My grandma’s cookbook entitled Ration Recipes is a precious, stained and fragile thing, given to me by my aunt Kate when I visited her in Nairn this summer. My grandma was given the journal by a friend in 1941 and she used it her whole life, recording in it the recipes she made for her children and pasting in magazine cuttings. When grandma died, Kate found it on top of her fridge next to a nineteenth century copy of Mrs Beeton that once belonged to my great-grandmother.
I think my grandma must have been a fan of Christmas pudding because her journal contains over three pages devoted to her experiments with the form, each version labelled by year and graded according to its success. The picture above shows my mother serving up a Christmas pud to my grandparents and my father in the late seventies, a few years before I came along. I don’t have any memories of eating Christmas pudding as a child, perhaps it was a formality, and never truly enjoyed. Maybe we got lazy and didn’t serve it at all.
This year I have had a strong desire to make Christmas pudding, partly because my grandmother’s book is now mine, and I want to get to know it. Partly because I have a daughter of my own now, so Christmas traditions have become less of a drag and more about enjoying her excitement at the newness of the world. Partly because none of the people in the photo above are alive any more, so making this Christmas pudding seems to be a good way of imagining them here with me.
I began making my first Christmas pudding yesterday and I am now enjoying listening to it hum away on the stove as I write. I have a good feeling about this pud. I won’t know how well it has gone until the 25th but I have hedged my bets, choosing the recipe Grandma used every year from 1962-1973 and the only one in her book labelled ‘excellent’. It was an ordeal to do in so much as I have never made a Christmas pudding before, and, if I’m honest, due to this pudding’s annual invitation and my not being a massive fan of it, have rarely eaten it either. It was quite a task in that it required me to do some maths, for from the enormity of her portions – her original mix yields enough to fill four one-litre bowls – it seems Grandma was accustomed to making Christmas pudding for the whole street. Then of course, comes the guesswork involved in interpreting grandma’s stout-stained handwriting, and the making up for her omission of any discernible booze ratio. I will therefore not promise that what follows is the greatest Christmas pudding recipe ever written, but I won’t hold back on sharing it, because this recipe means more to me than the sum of its dried fruity parts. And if it doesn’t quite work out, hey, at least I’ll have a sound template on which to base next year’s attempt.
Winifred’s Christmas Pudding 1962-1973
Makes enough to fill a one-litre pudding basin, serves 8-10
4 oz/115g suet
3 oz/80g breadcrumbs
2 oz/50g plain flour, sifted
1 oz/25g ground almonds
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp mixed spice
4 oz Demerara sugar
1 oz/30g apple, grated
1 oz/30g carrot, grated
1.5 oz/40g mixed peel
6 oz/170g raisins
6 oz/170g currants
4 oz/115g sultanas
1.5 oz/40g whole almonds, blanched
1 oz/25g prunes, roughly chopped
1/2 small lemon, zest and juice
3 eggs, beaten
6 fl oz/180ml Guinness or stout
2 tbsp brandy (Grandma specified rum but we had none!)
Weigh out your dry ingredients carefully then mix the suet, breadcrumbs, flour, ground almonds, spices and sugar together thoroughly in a large mixing bowl. Since Christmas puddings are made up of such an absurd number of ingredients it helps to tick them off on a sheet of paper as you go!
In a separate bowl weigh out and mix together the dried fruit, grated apple and carrot, lemon juice, lemon zest and whole peeled almonds. (To peel the almonds soak them in boiling water for five minutes before pinching off the skins.) If you are worried about choking hazards you may want to roughly chop the almonds. I have left them whole because I think their shape and colour will add interest to the finished pudding, plus almonds always remind me of my grandma, so not disguising them feels like an homage to her.
Combine the fruit with the dry ingredients and stir well. Some recipes say bung them all in together but I find mixing them separately before combining ensures an even mix with little work.
In another bowl, lightly beat the eggs and whisk in the stout and brandy. Add the wet mixture to the dry and stir to form a wet batter. It should plop off the spoon easily. I was initially a little alarmed by the wetness of the mixture, but I followed Delia’s advice and left the mix in the fridge overnight to let the fruit soak up the fluids and the mixture looked beautiful the following day.
Having let the mixture rest, transfer it to a greased one-litre or 1.2 litre pudding bowl and press down evenly.
Put a large saucepan of water on to boil, enough to come up about half-way up the pudding. If you don’t have a steamer, it’s a good idea to place a metal cookie cutter or the like in the bottom of the saucepan that can act as a little seat for the pudding, to help prevent it from toppling over or the glass from cracking.
While the water comes up to the boil, layer two squares of baking parchment topped with a sheet of foil and make a pleat in the centre. Carefully cover the pudding bowl with the paper and foil, securing it first with an elastic band while you tie it tightly with kitchen string. Make a handle as well, to help you transfer the pudding in and out of the steamer.
When the pudding is tied and the water is at simmering point, add the pudding to the steamer and cover. Leave to steam for eight hours, checking occasionally to top up the water from the kettle if necessary.
When cooked, let the pudding cool before replacing the parchment and foil with a fresh lot. Make sure you pleat and tie as before because you will need to steam the pudding again on Christmas Day.
Keep the pudding in a cool dark place until the big day. When Christmas morning arrives, steam the pudding as before for two and a quarter hours before serving as you wish, with brandy butter or cream.
Do you have any Christmas pudding memories? Do you cook yours from a family recipe? How do you like to serve the damn thing? Do you agree with Nigella that part of the Christmas pudding’s appeal is that it looks like a giant mammary? Let me know in the comments!
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About Chloe King
I'm a freelance writer, designer and webby type. I live with my husband and daughter in the south of England. I like to cook and can throw a good party.
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