When I was about 12 years old, my English mother decided to make her own mother's recipe for Christmas Pudding for the first time. Thereafter, she made it every year, in early fall, until she gradually and inexplicably gave up cooking, beginning about 10 years ago. My brother and I took over the family holiday meals , but neither of us ever made the pudding. I have been making versions of my Mum's holiday trifle off and on, but I wasn't inspired to try the pudding until recently, when I stumbled upon some very Christmassy looking pudding bowls at the Goodwill.
One basin is English and one American, one big, one small. I thought I could make one big one, to serve holiday company, and one small one to send a friend. "Big" is a relative term- the larger one is far from huge, but a Christmas Pudding is a very rich item, and the 1.2 liter size will feed 8 people. As it turned out I had more than enough, and made a third good sized pudding in a coffee can as well.
My mother always made these in October, to give them plenty of time to develop their flavors. It was one of the few things she liked to have help with in the kitchen, and I was the volunteer scullery maid and fruit chopper/grater. I am not the sort of person who prudently begins Christmas shopping in January. Nor am I enchanted by the ever earlier jingle bells and santas appearing in the stores, now seen pre-Halloween, closing in on Labor Day. But for mincemeat, and for the pudding, I am willing to do a bit of planning ahead and putting aside.
Part of the ritual of the pudding, as done by my mother, was shopping for the ingredients at Donahoe's, a fabulous old fashioned store which had dominated Market Square in downtown Pittsburgh as long as anyone remembered. There you could buy all kinds of whole glaceed fruits, as well as special raisins, currents, and nuts. Donahoe's is long gone, but many of the ingredients we bought there can been found in the Strip District. Visiting my daughter this weekend in Cleveland, I found the last few things I needed. I bought a whole chunk of candied citron at the wonderful market there, and I picked up some stout at Trader Joe's.
Many Christmas puddings contain suet, but my mother and her mother used butter, because they found suet unappetizing. I'm not especially put off by it myself, but will adhere to the family habit for tradition's sake, as well as for the sake of my vegetarian children. These are the ultimately assembled ingredients:
6 oz butter, frozen
3 oz. self rising flour
6 oz white bread crumbs
2 tsps freshly grated nutmeg
2 tsps cinnamon
pinch each ground ginger and ground cloves
12 oz soft dark brown sugar
15 oz zante currants
12 oz mixed raisins-mostly dark, some golden
6 oz. pressed dates, crumbled
3 oz. very finely chopped glace citron (it is best to buy a whole piece, and chop it very finely. The prechopped is too coarse, and tends to be dried out and hard)
3 oz ground or finely chopped blanched almonds
1 peeled apple
zest of a scrubbed lemon
7-8 oz. Guinness
good glug of port
This is what you do: In a large bowl, add these ingredients in order, grating the frozen butter and peeled apple on the large holes of a box grater over the bowl. As you add each of the dry ingredients, mix thoroughly, with your clean hands, tossing them lightly in all the way to the bottom of the bowl, and trying not to mash the butter or dates into any large clods. Beat the eggs before adding. The whole thing should be quite wet. Cover the bowl with cling wrap, and refrigerate for 24 hours.
Remove from fridge and stir with a big wooden spoon. Everyone who happens to be in the house should take a stir and make a wish. This is the only custom of this sort in my family. It is entirely out of character, but definitely required.
Butter the pudding basin(s), or in the alternative, coffee cans, in which you will steam the puddings. Pack the basins nearly to the top, or the coffee cans to desired pudding height. Leave a wee bit of space at the top; they will rise slightly, due to the relatively small amount of self-rising flour. Cover with a parchment layer and then aluminum foil. Tie them round the top, and then tie on a little extra string crossing the top, for a handle. They will be cute. Set the prepared puddings on a rack in a large pan. I use my hot water bath canner. Add boiling water 1/2-3/4 up the side of the basins or cans.
Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to simmer, covered. Keep an eye on it while bringing to a boil, so that you don't accidently overflow and drown your puddings. Steam the pudding for 8 hrs (yes, really), adding boiling water to try to keep the level pretty constant. You will have to check it fairly frequently.
Remove from pan and cool down thoroughly. Redo the two coverings, and set in a cool place- larder or fridge- to mellow until the holidays. Some folks add additional port from time to time. I am among them. You do this by removing the coverings, sticking a thin skewer into the pudding in a few strategic spots , and pouring a bit of port over. Re-cover carefully. Don't do this more than once per week, and take care not to drown your pudding in liquid.
To serve your pudding warm you must steam it again for a couple of hours, and then upend it, plop, on your platter. With a coffee can, you can open the bottom with a can opener, and gently push it out. Christmas Pudding is traditionally presented on a dish decorated with a bit of holly. You pour brandy on it, and light it up with a match, after turning off the lights. Well, Mum did anyhow, and I believe I will too. I told her today I was working on this, and she said she was tickled that I was taking the trouble to do it. I'm kind of tickled myself.