Bring me a figgy pudding – out here!
So hands up, how many of you missed Stir-up Sunday? No, not a Bob Marley convention, but the day when you are supposed to make your Christmas cake, pudding and mincemeat, so they have optimum time to mellow and mature (sadly, I’ve yet to do either). I know you can find a pudding for a couple of quid out there, but there is something I still really value about making my own and holding with tradition. Heaven knows there are few enough of them left!
Although I must confess that I had forgotten about the actual day, I am pleased, and not a little surprised, to say that I actually got mine done the day before, by some fluke! If you want to have a bash, read on and give it some consideration, they really are quite straightforward and satisfying to do.
Firstly the cake. So before we met, my husband always used to make one using a tried and trusted recipe from the Oldham Chron. That being lost in the ensuing move, he then switched to a traditional Mary Berry one, apart from a short sabbatical when we bought a cut-price kit. This year I am stuck at home with a shoulder injury, so have time on my hand(s) to make it myself, much to his chagrin. I went for a BBC Good Food moist cake recipe, where you heat, and then soak the fruit overnight, in juice and alcohol. Quick to mix together, it took longer to prep the tin I think. Looks and smells great, though I was slightly gutted that it’s a wee bit dark on one side where my oven was uneven – damn you newspaper sleeve, I couldn’t see the problem until it was too late! Never mind, once it’s been fed with brandy a few times, and covered in marzipan and icing, it’ll be fine.
Onto the pudding then. Basically I only wanted one, but most recipes make two – go figure. Clearly
it’s not beyond me to half a recipe, but I still find I tend to forget myself and add the full amount of one ingredient and then have to double up everything else to match (note to self – write it down next time and get it right.) My husband doesn’t like nuts, so I omitted them from the cake but added ground almonds to the pud. Trust me, he’ll never know. Unless he reads this… damn!
(He’s not allergic, just not keen, in case you think I have festive murder in mind!) Anyway, I always wing it a bit with the pud and mincemeat, because I like what I like. Again I went for a classic recipe on BBC Food (no, I’m not on commission and other recipe sites are available). This one uses butter and apple to keep the pud moist, rather than suet.
Like the cake, the basic recipe is pretty standard, then it’s up to you what tweaks you want to make, to suit your taste. I am not mad about cloves or nutmeg but love cinnamon, ginger and allspice. I also prefer sultanas and am not keen on mixed peel, so I buy separate currants, sultanas and raisins and mix them up in different proportions, instead of buying mixed fruit. Just make sure you add up all the elements for a total weight to match. Sad, maybe, but there’s something so satisfying about covering them with pleated greaseproof and foil, held securely with string.
NB. despite us being able to put a man on the moon, we still need to pick over dried fruit to get any stalks that have been left by processing. You don’t want granny getting them stuck in her dentures, do you? We will tackle decorating another day.
“What about the Mincemeat?” I hear you cry. That’s my favourite bit. I just love the smell of homemade mince pies baking. I have to hold back a bit on the alcohol content these days though, because one year I got more than I bargained for when it fermented ridiculously in the run-up to Christmas and burst out of the jars! I didn’t actually use a recipe for this, as such, just went with experience. In essence it’s just mixed fruit, sugar, ground almonds, melted butter (I don’t like suet in mincemeat as it sticks to the roof of your mouth) with spices, rind and juice of orange and apple, a spoonful of marmalade and a baked apple.
Top tip here, for a nice smooth apple puree: take a Bramley apple and just remove the core. Put it in a microwaveable dish and cook on full power for about five minutes or so until the pulp bubbles down the sides. Leave it to cool a bit, then just pull up the skin and push a spoon gently against it to squeeze out all the pulp. You will find it doesn’t go brown and the bruises etc. will stay on the skin, leaving a nice smooth puree behind. Ta dah!
Remember to wash jars well and either put into a low oven till hot, or fill with boiling water, to sterilise before filling. As well as traditional pies, you can use this mixture to fill a tart case and cover with crumble or meringue, or even stuff an apple with it, and bake.
Will seek out some tasty local delicacies for you, as well as some regular recipes and ideas in the run- up to the big day. Together, we can nail a traditional Christmas!!!
Carole Ogden for www.BoltonLive.org