Stir Up Sunday

As we draw closer to the festive season, its very likely we will hear the complaints of “Christmas comes too early, we’ve just had Halloween.” Im guilty myself of shaking my head as that red lorry appears on TV, but then conform to the joys of traditions and join the crowds and queues in the shops during the build up to Christmas. This is not a new modern day way of life but purely a sign of the times, a current state of how Christmas has always needed forward planning.

Stir up sunday is a very old tradition with links dating back to the 16th century yet it is a custom which has been overlooked as our lives become busier and supermarkets and department stores have supplied us with ready made Christmas food and gifts.

The earliest link is noted in The book of Common Prayer which was written during Britains independance with Rome and the catholic church under Henry VIII’s reign.

“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.”

Stir up sunday lies on the final sunday before advent, usually the last week of November and signals to both religious and agnostic groups as the start of preparation for the festive season. For some its the time to make the christmas pudding which benefits from a little maturation or feeding until it is reheated and eaten on Christmas Day. For my family it also signals the temporary redundancy of Sunday lunches as we take a break from the normal sunday routines and prepare for the mamouth eating binge that is the holiday season.

In previous years there has been shared responsibility for the making of the pudding, and as a family there is often heated debate as to what christmas pudding recipe to follow. Whilst working at Leiths I developed a christmas pudding recipe that worked as something to make in the school and then finish off cooking at home in the lead up to the big day. A rich but less traditional take on the christmas pudding which I believe sells itself to those who don’t like the taste of the more stodgy alternatives. It uses a decadent sherry that really brings out the christmas taste of the dried fruit and gives the finished result a smoother, luxurious and less bloating finish.

As a traditionalist I love the idea of starting the build up of Christmas on stir up Sunday, not just stirring the pudding and steaming it, but assigning the tasks and errands that must be done for Christmas day. If you do secret Santa like our family it is the perfect day to dish out  who gets who, and gives you a whole month (including black Friday) to get that perfect gift for your chosen receiver.

So if you are looking for a great recipe for this years christmas pudding give this one a go.

Phils Christmas pudding
Serves 4 -8 depending on how much you turkey you eat before serving

80g currants
80g sultanas
80g roughly chopped prunes
80g roughly chopped dried figs
120ml Pedro Ximenez sherry
2 tablespoons honey
100g butter
100g soft dark brown sugar
2 large eggs
60g plain flour
80g fresh breadcrumbs
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon baking powder
grated zest of 1 lemon
1 medium cooking apple (peeled and grated)

You will need a 2 pint pudding basin which needs to be well greased with butter. You will also need a sheet of greaseproof paper and a sheet of tin foil to tie onto the pudding basin which will create a water tight lid before steaming in a large enough pan to fit the trivet and basin and be able to put a lid onto it. The trivet can be an upturned plate, metal steamer or even a piece of card. I find that a cardboard egg tray works really well. It is best to have a dry run with all the equipment to ensure it will all fit together. Do allow for the pudding to rise during cooking by leaving 1cm gap at the top before putting the lid on.
Soak the dried fruit in the sherry and honey for at least 1 day and up to a week.
Add water to the pan and bring to a boil.
Cream the butter and sugar together, add the eggs in 3 – 4 additions and then fold in the flour, breadcrumbs and spices. Pour in the dried fruit and juices, lemon zest and grated apple, mix well and transfer into the greased basin. Assemble and tie up the greaseproof and tinfoil lid and then sit the basin on top of the trivet ensuring the water comes half way up the basin.
Allow to cook on a cheerful boil, making sure you carefully top up the water so as not to dry out the pan and potentially burn the pudding.
Allow to steam for 5 hours. Alternatively you can steam this for 2.5 hours which will set the pudding, allow to cool and then keep for up to 2 months tightly wrapped before steaming again for another 2.5 hours on Christmas day. This could also be frozen for up to a year.
Once steamed, remove the foil lid and allow the pudding to cool slightly. Place a plate over the pudding and invert, lift the pudding basin and the pudding should slide out easily.
If you are lighting your pudding ensure the plate is lipped and gently heat a ladle of brandy, when ready to serve light the brandy and pour over the pudding.