Plum Pudding

plumpuddingthumb.JPGPlum Pudding is an ancient recipe, steeped in tradition and history - here's how we made ours.

The Star Ingredient

prunes10.JPGIt all started here. Back in the summertime, I picked loads of wild plums and dried some of them to make my own prunes. (See this page for details).

I packed the prunes into a jar and immersed them in a syrup made from brandy and vanilla sugar - they've been waiting several months for this moment - the moment when I use them as the star ingredient in my Christmas Plum Pudding

Oddly, many traditional plum pudding recipes contain no plums or prunes at all (although they may taste as if they do, because many different fruits are quite similar when dried). Mine will contain plums.

Plum Pudding

Plum Pudding is a dish that originates way back in the days before refrigeration, before chemical preservatives, and before there was any kind of clear distinction between sweet and savoury dishes.

The only trace of that remaining in this recipe is the beef suet (this is basically unrefined beef fat mixed with a little wheat flour and processed into loose granules), but other recipes used to combine meat, fruit and grain with complete abandon.

Mixing ingredients in this way was a method of preservation - the sugary dried fruits and the spices would help to keep the meat from spoiling in unrefrigerated storage - cooking it all together for a long time in dish sealed while piping hot probably helped a lot too.

The Recipe

The recipe is not complex in the making, but calls for a quite surprisingly long list of ingredients. I've taken a traditional recipe that would have yielded a monstrous 5 pound pudding and scaled it back a bit. I've also tweaked the ingredient list a little, just to stamp my own mark on it.

Ingredients:

  • 150g Prunes, drained
  • 75g seedless raisins
  • 75g sultanas
  • 75g chopped pitted dates
  • 75g dried mixed peel
  • 75g grated carrots
  • 75g apple, peeled and finely chopped
  • 75g shredded beef suet
  • 150g white breadcrumbs
  • 75g self-raising flour
  • 50g caster sugar
  • 25g black treacle
  • 1 egg
  • 100ml stout
  • juice and grated zest from half a lemon
  • half a teaspoon ground mixed spices (nutmeg, mace, cloves, cinnamon)
  • pinch of salt
  • half a teaspoon baking powder
  • (unspecified amount) milk - for mixing

Method:

The non-liquid ingredients are to be piled together in a large bowl, mixed thoroughly (each family member taking a turn - see below), then the stout and egg is added, along with enough milk to turn it to a soft doughy consistency

The mixture is pressed down into a suitable pudding basin (leaving room for it to rise), covered with a circle of greaseproof paper, on top of which is placed a layer of dry flour and another circle of greaseproof paper.

The top of the basin is then covered with foil or a pudding cloth, tied around with string and then steamed for six hours in a bain-marie - I intend to do this in the slow-cooker, as it would be enormously energy-intensive otherwise.

The cooked pudding can then be stored in a cool place until Christmas day - steaming it again for a couple of hours before serving with thick custard and/or cream.

That seems like a tremendous amount of cooking, but let's see how it goes.

Stir-Up Sunday

I'm going to be making my plum pudding on Stir-Up Sunday - the last Sunday before Advent in the Christian calendar. So named because the traditional collect for the day is:

"Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people; that they, plenteously bringing forth the fruit of good works, may of thee be plenteously rewarded; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen."

...However, somewhere along the way - and in somewhat charming fashion - it became the norm to mark the occasion by making the Christmas pudding - with each family member adding (or bringing forth) fruit and taking a turn in the stirring up - each making a wish or saying a prayer whilst doing so.

Stir-Up Sunday 2008 falls on 30th November.

plumpudding1.JPGThe eagerly-awaited day arrived. I assembled all of the ingredients on the dining room table - quite an impressive array!

plumpudding2.JPGWe added each ingredient to the bowl in turn, including the prunes, coarsely diced to make them mix in evenly.

plumpudding3.JPGThen we all took a turn at stirring, and all made our wishes (in secret of course).

plumpudding4.JPGA slight miscalculation with the amounts of ingredients left us with not quite enough mixture for our largest pudding basin, but too much for the next size down.

No matter though - the mixture was divided into medium and small-sized bowls - so we'll have two puddings - one for Christmas day and another one later on.

plumpudding5.JPGI covered the bowls with foil, then tightly tied on a piece of cloth.

I'm not sure both of these were strictly necessary, however, I didn't want the tension of the string to split the foil, and I didn't want the foil to be loose enough to allow steam inside to condense.

plumpudding6.JPGThe larger pudding spent six hours in a bath of simmering water in the slow-cooker.

(Unfortunately, there wasn't enough room in there for both basins at once)

plumpudding7.JPGA quick check after cooking and all appears to be well - the mixture has cooked through to a soft, dark pudding that smells just great.

I probably shouldn't have uncovered it at all, but I couldn't resist taking a peek. Anyway, I used this as an opportunity to prick the pudding with a skewer and feed it with a couple of tablespoons of the left over brandy syrup in which the prunes had been stored.

The Proof Of the Pudding

7th December - and I just can't resist. I heated and served the smaller of my two plum puddings for dessert after Sunday lunch. Served with thick vanilla custard.

plumpudding8.JPG

It was so moist and soft that it didn't turn out of the bowl in one piece, but it was delicious - the taste of my home-dried prunes was a tiny bit lost in the mix, but with a little thought in the savouring, the flavour could be picked out.

But a dish like this is more about the blend than the components anyway - and I'm really happy with it. I'm licking my lips, looking forward to eating the big one on Christmas day now...

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