Tuesday, December 11, 2012

12 Days of Christmas - Sarah Mayberry

Welcome to day six of:

The 12 Days of Christmas
Food and Romance
Blogging Extravaganza! 

Halfway through! Is your Christmas shopping all done?? No, mine either. But on to happier topics...

My guest today is the absolutely awesome author and (I'm very proud to say) my SuperRomance stablemate, Sarah Mayberry! Sarah's heartwarming (and quite spicy) romances are the stuff of legend and like so many of my wonderful Extravaganza guests, her books are well-represented on my shelves. Sarah has not only brought us a wonderful tale about a family heirloom Christmas pudding, she's even provided the recipe! With all this recipe goodness we're serving up for TDoCFaRBE, there's no excuse not to be straight into the Christmas baking this year...

The Legend  of Nana's Christmas Pudding
by Sarah Mayberry

Before I start waxing poetic about my Nan's pudd, a big thanks to Emmie for inviting me to blog about something so close to my heart (and stomach). With Christmas just days away, I am about to launch into the marathon that is my Day of Pudding Boiling (you'll see why it's a marathon in a moment) so this topic is top of my mind right now.

The legend of my grandmother's Christmas pudding is a bit like Emmie's fruit cake story in that until they've eaten some of my Nan's pudd, many people don't realise they even like plum pudding. In fact, some people might even consider themselves avowed plum pudding haters (poor, deprived fools!). Usually this is because they hate sultanas or currants or some other variety of dried fruit. I must admit, if I was held at gunpoint  with bright lights trained on me, I might also confess to not being the world's greatest sultana lover, too. But all such considerations go out the window when faced with a bowl full of Nan's goodness.  There's something about the boiling process or perhaps it's the sheer simplicity of this recipe that results in a really lovely, rich pudding that isn't overly dried-fruity, even though it's chockas with the stuff. 

Put simply (and, of course, completely objectively) it is The Best Thing Eva. There's no fancy stuff in this recipe - no suet, or glace anything, or nuts or anything vaguely spicy. It's just dried fruit, brandy, eggs, butter, flour and golden syrup. And when it's been boiled for seven hours (six when you make it, one on the day of serving) it's moist and delicious and well worth the "I'm so full I'm going to be sick" feeling that is the inevitable end result of Christmas feasting for so many of us. 

I have no idea where this recipe comes from, but for as long back as I can remember, Christmas day at my maternal grandmother's house was always capped off by Nan unwrapping the pudding, drowning it in brandy sauce and handing it out to a table full of expectant relatives. Usually the pudding had been hanging in her pantry for a few months, maturing to perfection. Even as a child I knew to savor it, because unlike a traditional roast dinner, I knew I was only getting this pudding once a year. Needless to say, there was always  a queue for seconds, and the huge saucepan of brandy sauce never went the distance no matter how much Nan made. 

At a certain point Nan got too old to go through all the fuss of pudding making, so she passed the baton onto my sister, both my mother and my aunt having declared themselves not interested enough in cooking to master the art of the pudding. Once I saw that my sister could replicate my Nan's success, I got in on the act, too, and introduced my husband's family to the joy's of Nan's pudding. Now, every year my sister and I reserve a day to make our pudding. For that day, we are tied to the kitchen, watching our boiling pudding, adding water to the pot, generally fussing around this precious thing until its six hours in the hot seat are up. 

Unlike Nan, I have never tried to make my pudding early and leave it hanging for months to deepen the flavors, or whatever that's about. My sister lost a whole pudding to mold one year, and we both agreed it was too painful a process to risk that kind of attrition. So now we boil our puddings a week or two before Christmas and store them in the fridge. A little less romantic than Nan's way of doing things, I know, but very practical. We have also freelanced from Nan's recipe a little by increasing the amount of brandy we use to soak the fruit. Nan's recipe included only a few tablespoons of the good stuff. My sister and I both decided this was barely enough to dampen the fruit! So we glug a decent amount of brandy over the fruit so that it's got plenty of liquid to soak up and rehydrate with. The recipe below has been adjusted to allow for our heavy-handedness, so feel free to tweak to suit your own tastes. 

