Stir up, we beseech thee, the pudding in the pot
and when we get home we’ll eat the lot!
Here we are nearing the end of November and believe it or not, Stir it up Sunday is almost upon us. Christmas is a dream for a food history fanatic like me, offering a wealth of ritual and culinary superstition.
The origins of stir it up Sunday and indeed, the children’s rhyme above, relate to a reading in The Book of Common Prayer written in 1549. Still used in church today the piece is read the last Sunday before Advent, just 4 Sundays before Christmas. It became common practice for the reading to act as a prompt to take the first steps towards celebrating the season.
I’m going to concentrate on the Christmas cake. I am keen to share the family recipe and if I tried to include pudding I could still be writing as we head into December. But if you would like to have a go at a Christmas pudding you can’t go far wrong using the Be-Ro recipe as your starting point. Have a go, play around with the ingredients and make it your own.
The indulgent combination of dried fruit, butter and eggs can be found as far back as the middle ages. These ‘cakes’ were actually a fruit bread risen with ale-balm, so called as it was scooped from the top of the current batch of brewing ale. I once had the good fortune of recreating a ‘Plumb Cake’ from the 18th Century ‘Kidder’s Receipts’ with a pound of flour, six pounds of currants and a quart of ale-balm from local microbrewery Treboom. It had a pretty good rise and was a monster of a cake!
Packed full of dried fruits, spice and sugar,the fruitcake has always accompanied times of celebration and wealth. Despite attempts by Oliver Cromwell and the puritans to ban it just a century before, in the Georgian Era heavily iced fruitcake can be found at the Twelfth Night celebrations. It is then – as with many of our modern Christmas celebrations – the influence of Prince Albert and Queen Victoria which brings us the tradition of the rich fruitcake eaten today.
The recipe I share today started life with a Mrs Holman, neighbour to my Nan Beryl Reed. Mrs Holman provided celebration cakes for people in the village and passed on her fruitcake recipe to my Mum. It was used for both my Christening and Wedding cake and has it’s foundations in that good old stalwart mentioned earlier, the Be-Ro baking book. In the hands of my Mum, Aunt and myself we have all scribbled our own little alterations. This is mine.
The family Christmas cake recipe
- 10 oz softened butter
- 10 oz brown sugar
- 5 medium eggs, beaten
- 1 tbsp black treacle
- 1 tsp mixed spice
- 1/2 tsp white pepper
- 10 oz plain flour
- 2 oz ground almonds
- 2 1/2 lbs of dried fruit – currant, sultanas, raisins, glace cherries, dates
- Madeira wine for feeding
Line and grease a 28cm (11 inch) round cake tin. Preheat your oven to 150C.
Place all the dried fruit in a bowl and mix with a tablespoon or so of the flour to coat all the fruit. Set aside for later.
Cream the butter and sugar in a large bowl. Spoon in the treacle before mixing in the eggs, a bit at a time. if the mixture starts to curdle add in a spoonful of flour and mix again.
Fold in the rest of the flour, ground almonds and spices, then the dried fruit to finish. Don’t forget to make a wish!
Bake for three and half to four hours or until firm on the top and a skewer comes out clean. Cover the top of the cake with a disk of greaseproof half way through to prevent burning.
Feed twice a week with the Madeira until ready to eat.