In this darkest of years, it may be that sanity, or at least a sense of hope, could come from a brief return to a now almost defunct Christmas ritual: pudding-making on Stir-up Sunday. The term Stir-up Sunday, or the 25th Sunday after Trinity, comes from the opening words of the Collect for the day in the 1549 Book of Common Prayer: ‘Stir up we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people; that they, plenteously, bring forth the fruit of good works…’
In a kitchen context, the fruit of good works brought forth is a large pudding made with a bowlful of raisins, sultanas, suet, eggs, milk, flour and sugar, stirred by everyone in the household, stuffed into a basin and steamed for three hours over simmering water and then stored to await the great day itself. No microwaves or magimixers – hence the inclusive nature of the stirrers – and you should stir from East to West in honour of the journey made by the three wise men. You can also add a 5p piece (like the sixpences of old), sterilised according to modern health and safety concerns, and wrapped in a screw of grease proof paper.
And where did the idea of a Christmas pudding come from? Not from Prince Albert, as you might suspect, but quite possibly from King George I who commissioned the first meatless pudding in 1714, the year of his accession, and was known thereafter as the Pudding King.
Below are a representative selection of puddings, including King George’s, although those rolling up their sleeves and assembling the household to start stirring, should perhaps bear in mind Elizabeth David’s wise words below on attempting to make a pudding from scratch on a small Greek island…if still undaunted, visit breadandoysters.com/magazine/recipes/ for Eliza Acton’s 1845 Christmas Pudding, the recipe recommended by everyone from Nigella to Nigel Slater… (You can also buy a King George Christmas Pudding from Fortnums for £24.95), fortnumandmason.com)
‘Anon the 20th November, the day Now, all those with their fine talk of the glories of Old English fare, have they ever actually made Christmas pudding, in large quantities, by old English methods? Have they, for instance, ever tired cleaning and skinning, flouring, shredding, chopped beef kidney suet straight off the hoof? Have they ever stoned bunch after bunch of raisins hardly yet dry on the stalk and each one as sticky as a piece of warm toffee? And how long do they think it takes to bash up three pounds of bread-loaves…’ From Spices, Salts and Aromatics in the English Kitchen 1970
King George I’s Christmas Pudding
- 1 1/2 lb finely shredded suet (or substitute fat)
- 1 lb eggs (weigh in their shells)
- 1 lb dried plums, stoned and halved
- 1 lb mixed peel, cut in long strips
- 1 lb small raisins
- 1 lb sultanas
- 1 lb currants
- 1 lb sifted flour
- 1 lb sugar
- 1 lb brown breadcrumbs
- 1 heaped teaspoon mixed spice
- 1/2 nutmeg, grated
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 1/2 pint fresh milk
- Lemon, juiced
- Very large wine glass full of brandy
Mix the dry ingredients together. Beat the eggs and add them to the mix. Stand for a few hours (at least 12) covered. Pour the mix into a pudding basis and steam for 8 hours.