Christmas Recipe for Plum Pudding in Calico Cloth
Plum Pudding and Hot Custard, But Not a Plum in Sight
Family traditions that are handed down from mother to daughter through the generations are hard to beat. This Christmas Pudding is one of those favourites that was handed down to me by my mother from her mother in Australia and all the way back to England and her grandmother. But it is not only the recipe that is special here—it is the ritual that surrounds it, from shopping for the ingredients to pouring the custard over the steamed pudding on the day of the feast.
The highlight of the feast is—as it has been for as long as I can remember—the unwrapping of the steaming hot Christmas Pudding and the sighs of relief to discover the water hasn't penetrated through the calico cloth. This is followed by squeals of delight whenever someone's spoon clinks on one of the coins announcing the discovery of the treasures within, the humble Christmas 'Pud'.
The Christmas Pudding Tradition
It all starts weeks before Christmas with the buying of the calico and mixed fruit. The cloth must be soaked overnight, then all the ingredients are blended together in the biggest mixing bowl in the cupboard. Everybody in the house needs to give the pudding a stir with a wooden spoon, for luck. In the days where coins were made out of silver, sixpences would be boiled to sterilise, then stirred through the final mix.
The original plum pudding was made from dried plums or prunes, but the recipe that was created in our family is a mixture of currants, raisins and sultanas. It is rich and heavy and flavoured with brandy. The recipe doesn't say what size glass to use, so that depends on the mood of the cook at the time of making.
Treasures From the Housekeeping Book
Handwritten Recipe Books
My grandmother was known to everyone as Granny. The epitome of a mother and grandmother, she was very much loved by all, not only for her wonderful recipes but for her way of welcoming you with a smile and a hug and her unique style of piano playing. If you could sing the melody she could bring the piano to life. Her left hand would move swiftly over the keys using a combination of octaves and chords, while the right hand would tinkle away with the tune. Everybody’s favourite was 'Alley Cat'.
Handwritten treasures, collected over time, filled her recipe books. Nestled in one of these, a simple 80-page exercise book, is the traditional Christmas Pudding. My mother wrote it out for me with instructions for using the calico cloth of yesterday. It sits in my exercise book with pride all covered in flour and other kitchen stains from years gone by.
Hanging the Pudding
Hang your pudding in a dry place for best results or if you are in an area of high humidity, pop the pudding in the freezer to prevent mould forming.
Ideally, the pudding needs to hang for a long time—at least three weeks—but anything up to six weeks is good too. The longer the pudding hangs, the better the chance of the flavours working their way through the mix. A firmer pudding texture develops as the days roll on toward Christmas.
The pudding should be prepared weeks in advance. The idea is for the flavours to seep through the mix and work their magic. The alcohol acts as a preservative. Don't panic, though. If you have run out of time, you can still prepare the pudding, even on the day as long as you give it six hours to cook. Make sure you steam the pudding for six hours initially.
Granny Maude's Christmas Pudding Recipe
The ingredients above make a large pudding for the extended family. It serves 12–16 but can easily be scaled down by half for a smaller feast. Leftovers can also be kept refrigerated for several weeks or frozen for 12 months.
- 1 metre calico
- ½ cup plain flour
- String for tying
Soak cloth overnight in cold water, while making pudding, boil cloth in boiling water for 30 minutes. Ring out well. Spread the calico cloth on the table or bench and rub well with flour (40cm area only).
Christmas Pudding Ingredients
- ½ pound butter
- ½ pound brown sugar
- 4 eggs
- 1 ½ pounds mixed dried fruit
- ¾ pound plain flour
- ½ teaspoon carbonate of soda
- 2 teaspoons mixed spice
½ glass brandy or sherry
1/2 cup of almonds, see below
- Cream butter and sugar.
- Add well-beaten eggs, brandy, fruit, flour, spice and soda.
- Place in pudding cloth, gather up evenly and firmly (allowing room to swell) and tie firmly with string.
- Put lid on pan. Boil or steam quickly for 15 minutes, reduce heat and boil or steam slowly for six hours.
- Hang in a cool, dry place.
- On Christmas Day, boil for three hours.
- Hang ten minutes to firm.
But Wait, There’s More
The first time I made the pudding, I forgot to read the back of the recipe, where, in my mother’s best cursive writing is the rest of the ingredients and instructions. Mum is a wonderful cook but always manages to leave something out when she shares her secrets, although she swears this is unintentional. Here's what she wrote:
Lots of luck, hope this all makes sense to you. Make sure there is someone handy to tie the pudding up very tightly so the water can’t get in. Forgot to list almonds, these weren’t in the original recipe but I always add about ½ cup, blanched and peeled ones, cut into halves. Make sure the water in pan is always about ¾ full so top up as needed.
When you take the pudding out of the water ring out as much water as you can from loose calico ends. Tie these ends up high on the string for a few days till dry. Too much cloth resting on the pudding could cause mould. That’s about it but give a me a call if you can’t make sense out of all this. Love Mum.
Christmas in Australia Is Hot
It may seem strange to sit down to a full roast dinner with steamed Christmas Pudding and hot custard when the temperature outside is soaring to 100 degrees, but that's what we did. The kitchen would be hot, the house would be hot and the food was always hot, but it didn't matter.
The women from my mother's family had handed down the tradition and so far no-one has tried to change it. My younger sister rises to the challenge now, but has the sense to bake the meat outside on the Weber.
© 2010 Karen Wilton