When I was a child, the sign that Christmas was really coming was the Sunday afternoon at the end of November when the house filled with the smell of exotic spices and strong booze. My Mam, mixing the plum pudding. We all took turns to stir it and make a secret wish, then after cooking the covered bowl would be prominent in the front room for the 4 weeks of Advent, part of the countdown and a symbol of our hopes for the holiday. Unlike the Christmas cake, which was a necessary if often overlooked part of the festivities, the pudding was savoured and enjoyed. We had lots of different ways of eating it; my favourite was a slice warmed in a pan with some butter until the edges became crispy, served with creamy custard. I’m starving just to think of it. Mam and Dad always ate it with a thick layer of brandy butter on top, Dad making the same joke every year about how this broke his Pioneer’s pledge of abstinence.
Now I have the late November ritual with my kids, following Mam’s recipe.
6 oz. butter
4 eggs4 oz. self-raising flour4 oz. brown sugar4 oz. breadcrumbsZest and juice of a lemonZest and juice of an orange8 oz. raisins8 oz. sultanas8 oz. currants4 oz. glace cherries4 oz. candied fruit peel2 oz. chopped dried apricots6 oz. chopped dried datesA bottle of GuinnessA swig of rumA swig of brandy
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. nutmeg
1 heaped tsp. mixed spices (I find that Garam Masala is good)
Mix all the dry ingredients together. Melt the butter and stir in with the eggs, juice and booze. Have everyone stir and make a wish – this is very important. Cover the mixture and let it stand overnight – this isn’t very important as I never have time to do it. This is enough mixture to make one big pudding and one little one. Place the mixture in a greased heatproof bowl, cover tightly with grease-proof paper or foil, and stand in a covered pot of simmering water for around 6 hours. Add 4 weeks of Advent and the mounting excitement of children.