STIR UP SUNDAY falls on 22nd November this year.
Plum pudding or ‘Christmas pudding’ is the crowning glory of nearly every Christmas dinner in Britain, a dessert that remains a mystery to our American cousins. Stir Up Sunday, the last Sunday before Advent, is the day to make it.
The Christmas pudding began its career as the plum pudding, a concoction of plums, spices, wines, meat broth and breadcrumbs (in the 17th century the word plum was used to refer to any dried fruit), wines and spices. Christmas was the time to use all the rare and costly ingredients such as spices that were otherwise carefully rationed.
The plums and meat have totally disappeared from the modern pudding and have been replaced by dried fruits and nuts. Traditionally, it should be made with thirteen ingredients. Lucky charms and silver coins were incorporated in the mix to bring good fortune, such as a silver coin meaning wealth, a ring meaning a marriage and so on. Every member of the family should have a stir. In Suffolk it was thought that each person should stir sunwise, three times, making three wishes, only one of which would come true.
The traditional way was not to use pudding basins or steam them, as they are made today, but to wrap the puddings in a cloth and boil them, which is how the round shape was achieved.
The round pudding is covered with brandy and flamed and we Pagans can use it to symbolise the fires of the Sun and associate the thirteen ingredients with the twelve signs of the zodiac plus the Sun itself.
This is the recipe I use (yes, it has more than thirteen ingredients!):
4 oz vegetarian suet
4 oz muscavado sugar
2 oz plain (all purpose) flour
2 oz breadcrumbs
4 oz raisins
4 oz sultanas
4 oz currants
2 oz mixed candied peel
1 oz shredded almonds
Grate of nutmeg
½ tsp mixed spice (or pumpkin spice)
½ tsp ground cinnamon
½ tbsp. marmalade
Juice of half a lemon
½ carrot, grated
½ small apple. Grated
5 fl. oz. stout or brown ale
4 fl. oz. brandy
Put all the dry ingredients in a bowl and mix well. Add the stout, eggs and marmalade and stir. Add the brandy, lemon juice and grated apple and carrot and stir well – the more the pudding is stirred, the better, and families used to make a ritual of this for luck. Add in any charms you are using – these must be silver and well sterilised. Spoon into into well buttered pudding basins, filling them three-quarters full, and leave overnight. Cover the basins in three thicknesses of greaseproof paper, well buttered, or cover with aluminium foil. Tie it with string under the rim of the basin. Trim off the edges. Steam for 6 hours. If you have a steamer, you can use this, or alternatively you can use a large pan with a trivet laid in the bottom of it, half filled with boiling water. Lower in the pudding, but the rim of the basin and its covering should be clear of the water. Keep the water steadily boiling the whole time and add more water when necessary. It seems a long time to steam something, but the more you steam it the better, it improves the colour and keeping properties; you can’t really overcook it. If you are using a 2 pint basin, instead of two 1 pint ones, you will need to steam for around 8 hours.
On the day, steam for two hours as above. Serve with custard or brandy butter.
It’s a lot of hard work, and to be honest, most people just buy one and microwave it!
© Anna Franklin, November 2020