This weekend gives us Stir-up Sunday, when traditionally it is permitted for us to start getting enthusiastic about Christmas. This is the last Sunday before Advent and in the Book of Common Prayer it says somewhere, something about “Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord…plenteously bringing forth fruits of good work.” And if it’s in the Book of Common Prayer, it’s legit in my book (my book is inscribed at the front: “To Kenneth J. Mackley, Easter 1925”, as if proof were needed that I’m a God-fearing fellow who researches these columns scrupulously).
Anyway, on Stir-up Sunday, you stir and steam your Christmas puds, and it makes sense to do this five weeks before the Big Day. Christmas puddings need time to sit and fizz and brew, so that by the 25th December, just after the Queen’s speech it will arrive at the table alight and crackling with holly, and everyone is far too full to eat another of mouthful of anything. Still, it was a nice thought.
Whether it gets eaten or not, it’s good to stir pud this Sunday. As a Christmas pudding steams away on the hob, your house stops being four walls and a mortgage, and becomes homelier than ever. The smells of spices, rich fruit and citrus peel, and the kitchen windows fugged with condensation takes me back to being small, when everything was right with the world. Rose-tinted nostalgia is as integral to my Christmas as the John Lewis advert and the Nativity itself.
There’s something simply splendid about our old puddings: their lore, legacies and latent lunacy. I mean, where else in the world would a whole day be earmarked for stirring currants and eggs?
At work the other day (the Ludlow Food Centre where incidentally they make a glorious Christmas Pudding should the idea of making one’s own be too onerous) we set about creating Lord Randall’s pudding, a marvellous steamed sponge spiked with bitter marmalade and sweetened with apricots. But were we able to find out who Lord Randall was? Were we heck as like. I suspect he was a caddish philanderer of some sort, afflicted with dead man’s leg and spotted Dick, which he caught from Apple Charlotte. Although I’ll wager that Brown Betty, and Eve got involved too. HRH the Queen of Puddings of course was not inculpable, but sources (sauces?) tell me she was boating on a Sussex pond that day, so we’ll give her the benefit of the doubt.
I’m not particularly sweet-toothed, but there is such soothing and solace to be found in the sugary and stodgy old favourites. Make time for your pudding this Stir-up Sunday and escape the commercial claptrap, just temporarily, with a wooden spoon. The time Dear Readers, for figgy pudding, is now.