“Stir up Sunday”
A fine British culinary tradition that’s well worth reviving.
This year “Stir Up Sunday” is celebrated on 22nd November 2015. Long before the days of commercially produced puddings, it was the day when the family gathered to make their Christmas puddings. Each person was given their turn to stir the pudding and make a secret wish. For many years this tradition has largely been forgotten, but I’m pleased to say “Stir Up Sunday” is having a bit of a revival mainly due to renewed interest in our English cooking heritage.
“Stir Up Sunday” always falls on the Sunday before Advent. My Mum - Hilary Carter is a Lay Minister for Woodhall Spa Group of Parishes and she has kindly informed me that it has its origins from the opening words of the collect of the day in the Book of Common Prayer of 1549. Which starts “Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord…….”. This would have signified the start of preparations for Advent and the festive season. Falling five weeks before Christmas it is also a good length of time for your puddings to mature.
Christmas Puddings are steeped in history and symbolism. Plum pudding, which is now synonymous with Christmas used to be served at many family feasts and Lent. In the 16th century it would have resembled more of a thick sweet porridge made with stewed meat, fruit juice, wine, dried fruit (plums), breadcrumbs and various spices. Plum was used to describe many types of dried fruit. Into the late 17th century it began to become a firmer mixture and eventually into the 18th century onwards it evolved until the only meat product included was suet. The whole mixture became much more solid and would have been rolled in a ball and boiled up in a cloth. The idea of using a basin to steam your pudding was introduced by the Victorians.
Stir up Sunday creates a lovely event to involve the whole family in and great for younger children to partake of the Christmas preparations. When it’s your turn for a stir you close your eyes and make a secret wish. Stir from East to West or clockwise to symbolise the journey of the three wise men, it is considered unlucky to stir anti clockwise. You can also put in a coin, it used to be a sixpence but I put in a £1 coin wrapped in greaseproof paper and then silver foil for both hygiene purposes and also to make it easy to spot. Be sure to warn your guests on Christmas Day about the addition as you don’t want the day ruining by the need for an Emergency Dentist! For the lucky person who finds the coin, it is supposed to bring them health, wealth and happiness for the coming year.
Following is my recipe for Christmas pudding which I have tweaked over the years to suit our own taste. It is a lovely rich pudding, with the right colour, flavour and texture. Don’t be put off by the long list of ingredients as they are all readily available. It is really very straight forward and easy to make and good fun too.
Sadie’s Christmas Pudding
The pudding serves approximately ten people.
First steam – 7 hours
Christmas Day Steam – 2 hours
17cm/1 litre pudding basin
Bowl to soak Fruit in overnight
Bowl for dry ingredients.
2 small bowls for breadcrumbs and suet.
Very large bowl for stirring everything up.
Large Saucepan (big enough to fit your basin in), small old saucer (small enough to fit in your saucepan), zester, large mixing bowl, spoons, sieve, measuring jug, measuring spoons, greaseproof paper, foil and scissors.
Soft butter to grease your basin.
125g chopped Glace Cherries or chopped crystallised ginger or stem ginger (or bit of everything)
100g light muscovado sugar
50g golden syrup
Zest of 1 unwaxed, organic lemon. (if you can’t get organic and unwaxed, soak in boiling water to remove wax and dry well and then zest them.)
Zest of 2 organic, unwaxed Oranges (see lemons)
50g Ground Almonds
100g fine white breadcrumbs. Let some bread go stale, remove the crusts and then whizz in a food processor. If still quite course then sieve them.
100g plain flour
2 tsp mixed spice
½ tsp grated nutmeg
½ tsp ground ginger
Pinch ground mace
100g of Suet either beef or vegetable
4 large eggs beaten
100ml of stout
8- 10 tbsp of Brandy
Saturday evening before Stir up Sunday
Put all of your dried fruit, glace cherries or ginger, sugar, golden syrup and zests together in a bowl.
Pour over the Stout and ½ of the brandy. Give it a good mix and cover with cling film and leave overnight.
To make the job easier on the Sunday I weigh up all my other ingredients too. So weigh up the Ground Almonds, Flour and spices and sift together in a bowl.
De-crust, weigh and whizz your bread up, sieve if needed and put it in a little bowl separately and clingfilm.
Weigh the suet and put in a separate little bowl and clingfilm.
Stir up Sunday
In a large mixing bowl put the wet ingredients in and then the breadcrumbs, suet, then sift the dry ingredients again onto the wet. Finally add in the beaten eggs.
Give it a stir yourself and make your wish. Then get your family members in to have their stir and put in your foil wrapped coin.
The mixture should be a nice dropping consistency, if it is a bit stiff I put in a bit more brandy, but you could put some fresh orange juice in from your zested oranges if you like.
Grease your basin well with the softened butter, fill up to ¾ full. Cover the mixture with a disc of greaseproof paper on the top and then take a sheet of foil larger than the top of the pudding basin. Put it shiny side down and seal the basin with it.
Take another bit of foil about 60cm long and fold it a few times lengthways. It wants to be wide enough to act as a sturdy sling to put under your pudding and connect at the top so you can use it to take your pudding out when it has steamed.
I don’t have a proper steamer, so I just use a really big saucepan with an old upturned saucer in the bottom and sit my pudding in the pan on top of the saucer.
Boil the kettle and carefully pour the boiling water between the side of the basin and saucepan until it reaches half way up the basin.
Cover the pan with a lid and simmer on a moderate heat for about 7 hours. Keep checking it from time to time as you will probably need to top the water up to half way every so often.
After 7 hours, remove from the heat, take the lid off and let it calm down for a few minutes. Then carefully lift it out, using your sling.
Take off the foil and the greaseproof disc, have a look and a sniff. Brush the top of the pudding with the remaining brandy and let it soak in. Let it cool down completely.
Congratulate yourself on your splendid pudding and then re-cover with a clean disc of greaseproof, some fresh foil and I would do another sling now, rather than having to faff about on Christmas Day when you will have enough to do. Pop it in an airtight container and store in a cool dark place until you need it. Not in the fridge though as the flavours won’t develop properly.
On the big day, all you have to do is reheat it by doing exactly the same steaming process again, but this time just for a couple of hours. Put on a serving platter, pour over a little warmed brandy and ignite. Delicious served with brandy sauce or brandy cream.
If you want to do smaller puddings, just reduce the steaming time down a bit in accordance with how you have divided the mixture up. Whatever the size make sure you give them a minimum of at least 2 hours for both steams. The same applies if you have a bit of mixture left over from making your big pudding.
I sincerely hope you enjoy this pudding and start your own yearly family tradition of “Stir Up Sunday.”
Sadie Hirst is a member of the British Society of Baking and has a keen interest in recreating and reviving historic recipes, especially local Lincolnshire ones. If you would like to send Sadie any of your old recipes, she would be delighted to hear from you at firstname.lastname@example.org.