Stir Up Sunday: a comforting tradition in these social media days

Tomorrow is Stir Up Sunday, five weeks before Christmas and the perfect time to make the Christmas pudding.

It harks back to Victorian times when families would gather together and take turns in stirring the pudding. The opening words of the Book of Common Prayer read “Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord”.

Christmas pudding would traditionally comprise of 13 ingredients to represent Jesus and the 12 disciples.

When a family stirred, they did it in an east to west direction to remember the wise men who visited Jesus in the nativity story.

Coins are added to bring luck especially if you found them in your share on Christmas Day.

The first published reference to this rich, fruity confection was in Anthony Trollope’s novel, Doctor Thorne, written in 1858.

But the tradition goes back hundreds of years.

In the middle ages a Christmas porridge called “Frumenty” was popular and a savoury precursor to the sweet, rich pudding we enjoy today.

The key to a good pudding is to soak the dried fruit in ale or cider overnight to plump it up.

When you have all the ingredients together, get everyone to stir them, making a wish as they do so.

In an age of technology and social media, there’s something comforting about honouring a family tradition that goes back for generations.

It’s convivial and lovely that everyone has a role to play in a major part of the festivities.

Nothing says Christmas like the scent of citrus, spice and dried fruit in the air.

During the summer I had the pleasure of taking part in an initiative with the Nerve Centre in the Maiden City called “The Food We Share”.

It was all done through Zoom and after I did a demo, we had a discussion about the food that everyone grew up with.

One of the participants, Gabrielle Dean, shared her family recipe for Christmas pudding.

It’s unusual in that the fruit, breadcrumbs, suet, some nuts and chopped cooking apple are allowed to mature before cooking.

Normally we cook, add alcohol and then allow to soak until Christmas.

This method almost ferments before cooking.

In Gabrielle’s family, they get the whole pudding started at Halloween but it isn’t too late for you to try her version.

I’ve included the recipe that Gabrielle kindly shared, just as she wrote it.

For a bit of added nostalgia the measurements are in imperial.

Another recipe that can be “stirred up” in advance is mincemeat.

I’ve included this recipe a couple of times in the past but if you want a refresher check out today’s John Toal Show, either live or, on BBC Sounds or go to the Radio Ulster website for the recipe.

My other recipe uses mincemeat as an addition to a traditional Italian Christmas treat, Panforte.

The rich cake originates in the city of Siena in the Tuscan region.

This recipe is a combination of nuts, chocolate, mincemeat, figs, honey and spices. After baking it can be stored in an airtight container.

Alternatively you could divide it up and give it as a gift.

Feel free to substitute some dried apricots or cranberries for the figs.

You don’t have to make mincemeat either, just buy a readymade jar.

Whatever you’re stirring up, or not, it’s always nice to have a warming drink on hand. Christmas is the perfect excuse to enjoy an Irish coffee.

I’ve included a recipe for this iconic drink but with a nutty addition.

Mourne Dew distillery in Warrenpoint have introduced a hazelnut Poitin to their range.

I’ve added it to the cream to top the Irish coffee and it’s lovely served with a wee sneaky piece of the panforte before you pack it up.

Let’s get stirring...

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