"Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people; that they, plenteously bringing forth the fruit of good works, may by thee be plenteously rewarded..." (Book of Common Prayer)
The last Sunday before Advent (it was November 22nd this year) is called "Stir-up Sunday" because of the previous quote which is from the collect for the day from the Book of Common Prayer. (I retain the 1549 wording and studiously ignore Rite II wording, created by the American Episcopal church in 1979--I'm a bit of a Luddite.) Fortuitously, the last Sunday before Advent is also a convenient time to stir up Christmas Pudding.
Speaking of Luddism, I'm going to let my pudding "mature" for the next month in my larder (upstairs landing closet, although Delia Smith recommends "under the bed in an unheated bedroom") along with six quarts of mincemeat. You might be terrified about leaving food out for four weeks, but no worries. People have been doing this kind of thing for centuries. Then again, maybe that isn't the best argument. It is important, though, to have a cold house, as in drafty, put-on-another-sweater cold, to best emulate the conditions maturing puddings and mincemeat need to thrive. I like to think of the Balmoral scenes in The Queen when they're all running around in flannel pajamas with hot water bottles in August. That's my kind of climate! I'm quite parsimonious when it comes to turning on the heat, but then again, if I weren't, I wouldn't have anywhere cool enough to be a larder.
If you'd like to mature your own pudding this year, it isn't too late (you should probably go ahead and get it done by next week, though). Here's the recipe I used (adapted from Delia Smith's):
1/2 cup (3 oz.) vegetable shortening (or grated suet or grated frozen butter)
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 cup (3 oz.) homemade white bread crumbs
1/2 teaspoon mixed spice
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1 cup golden brown sugar, lightly packed
2/3 cup (3 oz.) golden raisins
2/3 cup (3 oz.) raisins
1 1/2 cups (7 oz.) dried currants
1/3 cup candied peel, finely chopped*
3 tablespoons slivered almonds
1-6 ounce Granny Smith apple, peeled, cored and finely chopped
zest of 1/2 lemon
zest of 1/2 orange
4 teaspoons rum
1/4 cup brandy (try to use VSOP at least)
1/4 cup stout (I prefer Samuel Smith's Imperial Stout to the ubiquitous Guinness)
2 eggs, beaten with a fork
Begin the day before you want to steam the pudding. In a large mixing bowl, combine your preferred fat (shortening, suet or butter) with the flour, baking powder, salt, breadcrumbs, spices and sugar. Then stir in the dried fruit, candied peel, almonds, apples and zests, mixing until combined. Next, add the liquor and eggs and sir thoroughly. (This is the "stir up" part. Everyone in the household should get a chance to stir the pudding and make a wish.) The batter will be very liquid as far as cake batters go. Cover it and leave it in the refrigerator overnight.
The next day, grease a 1-quart pudding basin (I got mine from Amazon.com) and pile in the batter (it will have firmed up significantly), smoothing out the top. Fill a steamer pot with water almost up to the steamer basket and bring the water up to a boil. Meanwhile, you'll need to cover the pudding basin. Watch this video to learn how. Don't forget the pleat and ignore the part about the water coming up the side of the basin. When the water is up to the boil, add the pudding basin to the steamer basket and put the lid on. You might want to turn the heat down to medium-high. The pudding will steam for 6 hours. Keep an eye on the water level of the steamer and add boiling water (use the tea kettle) as needed. The steamer will boil off water more quickly than you expect!
After six hours, remove the pudding and take off the foil and parchment cover. Let the pudding cool (this will take a while) then recover and move to your larder (or unheated bedroom, I have one of those, too!). Every week until Christmas, feed the pudding one more tablespoon of brandy and replace its cover.
When Christmastime arrives, I'm going to re-steam the pudding (for 1 1/2 hours), set it aflame and serve it with brandy butter. You'll have to check back later for all of that.
*I just candied the other half of the lemon and orange, using the Martha Stewart recipe. However, I've found that the peel only needs about 10 minutes of simmering in the syrup rather than an hour. I had an unfortunate incident with burnt orange-flavored caramel once. You'll only need one cup of sugar and one cup of water.
I'll be back with in a few days with my mincemeat recipe (which needs 3 weeks of maturing until Christmas). Until then, have a happy Thanksgiving!