Today is Stir Up Sunday, a term unknown to me until an episode of The Archers some years ago. It is, according to Wikipedia, the last Sunday before Advent and an informal Anglican term for the day when Christmas puddings were traditionally made. Now I have many friends who would argue that puddings should be made at the end of October so that they flavours can meld properly, and who am I to argue? I have never made a Christmas pudding. I don’t even really eat it. I find it rather heavy as a follow-up to everything that was eaten before in the Christmas meal. When Grandma stopped putting coins in the puddings, I stopped eating them. The fullness of the tummy wasn’t worth it without the possibility of financial gain! For me, more importantly, Stir Up Sunday has become the day when Christmas cakes are made and that it what I have just been doing. Two cakes are baking in the oven and the smell is amazing.
I have happy memories of being called down by Grandma to stir the Christmas pudding and to make a wish. I remember screwing up my eyes and concentrating hard so that my wish would come true. I don’t remember any of my wishes, and particularly I don’t remember the disappointment that they didn’t come true! I know that when the Christmas pudding was being made in 1959, an almost 9-year old Suzy made her wish. Grandma asked her what she’d wished for, and Suzy admitted that she’d asked for a baby sister. Grandma then told her that she was pregnant and maybe it would indeed be a baby sister. Since I was born on 11th December and Suzy hadn’t noticed Grandma’s growing girth, I think we can all agree that the end of the 50s was a much more innocent time!
I remember through the years calling you boys down to make your wishes and I don’t know how disappointed you have been with your choices. I do know that Dad and I have both wished in these cakes and fingers crossed….
Christmas cakes are strange beasts. You can follow the same recipe from year to year and it will turn out differently. There are many possible variants with some of the ingredients. Firstly, for me, you cannot simply decide to make your cake and start to do it. For me, the dried fruit has to be weighed out and have some alcohol (brandy, rum or whisky) poured on, stirred well, covered and left for a week. Then I can make the cake. The recipe I used today is essentially the one that Suzy used when she was teaching, and I’ll tell you today’s particular variants.
- 200 g / 8 oz self-raising flour
- 200 g / 8 oz margarine or butter – I always use unsalted butter
- 200 g / 8 oz soft brown sugar – I used dark brown muscovado sugar
- 4 eggs – make sure they’re at room temperature
- 150 g / 6 oz sultanas
- 150 g / 6 oz raisins
- 150 g / 6 oz currants
- 50 g / 2 oz mixed peel
- 100 g / 4 oz glace cherries
- 50 g / 2 oz almonds (whole, flaked or ground) – I used chopped which over here are like batons
- I orange or lemon – I used orange
- 1 tbsp treacle (black treacle in England) – I used molasses
- 1 tsp mixed spice – I used nutmeg cos I couldn’t find mixed spice
- 1 tsp cinnamon
I washed and chopped the cherries in half and mixed with the rest of the dried fruit. I put 4 tbsp of whisky on top, covered the bowl with cling film and left for a week.
- Heat oven to 140 C / Gas mark 2 / 270 F
- Grease and double line tins
- Wash orange/lemon and finely grate the rind. Squeeze the juice.
- Add the flour and spices to the dried fruit mixture. Mix well. Stir in the nuts.
- Break the eggs into a bowl and beat.
- Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Don’t rush this – make sure they really are creamed together well. If you’re using a mixture, stop the machine and use a spatula to push the mixture down from the sides.
- Add the eggs gradually.
- Add the grated rind and juice. The mixture will look as though it has curdled. Don’t worry.
- Fold in the flour and fruit mixture. Stir in the treacle. Mix well and wish!
- Spoon mixture into the tins. Make sure that the mixture is level with a slight dip in the middle.
- Double wrap with brown paper and tie with string.
- Bake in the oven for approximately two hours.
Quick note – it took 3 hrs 20 mins for the cakes to cook last night. This is the first time I have used the oven in the new apartment so it could be that. Halfway through I did check my celsius to fahrenheit conversion and it was right, so I think this oven is just very cool.