In the old days, and even today in many families, there are a lot of lore and customs attached to the making of Christmas Pudding. Every member of the household had a hand in preparing this time honored and much looked forward to holiday dessert. One custom was to let each member of the family stir the pudding as it was being mixed. A wooden spoon, to represent the Christ child’s cradle, was used. The pudding had to be stirred from east to west, to represent the three Wise Men. To make a wish, the pudding was to be stirred clockwise, with eyes closed.
Christmas Pudding is traditionally made on the Sunday before Advent. This was called "Stir-Up Sunday", which came from the old customs in England and is still commonly referred to by that name in the United Kingdom. There is a prayer from The Collect of the Church of England that refers to this particular Sunday:
"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."
Christmas Pudding - Traditional Recipe and Method
Recipe will make one two pound pudding. It can be divided into two 1 pound puddings. A one pound Christmas Pudding makes a lovely hostess gift when overwrapped in white tissue paper and a red bow with a holly sprig tied in it.
7 ounces Currants, washed (dried Black Corinth grapes, which are smaller than raisins)
7 ounces Sultanas, washed (Thompson seedless grapes)
7 ounces Raisins, chopped
3 1/2 ounces Mixed Peel (chopped orange and lemon peel)
7 ounces bread crumbs
7 ounces Demerara sugar (from the Demerara colony in Guyana, this is a little lighter in color than brown sugar and has larger crystals, it is drier than brown sugar and not as processed as white sugar, so is a healthier alternative to white sugar)
7 ounces suet, shredded
3 1/2 ounces Almonds, blanched
7 ounces flour (white all-purpose)
1 teaspoon each ground nutmeg, ground cinnamon, and mixed spiced (Allspice)
1/2 pint stale beer or stout ale
Juice from one lemon and the finely grated rind
Blanch the almonds by placing them in a small mixing bowl and pouring boiling water over them. Let stand while you measure into a large mixing bowl the currants, sultanas, raisins and peel with a large wooden spoon. Fold in the breadcrumbs, sugar, suet and lemon rind. Remove skins from almonds. Finely chop almonds and add to the fruit mix.
Sift dry ingredients together into a small bowl. In another bowl, beat the eggs then add the lemon juice and beer. Combine dry ingredients and egg mixture with the fruit mixture. Mix till all is well blended, cover and leave overnight, (remember, this is the very old method, before refrigeration -- it could be refrigerated overnight).
On the following day, remove mixture from refrigerator. Grease a deep, round basin (stainless steel pan with no handle, or use a crock) with melted fat and place the pudding mixture in the basin. Grease a piece of greaseproof paper (wax paper), and cover basin with it, tying firmly around the basin rim.
Place basin in larger pot of water. Water level should reach only half way up the basin, or less. Gently steam the pudding for eight hours, checking water level often. The one pound pudding should be steamed for six hours.
Remove pudding from steamer pot and set on a rack, still in the basin, till cool. When cool, remove paper, remove pudding from basin, and wrap in cheesecloth. Store in a cool, dry place till Christmas Day.
Before serving, reheat pudding by steaming for two hours. Unwrap pudding and place on serving platter. Pour about 1/2 cup of warm brandy over pudding and light -- this is safer to do when the pudding has been set on the table first. When brandy has burned off, serve the pudding with a sprig of holly on each individual dessert plate.
There is much guess work on just how the pudding was stored till Christmas Day. Before refrigeration, the pudding was stored in a cool dry place. A lot of care had to be taken to make sure no mold developed and no bacteria or pests got into the pudding. There are several theories as to how the pudding was kept for so long. One theory is that an alcohol soaked cheesecloth was wrapped around the pudding, then the pudding placed in a crock with a tight fitting lid. It would probably be checked every few days or so to see if a touch more alcohol should be added. Since alcohol is a preservative, this could very possibly work. Another theory is that the pudding was wrapped tightly in a few layers of cheesecloth, tied tightly where the cloth was gathered together at the top, then hung up to dry where air could circulate around it.
Today, with refrigeration, the pudding can be wrapped well with cheesecloth and hung to dry for a few days, then refrigerated.