Saturday, November 29

Puddings and Preparations

The Yuletide season is upon us--indeed, it officially begins this weekend with the early Advent celebrations of Stirring Day and St. Andrew's Vigil.

Stirring Day or Stir-Up Sunday, as it is sometimes called, is either the first Sunday of Advent or the weekend prior--usually falling on the Sunday after our American Thanksgiving. A holiday borrowed from the Victorians, it provides a wonderful way to make the transition into the Yuletide season. On this day mothers and grandmothers traditionally gather their whole family into the kitchen, assign various chopping, stirring, measuring, and clean-up tasks as they bake the venerable Christmas plum pudding together. Then, with the pudding baked and ageing nicely in a cool, dark spot, they relax with the feeling of satisfaction that although the busy holiday season is soon to be upon them, at least some of the preparation for Christmas Dinner was completed. The Advent preparation had begun.

Numbered among the Apostles, the brother of Simon Peter eventually became the revered patron of both Greece and Scotland where his feast day, November 30, remains a kind of national holiday. Andrew (c. 10-60) may well have been, as tradition asserts, the founder of the church at the site of Constantinople, but he was most assuredly the great reconciler, as Scripture asserts. As a result, his memory is celebrated by a vigil of forgiveness. Services of reconciliation are often followed by a great feast of roasted or smoked beef, the telling of heroic tales, the reciting epic poetry, and the singing of great ballads. It too is the very begging of a month-long Advent preparation for a celebration of the incarnation at Christmas.

Plum Pudding

There is nothing more delightful than the tradition of making a genuine plum pudding for Christmas dinner. But it has to be made nearly a month ahead of time. The ingredients you'll need include:

2 cups of currants, coarsley chopped
2 cups craisins (dried cranberries) or raisins coarsley chopped
half cup blanched almonds, chopped
1 teaspoon grated nutmeg
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon allspice
1 cup all purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 pound shortening
1 and one-third cup brown sugar
8 eggs, beaten (yes, you really need 8 eggs)
12 ounces fresh, fine brown bread crumbs

half cup cooking brandy (don't worry, all the alcohol burns off, but the taste is marvelous)
half cup cooking sherry (ditto)
half cup milk

OK. Now, here is how to whip this into a Christmas delight:

In a large bowl, mix the chopped currants, craisins, and almonds with the spices. (You may add chopped candied fruits to taste at this point.) Add the flour, salt, and chopped almonds and mix well. Work in the breadcrumbs, shortening, and brown sugar until thoroughly mixed together.

In a separate bowl, beat the eggs, then add to pudding mixture. Add the brandy, sherry, and milk, stirring until thoroughly mixed. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

In the morning, pour the mixture into one very large or two small well buttered pudding basins, cover with greased wax paper and cloth, and secure cloth with rubber band or twine. Set the basin in a large open roasting pan filled about _ way up the sides of the basin with boiling water. Steam the pudding in this way, adding hot water as necessary, for eight hours.

Remove the wet cloths and cover the pudding with fresh greased paper and cloths, secured with rubber bands or twine. Store in a cool, dark place such as the refrigerator for at least three to four weeks.

Then on Christmas morning, steam the pudding and additional two hours. Unmold and serve with brandy butter. What's brandy butter, you ask? Well, here are the ingredients and intructions:

half cup unsalted butter, softened
1 cup confectioner’s sugar
half cup brandy

In a medium bowl, beat the butter until creamy. Gradually beat in the confectioner’s sugar until fluffy. Add the brandy and mix thoroughly. Dribble this concoction on each serving of the Christmas pudding and I guarantee there will be no Scrooges around your table! Yumm!

Chesterton and Christmas Pudding

G.K. Chesterton loved Christmas--including his traditional Christmas plum pudding--with a passion. He had a lot to say about the subject, particularly when humbugs tried to steal away his joy for one reason or another. Thus, he wrote:

"Christmas and health are commonly in some antagonism, and I, for one, am heartily on the side of Christmas. Glancing down a newspaper column I see the following alarming sentence: ‘The Lancet adds a frightful corollary that the only way to eat Christmas pudding with perfect impunity is to eat it alone.’ At first the meaning of this sentence deceived me. I thought it meant that the eater of Christmas pudding must be in a state of sacred isolation like an anchorite at prayer. I thought it meant that the presence of one’s fellow creatures in some way disturbed the subtle nervous and digestive process through which Christmas pudding was beneficent. It sounded rather mad and wicked, certainly; but not madder or more wicked than many other things that I have read in scientific journals. But on rereading the passage, I see that my first impression did the Lancet an injustice. The sentence really means that when one eats a Christmas pudding one should eat nothing but Christmas pudding. ‘It is,’ says the Lancet, ‘a complete meal in itself.’ This is, I should say, a question of natural capacity, not to say of cubic capacity. I know a kind of person who would find one Christmas pudding a complete meal in itself, and even a little over. For my own part, I should say that three or perhaps four, Christmas puddings might be said to constitute a complete meal in themselves. But in any case, this sudden conversion of science to plum pudding is a fine example of the fickleness of the human intellect and the steadiness of the human appetite. Scientific theories change, but the plum pudding remains the same, century after century (I do not mean the individual pudding of course, but the type), a permanent monument of human mysticism and human mirth."

Amen, and amen!

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