/2 lb soft sugar; 1/4 lb chopped figs; 1/4 lb sultanas; 2 ozs candied peel; 1/2 teaspoon salt; 1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg; 1/2 teaspoon mixed spice; juice of 1 orange; juice and finely-grated rind of 1 lemon; 1 wineglass of brandy; 6 ozs plain flour; 1/2 lb soft breadcrumbs; 1/2 pint milk; 6 eggs.
Method: When all these ingredients have been thoroughly mixed together, put the mixture into two well-greased pudding moulds or basins, cover each with a greased and floured cloth tied with string, and boil or steam for 5 or 6 hours.Embed from Getty Images