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Preparing the Puddings
by Bridget Haggerty
At our house, my mother served three different kinds of Christmas pudding. Not all at the same time, mind you. If we could afford it, which was seldom in my memory, shed begin making an incredibly rich version weeks before the big day; when times were lean, which was often, we had a much simpler dessert which could be made on Christmas Eve, or even on Christmas. Then, there were the really hard years, when we had a commercially-made travesty that came in a tin...
Mum would send word to her family that we were struggling. Just before Christmas, a box would arrive and inside would be tinned Christmas pud as well as a plucked goose and fresh butter. The goose and butter were expected; they were sent every year. But, oh, what a let down to see that little square cardboard box with the round tin inside.
As with most kids, we were oblivious to budgets and bills, but Christmas pud from the relatives told us that wed be disappointed if we asked Santa for something as big as a bike or a doll house. That said, my mother was a dyed-in-the-wool traditionalist. She stretched every penny so wed have a Christmas celebration with all of the trimmings, including a sprig of holly on top of the pud - no matter which version was served.
These days, commercially-made puddings are far better than they were in the 1950s; but, I still get a twinge when I see them on the shelf at the grocery store. Another disappointment on seeing that tin was realizing that we wouldnt be helping mum with the preparations. No need to. So, that meant wed miss the stirring in of each ingredient and then the excitement of watching her drop a threepenny bit into the mixture; wed miss the tantalizing aroma as the pudding steamed on the stove, and then later, at the Christmas feast, wed also miss the anticipation of wondering who would find the threepenny bit.
Regretfully, I wasnt very good about writing down my mothers recipes; the closest reference Ive found to a pudding that sounds like the simpler one she used to make is in Kevin Danahers book, The Year in Ireland. He writes that in Co. Wexford, Cutlin Pudding was made on Christmas Eve. Thick porridge made from wheaten meal, sugar, dried fruit and spices were mixed together; the mixture was then gathered into a ball, wrapped in a greased cloth and dropped into boiling water. For how long, I cant say, but I should imagine it would be for at least two to three hours. (Id welcome any feedback from experienced steamed pudding makers!)
My mothers best pudding recipe implied a no-expenses celebration, and for us kids, when we saw what she was up to, visions of bicycles and doll houses danced in our heads!
Several months before preparation day, shed take a little of her housekeeping money and purchase one or more ingredients. She timed it all out so that everything was set to go about six weeks before the big feast. And then the day would come when shed announce that it was time to make the pudding. Out would come this vast array of fruits, spices, eggs, even bottles of beer and liquor! Just to be extra nice to Dad, because, after all it was Christmas, she always made the pudding when he was home so he could judge whether or not the mixture had exactly the right balance.
Ive read a good many recipes and the one that follows appears to come closest to what I remember. Truth is, I havent tried it. Regretfully, my family prefers trifle, pies, or a Christmas cake to pudding. I will also confess that in a fit of nostalgia, Ive served the tinned version. Even flamed with brandy and then presented with a fresh sprig of holly, its a distant runner-up to my mothers recipe - rich or simple.
Uncle Arthurs Christmas Pudding
Note: My friend and Irish Tips guru, Ruth Mark made this recipe last Christmas. She was concerned about how the puddings might turn out because she didn't make them until right before Christmas. No need to worry - she said that they were delicious! If you'd like to visit Ruth's site, please click here: Irish Life Tips
The New Irish Table
Margaret Johnsons love of Ireland permeates page after glorious page of mouthwatering Irish dishes, from Smoked Salmon Chowder to Raspberry Buttermilk Tarts. Lavish color photographs of the food, the landscapes, and the people are woven through the text, making The New Irish Table the next best thing to sitting down to dinner in Ireland itself.
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March 4, 2011