When does Christmas begin? It seems to begin earlier and earlier each year. A department store in Cork had its Christmas decorations up before Halloween this year!
When I was growing up Mum always made the mincemeat in late September when there were lots of apples around and it had matured enough by mid November to have some mince pies for my sister’s birthday, because she liked them and once her birthday was over we could start to get a little bit Christmassy.
The next thing we did was to make the Christmas puddings on “stir-up” Sunday, which is the Sunday before Advent Sunday. Then there was a lull until the tree and decorations went up in mid December about a week and a half before Christmas.
The 8th of December was the official start of the Christmas shopping marathon. Nearly all the schools had the day off and everyone or so it seemed headed to Dublin to do their Christmas shopping.
My Mother claimed that all the dubliners stayed away from the shops that day because of the crowds. She preferred to go into town on Christmas Eve with her sister just to enjoy the crowds on Henry’s Street!
|The 1935 ingredients|
This year I felt I should make a Christmas pudding not having done so for quite a few years. We have been very lucky to have been given puddings over the past Christmases and very delicious they were too, But this year I wanted a home made Granny Mahon Pudding.
I took out the black note book Granny had kept her notes in, she started it in 1932.
It has a note of all the marmalade and jam she made each year and how much it cost at the end of the year she totalled the pots/pounds up in 1940 she made an incredible 201¼ pounds! Well, there was a war on, she was cooking for seven people and bread and jam would have been a reliable filler up.
She also kept a record of the Christmas cakes and Plum Puddings she made. The year that caught my eye was 1935, 80 years ago this year, she would have been a year older than I am now at the time. The 1935 pudding, she noted, weighed 14 pounds! That’s a stone or 11kg.
She didn’t use pudding basins or bowls to steam the pudding, her pudding was wrapped in a floured cloth and lowered into a large pot of boiling water where it remained on the boil for the next goodness knows how long, being topped up regularly with boiling water from the kettle. The kitchen must have been like a steam room with the walls streaming condensation.
It would have been a marathon session each year!
My Mum was more up to date using 4 four pudding basins to cook the mixture in and instead of steaming up the kitchen all day she started the puddings off in pots on the hob and then placed them covered into the hot oven to get on with the process.
Well, four puddings is more puddings than we’ll get through in the next five years. So I divided the recipe in four and I still ended up with two puddings that would serve six after a Christmas dinner with all the trimmings. One of the joys of leftover Christmas pudding is to fry it in butter for breakfast on boxing day.
I tried to remain true to the recipe, but I failed to get Muscatels and Valencia raisins, these are large raisins with the seeds still in them, delicious as they are taking the seeds out is a fecky and sticky job. I replaced them with a similar weight of a mix of dried apricots, stoneless dates and dried figs cut into pieces. Muscatels and Valencias are available in good delicatessens and health food shops in November. I even went to my butcher to get proper beef suet. This is the fat that protects the kidneys in the animal. As he was reluctant to shred it for me I brought a piece home and froze it overnight before grating it in the food processor.
Below is the recipe I used this year, I even made a wish as I stirred it!
|This years ingredients|
PLUM PUDDING 2015
75g/2½oz dried apricots chopped
75g/2½oz stoneless dates chopped
75g/2½oz dried figs chopped
55g/2oz mixed peel chopped
115g/4oz demerara sugar
2 hens eggs
85g/3oz beef suet shredded or grated
30g/1oz ground almonds
115g/4oz self-raising flour
½tsp baking powder
½tsp mixed spice
In a large bowl mix together the dried fruit, peel, sugar, salt and 150ml/¼ pint of the stout and leave to soak overnight.
|Ready for soaking|
Butter two 900ml/1½ pint pudding basins and place a disc of buttered greaseproof paper in the bottom of each of the basins. Prepare the greaseproof and foil lids or a buttered disc of greaseproof to put between the pudding and plastic lid. Elastic bands are easier than string. Fill the kettle and bring to the boil.
Add the eggs, suet, breadcrumbs and ground almonds to the soaked fruit and mix well.
Sift the together the flour, baking powder and mixed spice and fold through the other ingredients, if the mixture is dry add the rest of the stout. Stir three times clockwise and make a wish!* It should be a fairly thick.
|Making a wish!|
Spoon into the basins leaving a hollow in the centre and add coins wrapped in greaseproof paper and foil and push them under the surface.**
|Adding the lucky money|
Cover the basins with the greaseproof and foil or plastic lids and place them on trivets*** in deep roasting tin or oval roaster and pour in enough boiling water to come halfway up the basins.
Bring the water to the boil on the hob and cover tightly with a foil or lid and simmer for one and a half hours and then place in a hot oven at 130˚C, GM ½ for 8 hours.
Check occasionally and if the water level has dropped top up with more boiling water.
Remove from the oven and take the basins out and let cool. If you used foil it needs to be replaced and retied.
Steam for another one and half hours before eating.
** but not if you are reheating the pudding in a microwave!
*** a scone cutter makes a good trivet.
Short cuts! Steam in a slow cooker or pressure cooker, refer to manufacturers instructions.
Reheat in the microwave, turn out onto a plate and cut into slices, separate them slightly, cover with a bowl and microwave until hot through. Hide the wrapped coins before serving.
Note; If you are using greaseproof and foil to cover the pudding basins you have to put a “pleat” into them so that the pudding can expand during cooking. Tying the greaseproof and foil on is tricky! Use a rubber band to secure the greaseproof and then tie with string, the thick ones from a bunch of asparagus work well. This makes it easier to tie on the foil with string and make a string handle to lift out the pudding basin from the hot water.
|The string handle|