Twenty-five days to go! To Christmas that is, and only twenty five days left to get everything done: There's the front room to decorate, the Christmas tree to put up, the extra bits of shopping to see to, the Christmas presents to buy and wrap, the cards to write and send (yes, I am one of the few remaining mortals who still believes in sending cards) and most important of all, the Christmas puddings to cook!
Forty years ago, as a young ambitious housewife, I asked my mum for a copy of her recipe for her Christmas Pudding, a pudding we had loved and enjoyed all the years of our lives and one which seemed to have become a very important ingredient for a perfect Christmas. The first few attempts were a bit shaky, but I have now used that same recipe for 40 years, year in year out, only changing the method of preparation somewhere along the way.
I only failed to produce my puddings once in 40 years, in the year 2006 to be exact, as I was spending Christmas away from Malta. I was not allowed to have a rest from pudding making though as my daughter, an adult in her own right at the time, complained so much and so repeatedly that I ended up making her a Christmas pudding for her birthday in April! Whoever heard of Christmas puddings in April?
Preparing and cooking these puddings is a long and weary process; yet it is also a loving ritual. Every year, hopes and dreams seem to get mixed into the pot and a load of anticipation develops as to whether the family will enjoy this year's puddings as much as the previous years.
Anyone who has ever made his or her own puddings knows what a lengthy and time-consuming business it is. Preparing just one pudding is a real job, so can you imagine the time and effort needed to make six or seven? Why six or seven you may ask? Well, one goes to my son, another to my daughter, the largest one is opened at the end of our Christmas lunch, one is kept to give all the friends who drop in a taste and the other two or three, (smaller ones) I give away to two or three very special people! Believe me, they all go! Christmas would not be the same without them.
We tend to keep our Christmas lunch on the lighter side to make sure we all make it to the last course! The moment before we all sit down to our meal, the pudding goes onto the fire, very low, to heat up. This way, by the end of the meal, it is perfect to dish out. We tend to have our pudding with hot custard on top and as there are grandchildren around nowadays, we are lighting it up again – a custom we had stopped when the kids had grown up.
Needless to say, every time we dish out our Christmas pudding, we think of my mum who is no longer with us and we fondly remember particular episodes which included her. Thank-you mum, for giving my family a yearly treat. Your recipe will pass on to my children and eventually, one day, to theirs too.
Anyone visiting my home, three or four days before Christmas, is greeted by the heavenly smell of cooking puddings. The smell invades the whole house and there is nothing quite like it. Depending on the direction of the wind on those steaming days, the puddings can often be smelt even from outside the house!
So for all of you who are interested, I am including my mum's recipe in this article. Many of you may say that this is practically the same recipe as the one you use. Probably! It is a recipe which dates back to the 1950s and the difference with this recipe is the method used in the preparation of the puddings. So here goes:
8 ozs currants
8ozs mixed fruit
6 (local) tangerines
4 (local) oranges
4 ozs breadcrumbs
8 ozs brown sugar
8 ozs plain flour
8 ozs margarine
Half a teaspoon grated nutmeg
Half a teaspoon mixed spice
3 ozs chopped almonds
1 bottle of stout
1 cup of rum
half a cup of brandy
5 tablespoons of treacle
Until a few years ago, the recipe specified suet instead of margarine. I substituted the suet and the margarine works as well if not better than the suet. No more white bits in the pudding with margarine.
I honestly believe that the secret ingredient for an excellent pudding is the method I have been using for many years in the preparation stage.
- All the fruit goes into a big pot, preferably one that has its own lid and to the mixture I add the contents of the bottle of stout, the rum and the brandy and the juice of the tangerines, oranges and lemon.
- The finely-chopped peel of the tangerines and the lemon go into the mixture too. (The orange peel I tend to leave out.)
- The fruit and peel remain soaking in these juices for three whole weeks and this is the secret ingredient. Every bit of fruit absorbs the alcohol and juice, giving the end product its amazing flavour.
- I place a wet cloth napkin over the pot and cover this again with the pot's lid to keep the fumes from escaping; the napkin needs to be wet every day.
- During the three weeks of soaking, I mix the whole concoction every 2-3 days.
- Four days before Christmas, I begin steaming my puddings; each pudding requires 6 hours of cooking time.
So, as the famous cartoon says, that's all folks! So roll on Christmas! I am actually looking forward to the later part of this morning when the process begins. So get your bowls ready, get all the necessary fruits and bits together. Happy cooking! Happy Eating and Happy Christmas! We miss you mum!