Monday 10 February 2014

36. A Recipe for the Christmas Pudding

for Anna & Jamie & Nick & Jeanette & anyone else

OK, then, first a date
(unusual for a recipe
we’re heading for that one day when
we know he wasn’t born instead
our good old friends Sol Invictus so
                                     we must
stir up
        we beseech thee O unknown lord
the wills of thy faithful people
that they
plenteously bringing forth the fruit of good works
may of these be plenteously rewarded
through birth in the midst of winter
& the real promise of new life:
weeping & laughter

A mass of stuff for this you need of course
some ordinary but often crunching
                        smelling of the sun
                        in midst of our drabness
                                 110 g plain flour
                                 175 g suet
                                       vegetable works just as well!
                                       and is, of course, what
                                       I always use these days
                                 120 g slightly stale white bread
                                 110 g sugar
                                       – demerara or muscovado
                                       but must be richly fragrant
                                 100 g plump raisins
                                 50 g sultanas
                                 115 g various uncut candied peels
                                 50 g glacé cherries
                                     – undyed and undying please!
                                 50 g dried figs (may be soft!)
                                 50 g blanched almonds
                                 ¼ tsp mixed spice
                                 ¼ tsp ground nutmeg
                                       (could be if you prefer fresh ground)
                                 up to ¼ tsp mixed ground ginger
                                             & ground cloves
                                 ½ tsp salt
                                       – for savour![2]
                                 2 medium eggs
                                 75 ml milk (may be more)
                                 & good dark rum at hand[3]
                                 + a little butter to grease the pot

Familiar things first:
 grate fiercely the bread into crumbs
 slice up finely the peel
 (no healing or salvation
 in ready cut tubs)
 halve the cherries & rinse
 to return them to the state of grace
 then destalk & cut into 3 pieces the figs

We rise in joy
backwards & forwards
backwards & forwards[4]
in one big bowl
suet & crumb plus sifted flour
sugar then dried fruit
spice and salt at last
backwards & forwards
backwards & forwards
and in another bowl
beat the eggs well
and add the milk
and half a glass of rum
backwards & forwards
backwards & forwards
stir the wet into the dry
(adding more rum
                 – or milk for the faint hearted!
if it seems not moist & dark enough
saying silently all your Christmas wishes
for all this poor old world[5]

It isn’t fresh is the surprise
let it all rest quietly under a tea towel
in a cool place until tomorrow
– two days of pleasure!

Familiar situation here the next
– to butter a large pudding basin
giving room at the top for it all to rise
then spoon in the mixture[6]
                           covering, note, in an adult fashion:
one layer greased baking paper & two of foil
put in a pleat like a shirt back across
tie it around the basin’s rim firmly w/ string
& loop it across to the other side
for a handle to raise up at last

There is a poem
                & the pudding is in it
but it is a very mediated situation
needing a very large pan (to stand for the world)
in its bottom the trivet of faith
(failing that the upturned saucer of dogma)
this fill quite high w/ water & boil
when that becomes a turbulent & dangerous landscape
lower in the basin
                   – letting the covers not be defiled w/ water
& get it to a steady simmer with a lid over the pan
this situation needs checking & supporting - boiling kettles!
                                             keep up the watch
                                             this is alchemy, not a game
five long hours there is the pan
& the pudding in it – what a situation!

The covers will prove inadequate, end up
boiled raw. Prepare another set
at five hours pull out the pudding
                                   – with conscious care!
remove the old & replace with the new
like re-dressing an open wound

It rests then until Christmas Day
like some dormant grub or larva in a cool dry place
(we put ours outside in a shed next to the house
– something inconceivable & grotesque
                                      – unless you think again:
this is religious ritual
not sad & ludicrous as they often are
but suffused with & suffusing familiar pleasures

Finally, then, your family
    your feast
    your fantasy
                            for just two hours simmer as before
                            - turn off the heat at once
                            lift out the basin
                            uncover at once!
                            slide a knife or palette knife around
                            put a large shallow dish on top
                            & invert
                                     – for this is a feast of inversion, yes?
                            then serve
                                       ceremonial as a pie[7]
                                       & they are all
                                       laughing together

[I got this recipe from Caroline Conran[8], (no, not Superwoman!) who claimed for it a royal pedigree dating from George I. I am not convinced. Anyway, I’ve livened up the ingredients to prevent a Hanoverian stodge, so they’re as they always used to be in my childhood pudding, and it’s now I claim ancestral and traditional – I pass it on for you to improve & make as you wish.]

[1] Adapted (you may know) from the Collect for the Last Sunday after Trinity – the fourth in November usually – which gives us Stir Up Sunday, celebrated still in The Archers, as the date for your Christmas baking (included in this always the pudding)
[2] Or Saviour!
[3] Don’t worry, Anna & Jeanette, all alcohol is distilled off with no trace but the rum’s dark sweet taste
[4] “bak+forth”
[5] That useful unknown god required again
[6] I haven’t added money or any trinkets – they are an excessive touch – let the food just give pleasure & nourishment, to body and mind or soul
[7] If you want it flaming – pour on some brandy, and at once warm a large spoonful a little over a match, then light it & spill it out over the pudding, and bring in to dimmed light. It burns blue. And a sprig of holly is good as well, burning or not.
[8] Caroline Conran, British Cooking (Park Lane Press, 1978 – tho’ branded by St Michael on the spine)

1 comment:

  1. footnote 4: Linus Slug, “wulfmonath”, from “Reckoning”, Cambridge Literary Review, 5 (Summer 2011), p 44.