Essentially Christmas is comprised of various parts that may come in different order depending on your family traditions. For example: trees (real or artificial), presents (wrapped, unwrapped, more or less of them), socks and knickers (contained in the aforementioned presents, if you can call packages of underclothes a “present”), decorations (ranging from little bits of tinsel to extravagant electrical installations that require their own power station), etc. etc.
In my family no Christmas was complete without Christmas tree presents (I believe these were a pact between Santa and my parents: tiny things wrapped and hidden in the branches, specially designed to keep recalcitrant children under control until after dinner with the threat that “if you don’t behave you won’t get your Christmas tree present”. Works like a charm.) and Christmas Pudding.
Years ago I bought this cookbook and it’s been my indispensible guide to making food ever since, although these days it largely functions as a holder for various scribbled recipes given to me by family and friends or gleaned from the weekend newspapers.
The picture of the Christmas pudding is a decoy because the important thing in this photo is the collection of pieces of card showing my grandmother’s original recipe and my attempts to work out different quantities for different sized pudding basins!
Mama’s Christmas Pudding recipe
NB: there are 3 quantities given: the first and largest quantity makes several Christmas puddings i.e. 3 x 2lb (3 x 1kg) puddings plus 2 x 1ilb (2 x 500gm) puddings. The second quantity given makes 2 x 2lb (2 x 1kg) puddings or 4 x 1lb (4 x 500gm) puddings. The third quantity makes 1 x 2lb (1 x 1kg) pudding or 2 x 1lb (2 x 500gm) puddings. Personally I make the largest quantity and then freeze them: we’ve just eaten the last pudding from 2008!
1lb (450gm) each of sultanas, raisins, currants and sugar (or 1/2lb /225gm each or 4oz / 115gm each)
4oz (115gm) each mixed peel OR chopped apple, and ground almonds (or 2oz / 55gm each or 1oz/30gm each)
1lb 12oz (795gm) breadcrumbs (or 14oz / 400gm or 7oz / 200gm)
1lb (450gm) butter (or 1/2lb /225gm or 4oz / 115gm)
large pinch salt
5 eggs, beaten (or 3 eggs or 1 big egg + 2 small ones)
teaspoon mixed spice
silver coins or charms (optional)
Mix the dried fruit, ground almonds/chopped apple, salt, sugar and breadcrumbs in a large bowl. Melt the butter in a pan and add to dried ingredients, mixing well. Add the beaten eggs and a good slosh of brandy (how much is up to you!) and mix well. Grease your pudding basin. I use various different sorts, from glass bowls with no lids to plastic ones with lids to metal ones with clip-on lids. It doesn’t really matter…
At this point you need to add the silver coins or charms, if you’re using them. This tradition is an old one in England: a silver coin or charm was wrapped in buttered paper and hidden in the pudding, and whoever found it in their helping was King or Queen for the day! In my family I use several coins or charms so that most helpings have one… it’s just a fun thing to do, it doesn’t confer any favours, and if you find it you show everyone proudly and then give it back to me to use in next year’s pudding!
Fill the basin to close to the top edge, dropping in your charms or coins, wrapped in greased or buttered paper. Top the basin with two sheets of greaseproof paper, greasing the bottom one where it will come into contact with the pudding. Pleat the sheets together across the middle. Then lay a sheet of foil much larger than the basin over the top. Mould the foil around the edge of the basin and tie around the basin tightly with several rounds of string. If you’ve made the foil large enough you should be able to turn it back up and over the string and scrunch it into a handle that you can use to lift the pudding basin in and out of the saucepan.
Even if you intend to freeze some of the puddings now is the time to cook them first: find a saucepan into which you can put a trivet (to stop the pudding basin from touching the bottom of the pan directly – I use a cookie cutter!), then the basin and still be able to fit the saucepan lid snugly. Fill the saucepan with water from a hot kettle to about half way up the basin and put the lid on. Simmer the pudding for about 2 hours then remove from the saucepan, remove the foil and the greaseproof paper and leave to sit for a little while. Put a plate of the top of the basin and turn it over, and with luck the pudding will come out whole!
If you want to freeze the puddings, leave the foil and the greaseproof paper on the basin, leave it to get completely cold and then seal in a freezer bag and freeze. When you want to use it, take it out of the freezer the day before you want to use it, and then reheat by steaming for one hour as described above.
No Christmas pudding experience is complete without Brandy Butter and custard. I’m afraid the custard is usually shop-bought (although I buy the good stuff with eggs and milk rather than lots of E numbers!), but the Brandy Butter is easy: beat together a quantity of softened butter with some raw castor sugar and add a good slosh (or three) of brandy, depending on your taste. This gives me plenty of opportunity to taste it as I go… then chill until you’re ready to serve the pudding.