The Christmas Plum Pudding!
My childhood Christmas meant many things we called traditions after the fact. We would make our own decorations. Once, my mother made us string popcorn and cranberries because that’s what she did when she was young. Have you tried that? It’s torture. She told us when she was young her father would search high and low to bring each of the four children an orange. This was, in those times, quite exotic and a big expense. The orange would go in their stocking along with a couple of pennies. Here’s me thinking those stockings were lethal weapons between siblings. The lesson was we were to be happy with what we got and we were! Our parents tended to indulge us at Christmas.
Each year until 1968, we went to the Christmas tree lot and picked a tree. In 1968, the tree dried out so fast we couldn’t turn the lights on for fear of fire. From that time onward, we had a fake tree, a scotch pine, the long-needle variety, so tall we had to use a ladder to put the star on top. This was before they came prelit, too. Once the new tree came out of its box, it would never fit in again. Taking it from the attic would put my dad in his recliner the rest of the day. My mother would spray fake snow on the windows and make us clean it off in January. Fun times. In 1974, it was over eighty degrees outside, but hey – tradition – the fire was lit in the fireplace.
I think we must be looking forward to Christmas in this photo.
We listened to holiday music all day from my father’s vinyl collection. A small sampling included Mormon Tabernacle Choir, Tennessee Earnie Ford, and even The Chipmunks Sing Christmas songs. Each year, we had a Christmas open house for all the neighbors, the people from church and my father’s office staff. All of the things we did and looked forward to led up to the biggest tradition of all…my mother’s Christmas plum pudding, which was not a pudding and there were no plums. She always reminded us how it came from her mother’s old recipe from Scotland.
Every year, she would tweek it and declare it better than the one the year before. To be honest, I never cared for it and every year, I couldn’t tell you any different. It didn’t have a lot of flavor except for being sugary sweet with a hint of fruit cake. I have no idea if back then she got the suet at the store. It’s hard to find gradeA suet not full of birdseed, so I made my own.
At the grocery store, the butcher looked at me askance. Apparently, he isn’t asked for suet very often. He gave me a pound of fresh beef fat for free. I put it through the meat grinder at home and then boiled it in water for thirty minutes. After a night in the refrigerator, a pure, white layer of fat rose to the top. I seperated it from the rest and I had about a cup of suet.
In years previous to 2022 I might have attempted to create my mother’s recipe as it’s written despite that no one ever liked it. This year there has been a seismic shift in the price of everything. The candied fruit has always been what I would consider expensive, but this year it was catastrophically expensive. What had been two dollars for a small plastic container of candied cherries was now seven dollars or more. I get that in previous centuries this may have been the special Christmas pudding because of the trouble and expense of the candied fruits (in all likelihood, handmade ahead of time) and the mincemeat. My mother loved mincemeat, I could never stomach it. When I was young and couldn’t read, I always assumed mincemeat was made with meat. I was wrong. It’s some sort of combination of raisins, currants, and possibly dates (which remind me of giant cockroaches). It’s still a ‘no’ from me.
I’ve threatened to make my mother’s Christmas special many times and this year has been no exception. However, instead of my mother’s recipe, I broke with tradition and went with a recipe out of the Joy of Cooking cookbook, even eliminating some of the fruit from it because I only had a small pot to steam it in.
I also determined to use my instapot to steam it in. I had never done that before. My mother would steam hers in a small tin, wrapped in foil and inserted into a huge pot with water at the bottom, and set on low for three hours or all day or all night depending on what tweek she was using that year.
My recipe, with changes:
Bring to boil in a large saucepan: 2 cups of currants (I used Zante currants, which you can find in the dried fruit section of the store) with 2 cups of water. Cover tightly and simmer gently for 20 minutes, then uncover and stir, cooking until nearly all the liquid has evaporated. Set aside to cool.
Combine in a large bowl: One and a half cups all-purpose flour, and 8 ounces finely chopped beef suet. Rub these two ingredients together lightly with your hands until the suet particles are seperated. (This is important.)
Add to the above flour mixture: 1 cup dark brown sugar, one and a half teaspoons ground cinnamon, one and a half teaspoons ground ginger, one half teaspoon ground cloves, one half teaspoon salt. Mix lightly until just blended. Use a light hand and your cake with be more of a cake and less of a brick. I will not admit to speaking from experience.
In another bowl, whisk together: Four large eggs, one third cup brandy or Cognac, and one third cup cream sherry. (Yum)
Combine the dry mixture with the wet mixture and add: one half cup of citron or a candied fruit of your choice. I love citron, so I dumped the entire carton in, which wasn’t much more than a half cup ($6.99 at Albertson’s on sale! Crazy.)
Pour into your prepared cake tin. I lined my pan with greased tin foil so it would be easy to release from the pan. You could use a cheesecake pan with a release instead. I steamed mine in the instapot with two cups of water at the bottom and my small cake pan sitting on a tall silicone trivet with lifting handles, see photo above. I pressed steam, high pressure, and set it for two hours with natural release.
You can see the result in the top photo, the blue around it is fire because yes, I set it on fire with cognac. I also made a whiskey hard sauce to pour on top. See below.
Whiskey Hard Sauce
Melt in an heavy saucepan over low heat: one stick of unsalted butter
Stir in: one cup of sugar, one fourth cup bourbon or some other whiskey, one eighth teaspoon salt.
Cook, stirring until the sugar is dissolved and remove from the heat.
In a seperate bowl whisk: one large egg until frothy and slowly whisk the egg into the hot butter sauce and return to stove and bring to a simmer. Stir until the mixture is thickened.
We had the neighbors over to taste the Christmas Plum pudding – explaining that it was not a pudding and no plums were harmed in the making of it. They were very impressed with the fire, not so impressed with the taste. The consensus was that it tasted like a raison cake-slash-fruit cake with the consistency of a bread pudding. It wasn’t horrible.
Unlike my mother, I won’t be making it again. God rest ye Merry gentlemen. Please enjoy your own figgy pudding and have the merriest of Christmases.