The Pheasant Philosopher’s Christmas Diaries: Stir Up Sunday

Originating in the early 18th century, Stir Up Sunday is the day traditionally designated to undertake the making of the Christmas Pudding.

Always kept on the last Sunday before Advent, it is said that Stir Up Sunday originated from a passage in a sermon in ‘The Book of Common Prayer’ translated from the Roman Catholic ‘Excita Quarsumus’ and read on the last Sunday in November.

“Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people”

However, whilst I consider myself spiritual, but not tied to one particular religion, I see it as a day to have fun with the family, make wishes whilst stirring, and generally set the scene for the beginning of the Christmas festivities. It also allows at least 4 weeks for the Pudding to mature in a dark cupboard before being brought flaming to the table on Christmas Day.

Traditionally made with 13 ingredients to represent the 12 apostles and Jesus, my Christmas Pudding recipe is adapted from the doyenne of English cookery Eliza Acton, whose recipe was first published in the 1840s. Under the reign of Queen Victoria (1837-1901), with Prince Albert’s Germanic influences, Christmas became the spectacle it it today, with so many of our Christmas traditions filtering down from this, most famous of couples.

Although the roots of Christmas Pudding’s are deep set in The Middle Ages – where meat and fruit was combined with spices in many recipes – the sweet, sticky, boozy concoction we know and love today is very much a product of post-reformation Britain.

Packed full of moist vine fruits, suet, mixed peel, spices and, of course, booze – it is synonymous with Christmas Lunch and, love it or hate it, no Christmas meal is complete without it. Traditionally, every member of the household takes a turn to stir the pudding and make a wish. My Great Grandmother would take her industrial sized Christmas Pudding to the local brewery to be steamed in the great vessels used for brewing and my grandmother, who is now almost 108 still enjoys taking a turn stirring the pudding and making her wish.

Historically, a selection of silver tokens are stirred into the mix – most often a sixpence (silver is by nature anti-bacterial so no poisoning worries there, although it does make for somewhat of a choking hazard) and the finder of this would “enjoy wealth and good luck in the year to come”.

Christmas Pudding

Serves 6-8

75g plain flour (or gluten free)

75g breadcrumbs (I like to use wholemeal)

175g suet (beef or vegetable)

175g chopped figs

175g sultanas

50g diced mixed peel

1 large apple, grated

1 large orange, zest grated and juiced

150g dark brown sugar

1.5 tsp mixed spice

1/2 tsp sea salt

100ml Armagnac (or any spirit you prefer)

3 eggs lightly beaten

Method

Mix all the ingredients together in a large bowl, making sure that every member of the household gets to stir and make their wish!

Pour into a greased pudding bowl – I use a 21 cm Pyrex bowl – cover with a dampened new tea towel or muslin then tie securely with string.

Place on a trivet in a large lidded pan and pour water 3/4 of the way up the side

Bring to the boil and then simmer gently for 4 hours, topping up the water when necessary

Cool and store in a cool, dark and dry place – I keep my pudding in the bowl, in a large tin – you can ‘feed’ it with spirits but if you are planning on bringing it, flaming, to the table too much additional alcohol can prove dangerous.

On Christmas Day, repeat the steaming procedure for 1 and 1/2 hours then serve with your choice of Brandy Butter, Custard, Cream or Vanilla Sauce – not forgetting the obligatory sprig of decorative Holly!


Is it Autumn yet?….

IMG_5139

I am an Autumnophile (if there is such a word). I get terribly excited in about July and wait for that change in the air which denotes the beginning of the new season and having become extremely sensitive to this natural phenomenon I can state that Autumn does begin in August, usually when I’m in France on about the 7th. This year it was on the 5th and I admit to phoning Mr D (who was working in the UK) at 7 am in the morning to let him know, although I don’t think he entirely shares my enthusiasm for cold, damp days and soggy leaves!

I’m not sure where this date stands from an ‘equinox’ point of view but meteorologically the Autumn is supposed to begin in late September. However, the leaves are just starting to turn here, the air is muggy and warm, there are plums in abundance and our abandoned grape vine is bending with fruit. I sense a difference in the light, I can’t quite pinpoint the exact first feelings of Autumn (before the traditional ‘signs’) but it does seems to be in the light, which changes to a more golden hue from the bright, fluffy light of summer. Growing up, I  was always told that Mayday was the first day of summer, with its Green Men and general frolics (now apparently the first day of summer is sometime in late June which surely is close to Midsummer’s Day, the clue being the word Midsummer.) In December we don’t sing “In the Bleak Early Winter” as is meteorologically correct. And I’m sure Midwinter is around the equinox of the 21/22/23rd, therefore, Winter must actually start in November which is ‘meteorologically’ Autumn. See how confusing it all is? Answers on a postcard, please!

But for now, all I can really think about is the prospect of Autumn food, long boots, snuggly jumpers, candles and log fires (although I know it’s too early to indulge). So….to help my with my addiction  I’m going to share a few of my favourite Autumn things over the next few weeks, items which I think are essential to enjoy the nights drawing in and the temperature dropping. I know there are many of you who seek the last days of the summer, praying that it’ll eek out into September, but sorry to say an ‘Indian summer’ is just a ‘Warm Autumn’. Perhaps we are just conditioned to hibernation, the arrival of the orchard fruits in abundance call out to our early genetic makeup to ‘stock up and store’ for the hard winter (which we fail to have now).

IMG_3286

When I take the Collie out, along the lane beside the river and up into the woods the smell of autumn is just creeping in – it is of course the smell of decaying vegetation, and not the most desirable if analysed, but I so enjoy driving through the cider orchards and inhaling the fruitiness in the air before the fruity smell turns slightly alcoholic in early October. I do think a cider post will be essential around that time – after all, it’s only fair to guide my readers through the perils of scrumpy, Perry and the like. But for today, overcast and slightly warm, I think I’ll stay indoors, bake something and just ponder on the wonderful season ahead.

fullsizeoutput_f97