Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Not-as-good-as-last-year’s Christmas pudding

(From Johanna Knox)

Makes two good-sized puddings – one for your family, and one to give away.

This pudding recipe has travelled down at least five generations. My great-great grandmother made it; perhaps it goes back further.

Each generation adapted it or added to it. BUT the vital secret ingredient for 70 years or more has been that you must, at some point, say, ‘I’m sure it isn’t as good as last year’s.’

How this tradition came to be, no one now knows, though I wonder if it began with my grandmother (left), who was of a very anxious disposition.

Family members are divided over whether you say it when tasting the batter, or as you’re serving it cooked. But whichever way, it’s imperative.


1 pound butter

¾ pound sugar

1 ¼ pounds flour

1 ½ teaspoons baking soda

¼ pound slivered or chopped almonds

¼ pound peel

1 packet crystallised ginger (chop if big bits)

1 packet raisins

1 ½ pounds dates, chopped

½ pound currants

1 – 1 ½ pounds sultanas

¼ pound ground almonds

8 eggs

1 dessertspoon full of golden syrup

A wine glass of brandy

Vanilla and almond essence to taste

Prepare two large squares of unbleached calico: wash or boil ahead of time to get any filler out, and dry.


Cut up butter into small pieces and use fingers to rub in sugar, flour and baking soda.

Mix together well: almonds, peel, crystallised ginger, raisins, dates, currants, sultanas, and ground almonds. Stir these into the rubbed butter mix.

In a separate bowl, mix eggs, golden syrup, brandy, vanilla essence and almond essence.

Pour liquid ingredients into dry ingredients and mix well,

Flour the calicao squares very well, rubbing flour into and in between the fibres.

Dump half the pudding mix into the middle of one cloth, and tie it up in a bundle – with string or a strip of cloth, leaving a little space for expansion at the top.  The string should be tied very tightly. Make a loop for removing the pudding later.

Do the same with the other half of the pudding mix – into the second square of calico.

Fill a stockpot half full of water, with an old plate in the bottom of the pot to prevent burning.

Bring to the boil. Put in one pudding.

Boil for 6 hours, topping up the water when necessary and keeping it on a gentle boil all the time. (The pudding will float so you won’t ever get the water completely covering it.)

After 6 hours, remove pudding from still-boiling water and hang it.

Repeat with the second pudding, or if you have two stockpots, do them at the same time.

Hang puddings for a week or more.

To serve:

On the day of serving, retie the pudding as it will have shrunk, and don’t leave any expansion space at the top – retie it close to the pudding.

Reboil for an hour or more.

Take it out of the calico and put it on a plate. Pour warmed brandy over (about a quarter to half a cup) and set alight before bringing to table.

Serve with brandy sauce and whipped cream.

There will be a white crust on the outside, which traditionally most of the family likes when hot, but if leftovers are served later cold, they remove the crust.

When cold it’s nice with golden syrup.