Thursday, 22 October 2009
Today I made the christmas pudding. It's always a fun thing to do, partly because the list of ingredients is long but simple, partly because it's so much a part of tradition, partly because the end result is so, so good. I'm not sure of the tradition of Christmas Puddings, and anyway there are plenty of sites explaining it, even a site or two dedicated to this institution, but I do enjoy them. As a child we would have at least two puddings each Christmas - one made by my gran, the other, a more traditional Scottish pudding, made by my great aunt. The Clootie dumpling was, alas, always shunned by my sisters and myself. It was perfectly round and had to be cut to stand on the plate, but the skin was spongy and gooey-slimy at the same time, and it gave me the dry heave - literally. Too bad, because inside it was like the other pudding - delicious. But we weren't allowed to just pick at the inside, no we had to take the skin too. Now as an adult, I would like to try it again, just to see if it really is as dreadful as I remember. I somehow doubt it.
I have made christmas puddings on and off for the last few years, this year I even made one for my birthday cake in August. They are so delicious because they are basically a combination of fruit, spices and alcohol held together by a tiny bit of flour, some breadcrumbs and good will. Once made they sit for a minimum of 2 months gathering flavour and texture, aided by the regular addition of more alcohol. They are twice cooked: steamed for 6 hours initially, then a further 2 hours on the day of serving.
Very very rich, and most often served with brandy butter or whipped cream: a perfect companion to an already dangerously heavy Christmas dinner. But that is what Boxing Day is for - recovery time for all the over-indulgences. It was traditional in my house, and many others in Scotland, to slice left over pudding and fry it for breakfast, served with a fried egg on top. Never mention cholesterol.
4 oz suet (or vegetable shortening)
2 oz wholewheat flour
4 oz brown breadcrumbs, fresh
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon allspice
1/2 teaspoon clove
1 whole nutmeg freshly grated
2 oz chopped crystallized ginger
8 oz brown sugar
24 oz mixed dry fruit - I used 10 oz prunes, 10 oz raisins, 4 oz mango, but as long as you use plenty of raisins you can add whatever you like - figs would be great, dates too, I used bananas in my birthday version.
1 grated apple
zest of one lemon or lime, or orange
5 fl oz dark beer
2 tablespoons port or other rich alcohol. I use whiskey or rum.
Mix all ingredients except eggs and alcohol. Blend eggs and alcohol and add to mix. Mix should be sloppy, not sticky. Leave overnight then steam, tightly covered in pudding bowl for 6 hours. Wrap in wax paper then cloth (traditionally, but here in the tropics I put it in the fridge), and leave in cool place for at least two months. Every 3 weeks make holes on top of pudding and add 1/4 cup of whiskey, brandy or rum.
To serve, steam for further 2 hours, remove gently from bowl, douse in alcohol and set alight. Serve with brandy butter, heavy cream or ice-cream.
Oh and another tradition - wrap a penny in foil or wax paper and add to the mix. Whoever finds the penny in their serving has a prize. For my birthday pudding, the prize was a massage, this time it might be dinner at Loco Natural, my favourite restaurant in town.
One of the great things about the pudding is the anticipation and the ritual. When I made this with the kids in my classes we always read Truman Capote's 'A Christmas Memory' the day before we began. It's a wonderful story about Truman making Christmas fruit cakes with his ancient cousin, so touching and so beautifully written. I didn't read it this time, but I know the story so well now, "It's fruitcake weather! Fetch our buggy. Help me find my hat.". Superb.