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Plum Pudding

The longer it sets, the better it gets...that's why now's the time to start putting together the ingredients because as we all know, it'll be Christmas before we know it.

Sometimes it's called Christmas Pudding, but Plum Pudding has neither plums nor is it the type of food generally thought of as a pudding, at least not by the folks that make Jello Pudding! Plum Pudding is the essence of Christmas in Ireland and no one can ever make it like one's own dear mother, but here's a recipe that's a little bit Carlow and a little bit Donegal with some Dublin thrown in for good measure.

Plum Pudding

1 cup white flour
4 teaspoon cinnamon
2 teaspoons allspice
2 teaspoons nutmeg
1 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon dried ginger powder
4 ounces chopped slivered almond pieces
1 grated apple
1 pound light brown sugar
1 medium carrot, grated (this optional ingredient probably crept into the recipe during WWII when fruits was in short supply)
Rind and juice of an orange and a lemon
3 pounds raisins, use some currants, some yellow, some sultanas. The more variety in fruits, the better the pudding.
8 ounces candied cherries or natural dried cherries
24 ounces bread crumbs
12 ounces candied peel (candied pineapple chunks, citron, mixed peel)
10 eggs beaten
1 pint of Guinness
5 tablespoons of hard liquor
1 pound butter or finely minced suet if preferred

Mix all the dry ingredients in a large bowl. Rub the raisins and other fruits with the flour and spices. The flour adheres to the stickiness of the fruits and gives the pud a nice even texture. Cut the butter into fine pieces and mix well with the dry ingredients. In a separate bowl mix the liquid ingredients, starting with the eggs. When the liquids have been well stirred, add them to the bowl with the dry ingredients. Mix all together very well. The batter should be a bit loose, a little thicker than a cake mix. If itís dry like bread dough, add more Guinness.
My mother would grease big squares of unbleached muslin and pour the puddings into them, tying off the top with string to make a bag of the muslin. (Always three puddings: one for Christmas, one that she gave away, and one for New Year's dinner.) They were steamed in a large pot, filled halfway with water and kept on the lowest boil for a minimum of twelve hours. In these modern times, heat-proof bowls are an acceptable substitute for the cloth bag method...and much easier. Line the bowl with parchment paper, fill with the mixture to within an inch of the top of the bowl. Cover the batter with parchment paper and use a lid for steaming. Sealing the top of the bowl with aluminum foil will work if there is no self-lid for the bowl.
I use the slow cooker for this and it works very well. Depending on the size of the bowls used, you may get about three puddings from this recipe. I triple it and get at least a dozen quart-sized puddings. (Big family!)

When the pudding has cooled, remove it from the bowl, dribble brandy (or any other whiskey-type stuff) over the top of it, letting as much sink in as possible. Seal the pudding in plastic wrap and then in aluminum foil. (Donít let the aluminum touch the pudding as there is a reaction that dulls the foil and I suspect this is not good for the pud or the people eating it.)

Let it sit for as long as possible before serving. Three or four months is not too long. Occasionally dribble the pudding with a shot of the spirit of your choice: brandy, whiskey, bourbon, etc.

Traditionally, the pudding was steamed again for an hour before serving. There are two possible methods: Remove the wrapping, return the pudding to the original bowl, and steam again for an hour. Turn it out on a heat-proof serving plate and proceed to the lighting process that follows the brandy butter recipe---or---unwrap the pudding, place it on the serving platter, and microwave for 10 minutes at 50 percent power. The microwave method, though obviously not traditional, works exceptionally well, and has become traditional in my family!

Brandy Butter (Hard Sauce)

1 cup butter, softened
1 cup confectioner's sugar
1/2 cup brandy (or whiskey, Irish or otherwise)

Soften butter. Beat the butter with an electric mixer until itís fluffy. Slowly add an equal amount or more of confectionerís sugar. You will see that the mixture changes texture. Slowly add the brandy after this textural change in the sugar/butter blend. Beat further until the mixture becomes light and fluffy. Spoon the brandy butter into serving dishes and chill until firm. When turning the mixture into the serving dish, finish off the top by swirling it into a circular pattern with the bottom of the spoon for a decorative effect.

Garnish everything with Holly in berry if you have it.

To light the plum pudding, pour a generous cup of Christian Brothers Brandy (none other!) on top. Thereíll be a little puddle on the plate. That should light pretty easily and the blue flames will creep up the sides.

Douse the lights in the dining room to bring in the pudding to the acclaim of all at the table. Donít be disappointed if the flame is out quickly. Thatís how it goes.

I have no idea, or wish to know the carb count of this wonderful traditional food. Save one pudding for New Yearís Day dinner if you can. Leftover pudding is generally fried in a little butter in a cast-iron pan the next day. Microwaving works just fine too, but will not please any Luddites at the table.

And if a big presentation is part of the fun, Waterford Crystal has the perfect platter in the "12 Days of Christmas Collection." (Look around, when you visit the Waterford site; there *are* selections for paupers as well...I find wonderful gifts in the "Specials & Values" link at Waterford.) Click on photo.

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