Christmas Pudding Day,
Stir Up Sunday
Christmas Pudding Day!
Stir up, we beseech thee
The pudding in the pot
And when we get home
We’ll eat it all hot!
(The Choirboy’s popular rhyme of the time)
Stir-up Sunday is the Sunday before Advent, a day that was even mentioned to the congregations at church. The term comes from the opening words of the collect for the day in the Book of Common Prayer of 1549:
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. Amen.
(Book of Common Prayer of 1549)
The exhortation “Stir-up” was a timely reminder to the ladies of the congregation, to make haste to their kitchens and start their Christmas cooking; the Christmas pudding was especially important, as it would have time to mature before Christmas Day if made on this auspicious day. Another reason why it was important to take heed of the reminder, was the belief that the pudding would impart God’s blessings to all who ate it, but only if it had been made on this day. It is traditional for all the family to participate in stirring the pudding on Stir-up Sunday, whilst making a wish at the same time, and ONLY clockwise, stirring anticlockwise is believed to invoke the work of the devil! It is also believed that every member of the family should take a turn to stir the pudding with a wooden spoon from East to West, in honour of the three kings who travelled from the East.
The Christmas pudding, as we know it today, did not become popular Christmas fare until the 19th Century, mainly due to Queen Victoria’s husband, Prince Albert. (Although George 1 did serve a “plum pudding” on his Christmas Day menu beforehand.) However, it was Prince Albert’s love of the rich, heavy and fruited puddings from his German childhood, which reintroduced the pudding back to the British as a Christmas tradition. Prior to this “new” pudding, we were all more accustomed to the Mediaeval form of “Plum Porridge” or Plum Pottage”, which was semi-liquid and made from meat that was stewed together with dried fruits and prunes; the prunes (dried plums) gave the name to the pudding. Sugar, spices and sack – a once popular wine from the Canary Islands, were also added to the pottage and then the whole concoction was thickened with breadcrumbs, grains or sago. By the time Prince Albert had made his rich pudding popular, the meat had all but disappeared, although beef suet was still added, and the pudding had become more like our modern day Christmas pudding. It was also the Victorians that introduced the idea of boiling or steaming the pudding in a bowl or basin.
The idea of adding silver charms and silver coins, probably harks back to earlier traditions of adding a dried bean or pea to festive cakes and puddings. These were always added to Twelfth Night cakes and the person who found the bean was “crowned” the King or Queen of the Bean or Pea for the night, a dubious pleasure that nowadays involves you having to buy a round of drinks! In France, a bean or little porcelain figure is still added to their Twelfth Night or Epiphany cakes, and a paper crown is included so you may “crown” your Twelfth Night king or queen! I still add a sixpence to my pudding, and you can sometimes find packs of Pudding Charms for sale; the coin is supposed to bring you worldly fortune, a thimble brings you a life of God’s blessings and a ring means a marriage!
There are many and varied traditions associated with the pudding and its making, I have listed a few more unusual ones here:
* A pudding should be made with 13 ingredients to represent Christ and His Disciples.
* Setting the brandy alight is said to represent Christ’s passion.
* The traditional sprig of holly is often used to top the pudding as a reminder of the crown of thorns worn by Christ on the cross.
* The father or grandfather of a family carries the Christmas Pudding to the dining room where he has to knock on the closed door. The rest of the family have to shout ‘Hurrah for the Christmas Pudding’ as loudly as they can, at which point the bearer of the pudding pretends that he cannot hear anyone calling for the pudding and makes as if he is going to take it away. He knocks again three or four times, each time saying that he cannot hear one or other member of the family, before he eventually agrees to enter the room!
For Stir-up Sunday this year, I have THREE Christmas puddings for you to make – one traditional Dickensian style pudding to be made on Stir-up Sunday, a less traditional microwave pudding for those of you with less time and some last-minute mini Christmas puddings for those of you who nearly forgot to make your pudding altogether ~ the last two puddings I will share with you nearer Christmas. A homemade pudding is so MUCH nicer than most commercially made puddings, and even the most ardent of “pudding haters” should enjoy one of these special puddings this Christmastime.
To end, here a few lovely lines from Eleanor Farjeon’s poem “Stirring the Pudding, just to get you in the “stirring” mood! See you later with tales of my journey back to France and the wonderful Let’s Make Christmas event that I attended at Fortnum and Masons last Friday!
Stirring the Pudding
Stem the currants
Stone the raisins
Chop the peel as fine as fine
Beat the eggs and shred the suet
Grate the crumbs (no flour in mine)
Freely shake, to make it nice,
All the virtue of the spice.
Pour the brandy liberally.
Stir and wish, then, three times three.
A Dickensian Plum Pudding
(Traditional Victorian Steamed Christmas Pudding)
This recipe is based on a 100-year-old recipe I found written on a scrap of paper in an old cookery book..……..a real Dickensian style steamed pud. I changed some of the ingredients, to suit our personal taste, and cut the quantities back considerably – the original recipe made about 8 puddings! It’s a wonderful rich and fruity pud, and is still light enough for those who dislike the heavy “canon ball” style puddings. The lack of flour in this makes a lighter crumb, and there is no bitter after taste that you get in some commercially prepared Christmas puddings. Makes two 2 pint puddings, each serving 6 to 8 people.
450g/1 lb raisins
225g/8 ounces currants
225g/8 oz sultanas
50g/2 oz dates, pitted
50g/2 oz citrus peels, finely chopped
50g/2 oz flaked almonds
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground mixed spice
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
50g/2 oz ground almonds
1/4 teaspoon salt
375g/12 oz fresh breadcrumbs or cake crumbs
115g/4 oz soft brown sugar
450g/1 lb butter, softened
6 large eggs, beaten
4 tablespoons brandy or rum
8 fluid ounces stout, such as Guinness
1. Mix all the dried fruit together, and then add the citrus peel, flaked almonds, spices, ground almonds and salt – blend thoroughly.
2. Work in the breadcrumbs, sugar and softened butter, mixing well.
3. Stir the beaten eggs into the mixture and then gradually add the brandy or rum and the stout. Mix thoroughly until a soft dropping consistency has been achieved.
4. Butter two large (2 pint) pudding bowls and spoon half the mixture into each bowl – smoothing down the surface slightly.
5. Cover with greaseproof paper and muslin pudding cloths or aluminium foil, and tie them down around the rims, making a loop for a handle to lift the pudding basins out of the steamer later.
6. Boil the puddings in an open pan or in a steamer for 6 hours – making sure that the water is topped up when necessary.
7. You can also steam these puddings in a pressure cooker – please follow your manufacturer’s instructions.
8. Remove the greaseproof paper, cloths/ aluminium foil and cover with fresh greaseproof paper and a clean pudding cloth or foil.
9. Store in a cool place for up to 2 months, although I have kept these puddings for nearly a year!
10. On Christmas day, boil or steam for a further 4 hours.
11. To flame the puddings: Turn out the puddings onto a plate. Heat up a tablespoon or two of brandy in a small saucepan until it is warm but NOT boiling, and then pour the hot brandy into a ladle – take the pudding to the table with the ladle and light the ladle with a match – BE CAREFUL! Pour the burning brandy over the pudding and remember to turn the lights out for maximum ooohs and ahhhhs!
12. Serve with Brandy Butter, Rum Sauce, Custard or Cream. Don’t forget the sprig of holly too.
(Christmas Pudding in the Microwave and Easy last minute Mini Christmas Puddings to be posted nearer Christmastime.)