(HOST) Even though the holiday season is just getting under way, commentator Marialisa Calta says it’s not to soon for one particular project.
(CALTA) Just after Labor Day this year, I spied fully decorated Christmas trees in a large chain store. In the past, I would have had fits over this early hype, but in recent years I’ve learned to appreciate it as an early-warning system: get ready, it’s almost time to make that Christmas Pudding. The idea is that the flavors need weeks to mellow, so you’ve got to get it done early. The weekend after Thanksgiving is a good one to set aside for the project. And a project, it is. First, you throw your back out hauling the ingredients (a pound of everything, including – ew – suet)from store to home. Second, you develop the biceps of an Olympic weightlifter stirring the batter. Third, you spend a day of your life hovering over a steaming pot while the darn thing cooks. Think you’re done? Think again! Christmas puddings require regular FEEDING. My last one consumed half a bottle of some very good brandy. It might be easier to buy a puppy.
I got started on this absurd project several years ago, when a friend induced me to make a pudding for a Christmas raffle. I got the recipe from Nancy Webb of Montpelier, who got it from a friend in England, which made me feel that it was especially authentic. Nancy’s recipe makes two puddings, each with the heft of a bowling ball.
I sent one of the puddings happily off to be raffled. Years later, a stranger came up to me to tell me how appalled she had been to be the winner. “I had no idea I’d have to FEED it!” she said, still sounding horrified. “It drank all my liquor!” I kept the second pudding for our annual Christmas caroling party. When the time came, I artfully arranged the pudding on a bed of greens, poured more brandy on top, and set it on fire. The bed of greens, that is. I was AIMING to set the pudding alight, but somehow the branches caught. Needless to say, my guests were impressed.
You’d have that thought that by this time I would have sworn off making Christmas Pudding, and I would have, too, except for one thing: it’s absolutely delicious. Christmas Pudding tastes the way Christmas is supposed to. One bite and you’re transported into a kind of Dickensian reverie; snow is falling on gas-lit cobblestones, young choirboys are singing ancient carols and Scrooge himself is having a change of heart. Powerful stuff.
But, then, Christmas, itself, is a powerful holiday.
Now, to find the suet.
I’m Marialisa Calta of Calais.
Marialisa Calta is a free-lance writer and cookbook author.
RECIPE FOR CHRISTMAS PUDDING
1 pound currants
1 pound golden raisins
1 pound suet, ground
1 pound raisins
1 pound all-purpose flour
1 pound bread crumbs
1 large carrot, peeled and grated
1 large apple, grated
1 cup rum
1/4 pound candied orange or lemon peel
3/4 pound brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoon mixed spices (ground ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, mace and/or cloves)
juice and grated rind of 2 lemons
2 ounces ground almonds
3 extra-large eggs, lightly beaten
vegetable oil, solid vegetable shortening or butter for greasing pudding molds
4 cups brandy for storing and serving
In a very large mixing bowl, combine all ingredients, using clean hands to mix.
Note: if you want to add a coin or good-luck charm to your Christmas pudding, sterilize it first for 5 minutes, and then wrap it in foil, before placing it in the batter. Remember to warn your guests when you serve it.
Generously grease two two-quart quart pudding molds, with tops, or two two-quart, heat-proof bowls without tops. If using a decorative mold, make sure to carefully grease any indentations or patterns. If using lid-less bowls, line the bottom with a circle of wax paper or parchment paper, cut to fit and oiled on both sides.
Pack the pudding mixture into the molds or bowls, leveling the mixture with a spoon. If using lid-less bowls, cover the tops with another circle of oiled paper, cut to fit.
If your molds have lids, put them on. If not, cut two pieces of cheesecloth (one per bowl) so they will adequately cover the top and hang well over the sides. Sprinkle cheesecloth with water to dampen. Sprinkle with flour and place one over each bowl, floured side down. Tie each cloth with a string below the rim of the bowls, leaving the cloth loose so that the puddings have room to rise as they steam. Bring the cloth ends up over the string, over top of each bowl, and tie them to form a handle.
Place a trivet or steaming rack into two pots, each large enough to hold one pudding. Lower a pudding into each, and pour boiling water into each pot until each pudding is immersed half-way. Cover the pot and simmer the puddings for 9 hours, adding boiling water as needed.
Remove puddings from pots and allow to cool thoroughly.
The puddings will be best if kept for at least a month for flavors to mature: unmold the puddings, wrap them in cheesecloth, pour a cup of brandy or rum over the cheesecloth. Wrap each pudding in a plastic bag and refrigerate.
To serve, unwrap each pudding and return them to their molds or bowls, covered with a lid, or with parchment and cheesecloth on top (the idea is to keep water out). Steam each for two hours, half immersed in boiling water.
To serve, unmold the puddings and pour a glass of warm brandy over the top of each. Hold a lighted match near the pudding and ignite the brandy.
Serve with whiskey sauce (below) or hard sauce.
Note: I’ve never tried halving the recipe, but it could probably be done. I figure that if I’m going to all this trouble, I might as well make two; one to keep and one to give away.
Yield: two plum puddings, at least 20 servings each
Recipe from Nancy Webb, Montpelier, VT
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup bourbon, rum or other whiskey
Melt butter in top bowl of a double boiler set over hot, not boiling, water. In a separate bowl, combine the sugar and egg. Add to melted butter. Stir 2 to 5 minutes, until sugar dissolves completely and mixture is thick and smooth (DO NOT BOIL or egg will scramble). Remove pan from heat and let sauce cool slightly. Stir in bourbon.
This makes enough for one of the puddings.
Recipe from Karen Ziner, Providence, R.I.