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.
I’ve included my recipe for plum pudding as well – full of fruit, spices and buttery goodness! My mum has a quince tree in her garden and when the fruit is ripe in late November I make it into a jelly. A couple of tablespoons of this conserve really gives the pudding a sultry fragrance that works beautifully with the warm spices. You can buy already made quince jelly or substitute the more readily available redcurrant jelly.
For years I had an aversion to mince pies – there was something bitter and twisted about the flavour that really did not appeal to me. This turned out to be candied peel and a standard component of jarred mince meat. The key is to make your own and then you have control of what goes into it. Essentially it’s dried fruit, mixed with grated cooking apple, spices, citrus, a splash of alcohol if you wish and suet. For me grated cold butter gives a more palatable finish than suet and also makes it vegetarian. I’ve added my recipe for mincemeat but feel free to substitute your favourite fruit and add some candied peel if its to your taste!
A kitchen filled with the smell of warm buttery pastry and spicy mincemeat epitomises this time of the year. I’ve added a little extra cinnamon to the pastry for good measure.
So whether it’s a pudding or mincemeat get your spoon ready for tomorrow – happy Stir Up Sunday.