Today, I made the Christmas pudding. This made me feel like some 19th Century housewife, possibly Mrs. Cratchit. I gather, from reading I did as a child, that the Christmas pudding had to be made at least three weeks before Christmas, wrapped in muslin and stored in the cold store. In the 21st Century, we are going to London on Friday to see our daughter graduate from her master's program, so if I wanted to make this traditional dish, I had to get started early.
Christmas pudding is pretty much the same thing as plum pudding, which, by the way, does not contain plums. It is a steamed, bread and dried fruit based pudding dating from medieval times. In the 18th Century, the British referred to raisins as "plums" which is why we talk about plum pudding.
The pudding has a religious affiliation, with a tradition saying it should be made the 25th Sunday after Trinity Sunday, and that it contains 13 ingredients representing Christ and the 12 apostles. The pudding should be stirred by every member of the family stirring from east to west to celebrate the direction the Magi went to get to the Christ Child.. For your information, Trinity Sunday is a movable feast that occurs anywhere from the middle of May to the middle of June. In 2013 it was May 26.
I am not going to take the calendar off the wall and count Sundays. Certainly, today is Tuesday, not Sunday, so we are not following the ancient rule in this house. Also this pudding has 15 ingredients, which could include The Father and the Holy Spirit, if we wanted to be theological about it.
Dishes with unusual ingredients start with a veritable pilgrimage around the city looking for said ingredients. Since I wanted the pudding to be gluten-free, I had to go to Giant Food in Chevy Chase to buy gluten free bread crumbs. Giant, or at least that Giant, has an excellent selection of gluten free products. Otherwise, in my opinion, it's virtually worthless as a grocery store.
Then, there was the suet. Wagshalls, on Massachusetts Avenue, opposite the American University Law School, has suet. I went there today, with my tires spitting through the wet snow. Wagshall's also has a choice selection of high-end meat and a lady butcher. My husband Bob wants us to have beef tenderloin for Christmas dinner. "Buy it at Wagshall's" he said.
Personally, I think there ought to be a law that if the customer may have to take out a loan to buy a food product, the store has a responsibility to tell the customer how much the food product costs. In this case, it was $33 a pound, more than crab meat. I handed my ATM card over in a somewhat stunned condition and drove home with the tenderloin and the suet.
After taking Watson, the puppy, to frolic in the snow and having lunch, I settled down to make the pudding. There is nothing difficult about it.The hardest part of making this is finding the suet. I suggest a farmer's market in your town, with a farm that sells grassfed, home butchered beef. You just basically throw in all the ingredients, mix them up and put them into a greased pudding basin or 22 ounce can and steam away.
This recipe makes a lot of Christmas pudding, three in fact. We are only having 12 people to dinner on Christmas, not an entire clan, so I cut the recipe in half and made one 1 1/2 pound pudding.
Since the recipe says to put the basin or cans on a rack, it would probably be a good idea to do so. I don't have a rack that would fit in my stockpot, so I turned over a little baking dish and set the pudding basin on that.
When we get back from London on the 22nd, we will have our Christmas pudding in refrigerator, and we won't have to buy it at Heathrow!
1 cup dark brown sugar
2 cups finely grated or ground beef kidney suet (This is also known as caul fat.)
1 cup soft bread crumbs (I used Aleia's Gluten Free Panko Crumbs, available at www.glutenfreepalace.com.)
1 cup currants
1 cup raisins
1 cup mixed candied fruit peels
1 cup finely chopped, peeled tart apple (like Granny Smiths)
2 cups flour (I used Bob's Red Mill Rice Flour to make it gluten free.)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
2 eggs lightly beaten
1 cup unsulphured molasses
1 tablespoon baking soda, dissolved in one cup boiling water
1. Mix together the brown sugar, suet, crumbs, currants, raisins, peels, apple, flour, salt and spices.
2. Beat the eggs and molasses together and add to sweet mixture. Stir in the dissolved baking soda. Spoon into greased one-pound pudding basins or coffee cans. Cover with wax paper and then a cloth or aluminum foil. Set in a steamer or on a rack in a pan with boiling water extending two-thirds of the way up basins or cans.
3. Steam three hours. Cool. store in freezer or refrigerator. Steam to reheat, about forty-five minutes. Serve with hard sauce. Makes three one-pound puddings.