Florence Berger shares in depth in the Cooking for Christ cookbook about her family’s traditions surrounding the Sunday before Advent, referred to as “Stir Up Sunday”, and the history of the holiday celebration throughout the centuries.
“At the very first Sunday before Advent, we women hear the warning to get busy: ‘Stir up Thy power we beseech Thee, Oh Lord, and come’ (from the Anglican’s Book of Common Prayer). It is the time to hurry home and stir up your plum puddings. In England even today this is known as ‘Stir-up Sunday.’ (In the liturgical year for the Roman Latin Church, it is the Sunday that celebrates the Solemnity of Christ the King.) The more you can stir a pudding the better. Each member of the family should come and give a good stir. Plum Puddings are deliberate affairs. It takes a bit of gathering and garnering before we begin.
Each year, as we assemble all the good things that go into the plum pudding, the children want to hear the plum pudding story. It is a tale which goes far back into the pagan times when the Celtic god, the Dagda, lived in the hills of Britain. The Dagda was the god of plenty. When he saw the sun turn in its course to come closer to the earth with each lengthening day, he decided to hold a festival. So he built a great fire under an enormous black cauldron called Undry. In the cauldron he placed the most delicious fruits of the earth and all other good things. There was meal and meat and fruit. Slowly he cooked it and spiced it and tasted it. Dagda was pleased with his plum porridge and he was ready to rejoice at the Yuletide.
The recipe was passed down through the years. When Christianity came, the recipe was not changed. The dish of honor though, was dedicated, not to the sun, but to Christ, ‘the true light who comes to enlighten the world plunged into darkness.’ When the nineteenth century came, the meat was cut to suet (the hard white fat from around the beef kidneys) and the plums fell by the wayside. Even today the pudding stands resplendent, topped with its sprig of holly and blazing with burning brandy. In it the fruits of the earth bring all their luscious goodness to the birth feast of their King.”
1 pound suet or 2 cups vegetable shortening
2 cups stale breadcrumbs
3 cups brown sugar
6 large eggs, beaten
4 cups orange juice
4 cups sifted all-purpose flour
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp salt
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground nutmeg
2 medium-sized potatoes, peeled
2 medium-sized apples, peeled
2 medium-sized carrots, peeled
1 fresh lemon peel
1 fresh orange peel
1⁄2 cup diced candied orange peel
1⁄2 cup diced candied grapefruit peel
3 cups raisins
2 cups dried currants
1 cup diced candied citron
1 cup blanched almonds
Wine or fruit juice, as needed
Grind the suet (or shortening) and bread together, and add the sugar. Moisten with beaten eggs and orange juice. Add the flour and spices. Grind the raw vegetables with the fresh and candied peels. Stir these into the batter. Stir in raisins, currants, citron and almonds. If the pudding is dry or lumpy, add wine or fruit juice.
Pack in buttered molds, cover tightly, and stand on a trivet in a large pot. Add enough boiling water to immerse the molds halfway. Cover the pot. Steam over low heat for 8 hours, replenishing the water as needed.
Our grandmothers would steam their plum puddings for eight or ten hours, but I put mine in the pressure cooker at 15 pounds pressure for 80 minutes. Cool the puddings before unmolding them. Wrap the puddings in plastic wrap and then foil; store in a cool, dry place for up to one year.
Purchase a copy of the Cooking for Christ cookbook here.