The arrival of the John Lewis ad may have become the nation’s unofficial marker of the start of the festive season, but for many of the nation’s cooks, Christmas officially begins this Sunday, when families around the UK gather to take part in a culinary tradition with mediaeval Christian roots. Stir-up Sunday is the last Sunday before Advent (generally the last Sunday in November) and the traditional British day for Christmas-pudding making since 1549.
What makes that date so special? Does it produce the optimum steeping time for a deliciously boozy pudding? Perhaps, but that’s not why this Sunday in particular has the honour of being the day we get together over a bowl of spiced, spirit-soaked fruit. The actual date is down to the church. For close to five centuries, the first words of the prayer for the day, as determined by the church calendar, have been Stir up, oh Lord, we beseech thee…’ – not only a supplication for the coming of Christ, but also a handy reminder that if you want your pudding to be ready in time for Christmas, now’s the time to set your stirring spoon (or Kenwood Chef) to work.
There, are of course, dozens of ways to make Christmas Pudding and hundreds of ingredient options (thanks, Heston, for bunging a candied orange in the middle), but if you want a simple, easy pud that ticks all the Christmas boxes, Divertimenti have just the thing…
¾ cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons mixed spice
A few drops of almond essence
¾ cup plain flour, sifted
2 ⅔ cups breadcrumbs
1 ¼ cups milk
500g marinated fruit (ideally soaked in brandy or similar for a couple of months)
1. Cream the butter and sugar together using the paddle attachment of your mixer, until it’s pale, fluffy and aerated.
2. While you are still beating, add in the mixed spice, almond essence and eggs one at a time.
3. Alternately fold in the flour and breadcrumbs – don’t panic if your mixture looks like wet porridge – then stir through the marinated fruit.
3. Place your mixture into a well-greased pudding basin and seal with a lid and or a few sheets of greaseproof paper.
4. Bring a large pan of water the boil and gently lower the pudding into the water. The water level should be between ½ and ¾ of the way up the sides of the basin.
5. Simmer for six hours, occasionally topping up the pan with boiling water. Remove from the pan, leave to cool, and store until Christmas.
6. Before serving, bring the pudding to room temperature in its basin and then simmer gently for two hours as before. Tip the pudding from the basin while hot onto a warm platter, pour over ¼ cup of brandy, ignite, and present the flaming pudding to the table with a festive flourish.