Recipe: Great Grandma’s Traditional Plum Pudding

One of the things I’ve really appreciated since reuniting our family is rediscovering our old family traditions.  One such tradition is making our Christmas puddings.  We use a recipe that has been passed down through Mr Mess’ family and which his mother kindly gave to me.  I have a handwritten copy, complete with my M-I-L’s handy hints and it’s the closest thing we have to a family heirloom.

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We would normally mix up our puddings over October half term, as they need to a good long time to absorb all the flavours.  This year we’ve been really busy and so we didn’t get a chance to prep the puddings until last week.  Luckily this just about coincided with Stir-Up Sunday, which is the traditional day to make your Christmas puddings.

You really need to put aside two days for Christmas pudding making as once you have mixed up the ingredients you are supposed to leave them to stand for 24 hours.  Then you have to boil them for 6-8 hours the following day – so make sure you leave yourself PLENTY of time.

I thought it might be nice (with my M-I-L’s blessing) to share this family tradition with you.  Firstly you’ll need:

Ingredients:  (The recipe is in imperial measurements and makes 4 puddings.  We usually halve it to make 2 puddings in 1 and 1/2 pint pyrex bowls)

1lb seeded raisins
1/2lb currants
1/2lb sultanas
1/2lb candied peel
(My mother-in-law recommends using Sainsburys luxury mixed dried fruit which contains all of these ingredients in one easy package)
1/2lb apples
1/4lb sweet almonds (I tend to leave these out as I’m not really keen on almonds)
1 orange and 1 lemon
1lb demerara sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1lb vegetable suet ( I use the pre-packed Atora stuff to cut down on prep time)
1/2lb plain flour
3/4lb breadcrumbs
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ginger
1/2 nutmeg (grated)
2 tablespoons black treacle
6 eggs
1 or 2 glasses rum
1 glass sherry (One of our favourite lines in the recipe is that “a glass of stout may be used if economy has to be studied. Well – we study economy A LOT now, but I tend to use whatever cheap booze we have in the store cupboard. Aldi is also great for affordable brandy, sherry and rum)

Step 1:

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Prepare the fruit and put the raisins and candied peel through the food chopper (I must admit we completely miss this part out), followed by the apples peeled and cored.  Blanch and shred the almonds but not too finely (or if you are including them, just buy them ready powdered).  Sieve the flour, salt, spices and make the breadcrumbs.  If you like you bought pre-chopped suet you can pretty much ignore this next part.  Otherwise, remove any skin from the suet, which should be dry, grate it using the coarse side of the grater and then chop it until fine as breadcrumbs, sprinkling it with flour if it becomes sticky.

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Step 2:

Mix all the dry ingredients together in a basin and add the grated rind from the orange and lemon.  Make a well and add the treacle and eggs, well beaten. Add the strained orange and lemon juice. Pour in the wine and rum (or whatever booze you happen to be using)

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Step 4:

Cover the mixture and let it stand for 24 hours. Then put it into well greased basins. Cover with greaseproof paper and tie a pudding cloth over the top (or use tin foil and rubber bands). Then plunge them into boiling water and boil quickly from 6 to 8 hours according to size.  (Don’t do what I did once and overfill the pans.  If the water gets in the puddings they go mouldy!! You only need an inch or two of water.  And don’t forget to keep topping the water up now and again so the pudding doesn’t burn!)

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Plum puddings should be made at least a week before Christmas (although we make ours MUCH earlier). On Christmas Day, Mr Mess will steam for about a further 4 to 5 hours, depending on size.

A well made pudding will keep for months in a dry, cool place.  (We have been known to eat our second pudding for Easter Sunday – they really do keep!)

Step 5:

To serve pudding, lift it out of boiling water and let it stand for 5 minutes to allow some of the steam to escape. Then remove the covering and turn it out on to a hot dish. Dry the dish, sprinkle the pudding with sugar and decorate it with a sprig or two of holly. Pour a glass of rum, brandy or whisky over it and set fire to this just before bringing the pudding to the table. The recipe recommends you serve with lemon or hard sauce but seeing as I have NO idea what these are we tend to just go for brandy butter.  I make my own from scratch – my only real contribution to Christmas dinner.

Traditionally, when you mix up your pudding you should make a wish!  I certainly got what I wished for over the last two years, so who knows – maybe there really is some Christmas magic floating around.

I hope you enjoy this recipe.  Please let me know if you give it a try, or leave me a comment with your own family traditions.

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