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This week I’m eating: a different kind of seasonal food

Family recipes are usually more heavily classified than spy plane prototypes, but I’ve never understood the point of having a really, really good recipe and not sharing it. So, instead of my regular This Week I’m Eating column, I’m giving you my grandmother’s grandmother’s Christmas pudding.

This recipe is fairly forgiving, but if you really want to experience it in its full glory, make it about two months before Christmas so the flavours have time to settle and develop. You won’t regret it. I’m making mine as I write this.

I have tinkered with the original recipe slightly, for starters it was in pounds, which is a touch irritating, so I’ve converted everything to grams. I’ve also halved the quantities because the original recipe makes more pudding than anyone could possibly need (unless you have a really big family I suppose, in which case feel free to double the quantities and make the full recipe). This fits exactly into a standard 2L/8 cup capacity pudding steamer. And as the original recipe is pretty idiosyncratic and a bit light on for detail, I’ve tried to expand on it to give you a little more explanation.

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Otherwise, this recipe is very traditional and it does mean that it contains suet, which is the dense fat around the kidneys of cows. If you’re a vegetarian you’ll definitely want to use some sort of vegetable shortening like Copha instead.

For everyone else who doesn’t have ethical, religious or dietary restrictions preventing them from eating animal fats, I really recommend you go to the effort of sourcing some suet. You can buy it from butchers: I get mine from Cannings in Hawthorn, they sell it frozen and grated in 500g bags. I’ve also bought it from Kirkpatrick’s at the South Melbourne Market.

And trust me, for the love of god, if it isn’t grated get your butcher to grate it for you. Trying to do this yourself gets you bloody fingers, less suet than you banked on having, and a persistent film of grease that will take weeks to satisfactorily remove from your kitchen.

Another thing to note is that this pudding is very fruity, it definitely has a higher fruit to cake ratio than you might be used to. Just be aware it’s meant to look that way.

You can either boil the pudding in a cloth or steam it in a pudding steamer. The steamer takes longer, but in my opinion it’s easier. If you go the cloth route just be aware that you’ll need to have somewhere to hang it.

Make sure you have a pot big enough to boil the pudding in *before* you start the recipe. And I strongly urge you to start in the morning. I never do, and I’m always waiting up for it to finish cooking.

Finally, feel free to experiment with the spices. The original recipe stipulated that this was very much a matter of personal taste for the cook.

Granny Wilson’s Christmas Pudding 

As interpreted by me.

  • 250g raisins
  • 250g currants
  • 125g sultanas
  • 125g mixed peel
  • 1 cinnamon quill
  • 2 star anise
  • 1 – 1 1/2 cups brandy
  • 65g blanched, flaked almonds
  • 250g brown sugar
  • 250g plain flour
  • 65g breadcrumbs
  • 185g beef suet, grated
  • 2 tbsp mixed spice
  • grated rind of 1 lemon
  • pinch of salt
  • 3 eggs
  • 150ml milk

Mixed spice:

  • 4 cardamom pods
  • 1/2 tsp coriander seed
  • 1/2 tsp cloves
  • 2 tsp allspice
  • 2 tsp ginger
  • 2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tbsp ground nutmeg

This is a two day (at least) process. On the first day, combine the raisins, currants, sultanas and mixed peel in a large bowl. Chuck in a cinnamon stick and the star anise. With the brandy, I suggest you start with one cup and just add more until it feels right. Give the boozefruit mix a good stir, cover it with glad wrap and leave it in the fridge for 24 hours.

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If you’re using a good quality pre-packaged mixed spice (the Herbie’s mixed spice is good) then you don’t have to worry about this bit, but if you’re making your own do this before you start making the pudding proper. I’ve provided you with the ingredients for my mixed spice; just crush all the whole spices and then stir in ground cinnamon and nutmeg. I find it’s not really worth crushing a cinnamon stick and grating a tablespoon’s worth of nutmeg here, which is why I recommend ground spices.

On the next day, drain the excess brandy from the fruit and put it aside (we’re going to put it back in later).

To the fruit add the almonds, brown sugar, flour, breadcrumbs, suet, lemon rind, salt and mixed spice. Stir. In a jug or something, beat the eggs, milk, and excess brandy together. Add this to the fruit mix and stir well until everything is combined.

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It is customary at this point to get every member of the family to stir the pudding for luck.

Prepare a pudding steamer by laying a sheet of baking paper on top of a sheet of foil. Put a 5cm fold down the middle – this gives the pudding room to breathe. Line the pudding steamer, baking paper side touching the pudding, and spoon in the pudding mix. Give it a shake to settle everything. Fold another sheet of foil and baking paper and put it on top of the pudding, and then put the lid on the steamer. Trim away excess foil and baking paper.

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Get a big stock pot that will accommodate the pudding steamer. Place a small plate in the bottom of the pot, place the steamer on that, and then add boiling water to come half-way up the side of the steamer.

Simmer for six hours. You’ll need to add more water periodically.

When it’s done steaming (you can check it’s done with a skewer), pull it out of the steamer to cool completely while you change the foil and baking paper. Take the time to admire your work. Place the pudding back in the steamer with its fresh foil and paper and bung it into the back of the fridge until Christmas.

On the day you want to serve it, boil it up in the same way for 1 1/2 – 2 hours. Serve hot, with creme anglaise or bechamel or double cream. Or even all three.

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Alternate cooking method: If steaming’s not your thing you can always boil the pudding in cloth; unbleached calico is the usual choice.

First place the cloth in some boiling water for a minute and then (wearing gloves!) wring it out and spread it on the bench. Sprinkle it with a substantial amount of flour; this forms a skin on the pudding which is quite essential. Spoon your pudding mix into the centre of the cloth and gather up the cloth, shaping the whole thing into a ball as best you can. Tie it up with string.

Place a plate on the bottom of your pot of boiling water and lower the pudding in. It usually takes less time to boil the pudding this way than it does to steam it in a pudding steamer, so give it at least four hours and probably no more than six.

Take it out of the water and string it up immediately. It needs to hang freely, and if it’s cooked properly the cloth will start drying out pretty quickly. When it’s completely dry you can change the cloth and put it in a container in the fridge until you need it. Traditionally you’d leave it hanging in cloth, but as an Australian Christmas is significantly warmer than a European one this could result in mould growing on the pudding. All your hard work would be wasted.

Boil for 1 1/2 – 2 hours on the day you use it and leave it to stand for a while. Serve as above.

 

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