Stir up Sunday

Stir it up Sunday has always been the last Sunday before Advent and takes its name from the book of common prayer. It was when families came together to mix and steam their puddings. Traditionally everyone took a turn at stirring and would make a wish. It's believed that everyone stirred from east to west in honour of the three wise men.

These days it's a bit of family fun when children get to help with the cooking and the adults sample the brandy or rum before it's tossed into the mixing bowl.

Oliver Cromwell had declared plum pudding illegal and anyone caught making it or eating was liable to be fined and sent to prison. But despite that threat it survived, and by the 19th century it was very much as we know it now - except perhaps for the name - as we now know it as Christmas pudding.

The traditional recipe hasn't changed much over the last century or so, although there is evidence that some cooks have sought to simplify it. Heavy on fruit, the main change has been from real meat suet to a vegetable substitute. This is the classic Mrs Beeton one.

Steaming Christmas puddings was a long process: The larger the pud, the longer it boiled away on the range. In some cases it could take eight or nine hours. Grimwades patented a Quicker Cooker with a central funnel which ensured that the pudding cooked from the centre as well as the sides. Tied up with string all the instructions were printed on the bowl and the lid for avoidance of doubt. More ordinarily, puddings would be steamed in pudding basins of all sizes covered in a pudding cloth or tea towel. Tied up with string, a strong handle would be included for ease of lifting.

Wartime Christmases were a challenge, and the Ministry of Food was keen to ensure morale was good. Rationing and shortages meant that dried fruit, eggs and sugar were in short supply. Home economist, Margueritte Pattern, offered a traditional recipe and one that didn't require eggs. It contained both grated potato and carrot - common substitutes in wartime Britain.

With a variety of different Christmas puddings available, there was a debate about what constituted one in the 1940s and 50s, with regulations on labelling introduced in 1952 to ensure that Christmas puddings, also known as ‘The Empire Christmas Pudding’, did not go below the net weight of 17oz. They also needed to contain the right ingredients as shown in this recipe leaflet from the Empire Marketing Board.

Later - and long before we had Heston Blumental or Marks & Spencers - the shop bought Christmas pudding would usually be courtesy of Mrs Peek's: A small dense offering which appeared at the turn of the 20th century, the name originated from biscuit brand, Peek Freans. Some believe that Mrs Peek was the wife of one half of the manufacturers; others think she was as real as Aunt Bessie.

Christmas pudding is such a heavy dessert - to end what is usually a very substantial meal - that it has fallen out of fashion in recent decades. Every supermarket has produced alternative desserts to tempt their customers. But even those purists who think Christmas can't be Christmas without a traditional pud are swayed by the offerings of their favourite grocer.

And who hasn't opened the fridge door weeks after Christmas to see solitary slices of Christmas pud and offered it up to the birds. But the Victorians left nothing to waste and their left over pudding became part of an ever richer offering. A favourite was to fry it in butter and serve it topped with rum butter or sugar. Sometimes it would be used instead of bread for a very rich bread and butter pudding or crumbled into a pie. Other times it would be turned into pastry cases and topped with meringue. With a somewhat more health conscious nation, we would hopefully swerve those options these days.


Posted in Christmas

Published on 17/11/2023 18:52:41
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