A festive tradition
Bursting with flavour, Christmas pudding can be made approximately a month before the big day. Traditionally it is prepared on Stir-up Sunday, which in 2016 falls on 20 November. The phrase comes from the 1549 Book of Common Prayer. The collect for the Sunday before Advent starts: "Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord…" It was suggested this reminded people it was time to make the festive pudding.
900g dried fruit, such as cranberries, apricot and figs
150g mixed nuts, such as Brazil nuts and hazelnuts
100g mixed peel
200ml brandy or whisky, plus extra for feeding
200g vegetable suet
100g self-raising flour
1 tbsp freshly grated nutmeg
4 tsp mixed spice
50g ground almonds
450g dark soft brown sugar
1 orange, halved
butter, to grease
Place the dried fruit, nuts and mixed peel in a large bowl and add the alcohol. Give the mix a thorough stir to combine, and leave to soak for at least 1 hr.
In a separate bowl, mix the suet, flour, nutmeg, mixed spice, breadcrumbs, ground almonds and sugar. Beat the eggs in another bowl and add to the dry ingredients. Mix thoroughly.
Add the fruit and brandy to the mixture, and zest the orange into it. Juice the orange and pour it into the bowl, adding the flesh by hollowing out the orange halves with a teaspoon. Mix together thoroughly. This is the time when, traditionally, the pudding would be passed around the whole family, for each member to have a stir.
Grease a 1.7 litre pudding basin with the butter. Fill the basin with the mixture and flatten down. Cut a circle of baking paper to fit the top of the pudding and place on the top.
Tightly cover with a circle of tin foil 5cm bigger than the top of the basin. Place a similar size circle of muslin cloth over the tin foil. Secure both layers with a length of string wrapped twice around the circumference of the bowl. Fasten with a tight knot. Place a very large saucepan on the hob and put the basin inside. Fill the pan with boiling water and steam the pudding on a medium heat for 5 hrs.
Allow to cool completely, then remove the muslin and foil. The pudding should be cooked through and firm. Using a skewer, make several holes in the pudding and pour in 1 tbsp of the extra brandy or whisky. Cover with a new circle of baking paper and a double layer of muslin and tie with string. Keep in a cool, dark place until Christmas Day, removing the muslin and feeding with 1 tbsp brandy every week.
To cook on the day, steam on a medium heat for 2 hrs, making sure the pudding is piping hot throughout before serving.