As I stir the Christmas pudding mix, I make a wish, as do each of us in turn. We are gathered in the stunning Jacobean Hall of a former medieval coaching inn now a luxury hotel, The Spread Eagle in Midhurst, West Sussex. It’s the Sunday before Advent Sunday and throughout England, Christmas puddings are being made, traditionally with all the family taking it in turn to stir the pudding and make a wish. The day is commonly called Stir-up Sunday, after the opening words of the main prayer said in Anglican Churches on this day, which says:
“Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people…”
Christmas in England would not be Christmas without a traditional Christmas pudding. You’ll find the recipe at the end of this post, but first I’d like to tell you more about the history of this delicious sweet treat. Alternatively, if you fancy making one that’s a little different than the norm, check out this Orange Chocolate Christmas Pudding recipe.
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A brief history of the Christmas pudding
The origins of the Christmas pudding date from medieval times. The late autumn was traditionally the time when weak animals were slaughtered. Continuing to feed them was an unnecessary expense as they were unlikely to survive the harsh winter. The glut of meat that this produced needed preserving, so the meat was diced and mixed with sweet, dried autumn fruits and spices and encased in pastry. This is thought to be the origin of both the Christmas pudding and another traditional Christmas treat in England, mince pies.
It was originally called frumenty or plum pottage, was cooked in beer rather than water (as the beer was safer to drink) and had a soup-like consistency.
In around the year 1600, people started adding breadcrumbs, dried fruit and spirits. By the middle of that century it had become established as a Christmas tradition.
Did you know? In 1664 Oliver Cromwell banned Christmas puddings because they were unfitting for God-fearing people. They returned as a Christmas tradition some 50 years later, thanks to King George I.
Over the years, the ingredients developed further but it was not until 1845 that Eliza Acton, in the East Sussex village of Battle, wrote down the first Christmas pudding recipe as we know it today.
Stir-up Sunday at The Spread Eagle
Meanwhile at The Spread Eagle, a Christmas tradition of their own developed, which dates back well over one hundred years. Each Christmas Eve every guest at the hotel is given a homemade Christmas pudding. They can either take it home or have it tied to the ceiling in the hotel’s restaurant. The puddings stay there until the guests return the following Christmas, during which their pudding is cooked for them. Unclaimed Christmas puddings remain tied up to the ceiling year-round.
Having been invited to join Group Executive Head Chef and Roux Scholar Martin Hadden , at The Spread Eagle in Middleton, West Sussex, for their annual Stir-up Sunday, I was more than happy to oblige!
The Spread Eagle is one of three privately owned luxury hotels, Historic Sussex Hotels. While I had recently spent a wonderful day at the spa at Bailiffscourt Hotel, I had never visited The Spread Eagle, an exceptional hotel and one of England’s oldest coaching inns.
We had a fabulous afternoon making our puddings and building up our appetites, before indulging in a very decadent afternoon tea. It was wonderful to see how much everyone enjoyed it. One family included three generations all making their Christmas puddings together. I came home with my Christmas pudding, which is steaming away as I write this, but I’m going to have to wait until Christmas Day before I can taste it.
Below: afternoon tea and the Spread Eagle, Midhurst, Sussex, England
How to make the perfect Christmas pudding
Lunch on Christmas Day is the most important meal of the year in England and as every Christmas host knows, it’s important to all that everything is cooked to perfection. A turkey, parsnips and potatoes are roasted and traditionally served with sprouts, carrots, stuffing, cranberry jelly and pork sausages wrapped in bacon. For dessert it MUST be Christmas pudding served with brandy butter and cream.
And don’t forget the crackers, another Christmas essential. The crackers are pulled open at the start of the meal and traditionally contain a bad joke, paper hat and some sort of small (usually pointless) gift! They’re an expensive bit of nonsense but one year we didn’t have them, and it just didn’t feel like Christmas.
- 500 g raisins
- 250 g sultanas
- 250 g currants
- 250 g dark brown sugar
- 250 g breadcrumbs
- 70 g flour
- 250 g suet
- 125 g ground almonds
- 125 g candied citrus peel
- 125 g glace cherries
- 125 g glace apricots
- 2 lemons zest only
- 1 orange zest only
- 2 tsp mixed spice
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- 4 eggs
- 125 g apple
- 2 tbsp black treacle
- 100 ml brandy
- 100 ml ginger wine
To prepare the Christmas pudding
- In a large bowl mix the raisins, sultanas, currants and dark brown sugar.
- Add the breadcrumbs, flour, suet and ground almonds. Mix thoroughly.
- Add the peel, cherries and apricots. Mix thoroughly.
- Add the zest, mixed spice and cinnamon. Keep mixing.
- Grate the unpeeled apple into the bowl.
- Add the eggs. Mix thoroughly. You’ll start to feel the mixture firming up, making it harder to stir.
- Lastly, stir in the treacle, brandy and ginger wine, making sure that everything is thoroughly mixed in.
- Cover the bowl and leave in a fridge for 24 hours to let the flavours infuse.
- Transfer the mixture into pudding bowls and pat down with the back of a spoon. Make sure to leave a gap at the top of the bowl.
- Cover with a disc of greaseproof paper and tightly wrap the bowl in cling film.
To steam the pudding
- Leaving the greaseproof paper over the pudding, cover the top in foil but allow space for the pudding to rise. Tie the foil in place with string.
- Boil a large pan of water. Use a small upturned saucer at the bottom of your pan to protect your pudding bowl from the intense heat (which may cause your basin to crack).
- Wrap the pudding in muslin cloth so that the ends of the cloth can be used to pick up the pudding (or add a string handle).
- Stand the pudding in the water, making sure the water comes half way up the bowl but no higher.
- Steam for the required time, topping up the water as necessary. Resist lifting the lid of the steaming pan for the first 30 minutes as the drop in temperature could cause the pudding to collapse.
- Leave to cool then store in a cool, dry place until Christmas Day.
To reheat the pudding for serving
- Steam for a further 1 and a half to 2 hours.
- Lay the table with brandy butter, cream, custard and/or vanilla ice cream.
- Dim the lights.
- Make a small indent in the top of the pudding.
- Fill it with brandy, letting some run down the side of the pudding.
- Light the brandy and carry the pudding to the table.
My stay at The Spread Eagle and the Stir-up Sunday experience were complimentary for review purposes. As always, I retain the right to publish whatever I like and will always share with you my honest opinion.
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