So, without further ado, here is Nan's recipe:

Nan Wade's Christmas Pudding
250g currants                           5 eggs
250g raisins                            1 tlbsp golden syrup
250g sultanas                          1 tsp carb soda
125g dates                                250 ml brandy
250g brown sugar                60cm x 60cm unbleached calico, available from most fabric retailers                                     
375g sifted plain flour              kitchen string
250g butter

Cut up raisins and dates so that all pieces are of an even size, about  the size of a sultana.
Mix all the dried fruits together.
  • Pour brandy over fruit, mix well and let soak at least overnight. ( sometimes I let it sit 3 or 4 days as I build up to the big 6 hour boiling day)
  • Cream butter and sugar together until light and fluffy, add eggs one at a time beating well after each addition.
  • Add the soaked fruit & golden syrup , mix well.
  • Add the flour and carb soda. Fold dry ingredients in.
  • Boil the pudding cloth.  Sift flour over the surface of the pudding cloth to give the pudding a skin.
  • Place ingredients in the centre of the cloth and tie up with kitchen string, looping it tightly around the "neck" of the pudding several times, nice and tight.  Place a saucer on the bottom of a very large stock pot and bring water to the boil. (This stops the pudding from "catching" on the bottom of the pot.) Put the pudding into the rapidly boiling water on top of the saucer, and put the  lid on immediately. The pudding will float, but don't worry about that. I usually use water up to about the string line.  Boil the pudding rapidly for 6 hours.  The water must never go off the boil, so replenish from a boiled kettle if necessary, being careful not to pour water directly over the tied neck of the pudding, as it can get  a bit soggy there if water seeps in. 
  • At the end of the cooking time, lift the pudding from the water and store in the fridge until the day of serving. On the day of serving, boil the pudding for a further hour to heat it. To serve, cut the string and peel the cloth away from the pudding. Cut into wedges and serve with brandy sauce and vanilla ice-cream. 
The brandy sauce we make to accompany this is basically a sweetened white sauce with brandy added - milk thickened with cornflour, sweetened with sugar, and the brandy added to taste. 

If you are tempted to give this a try, I promise you you won't be disappointed - it comes out a gorgeous golden-syrupy color and tastes so rich and delicious. I cannot wait till Christmas day now that I've written this all up - yummm! Sadly, I only have the  one picture of my pudding from last year. This year I will take many more so I can show it off with pictures as well as words next time anyone is foolish enough to ask about my Nan's pudding.

Merry Christmas, everyone!

I'm sure Sarah won't mind me book-ending her post with a little reminder about Random Acts. As part of TDoCFaRBE I'm encouraging you all to undertake a Random Act of Kindness throughout the festive season. 

The latest hint from Random Acts is a lovely one -- why not give someone the gift of your time and attention and make a visit to your local nursing home or to an elderly neighbour?  

Or you can simply send Random Acts a donation and wear a smile all day.


  1. Sarah - I'm from the South in the U.S.- so we don't have plum pudding but I fix my Granny's pecan pie. I add a little bourbon and for my teetotaling, preacher's wife Granny that was a little over the top and she declared that she'd have to pray about it - so we call it Granny's Prayer Meeting Pecan Pie.

    Good times. ; )

    Robin Covington

    1. Hi Robin. Granny's Prayer Meeting Pecan Pie has quite the ring to it! I bet it's delicious. The weird thing is, I am not a huge fan of hard liquor, but in my puddings and desserts, I can't get enough of the stuff! Have a great holiday season.

  2. Thanks for another yummy Christmas recipe. I love that you and your sister make it together. When I was little my Nanna got all the grandchildren she could gather around her to stir the Christmas cake batter with her ancient wooden spoon so we could claim we had a hand in making it. Enjoy your boiling day Sarah.

    1. Hi Dora. The wooden spoon idea is great! I wish Nan had included us in the making of her pudding when we were younger - it would have been even more special if she'd personally handed the recipe down rather than it just being passed across as a list of ingredients and instructions.

  3. How gorgeous Dora. That's a beautiful thing to do.
    I keep asking my son to help make dinner so he can tell Dad he had a hand in making it, but I can't get him interested. Lol!

  4. Chiming in late. I've never even eaten Christmas pudding let alone made it. It simply wasn't part of our Christmas tradition. But Sarah, you've got me drooling over the sound of your nan's. I might have to try it this year. Please tell me it's not too late.