Christmas preparations

Well it's November now, so I can start Christmas preparations without too much apology.  In fact  I usually do these dried fruit items in October, but I've been away so much of the last few weeks that there hasn't been time. Until now. So it's Christmas Cake, Christmas pudding, and Mincemeat. Now I realise Dried Fruit Phobics may think of all three of these as being essentially the same thing in a different shape, so I've tried this year, to ensure that all three, despite including vine fruits, are completely different in taste and in texture. Two points - if you have access to a good supply of superior vine fruits from a Turkish shop in Stoke Newington, take advantage of it, but even if you have to use Tesco's it's always worth soaking the fruit in liquid, preferably alcoholic, to plump it up and ensure moistness in the finished item. And if you only use sweet spices like cinnamon at Christmas it's worth buying in new stock because last year's will be dry as dust and about as tasty.So for all that soaking you'll be needing some of this

and some of this

and probably some of this

Don't spend a fortune on alcohol for cooking, it's a waste of money, I don't care what Heston Blumenthall says...

The pudding is the one I've always made, rich dark and traditional. Note I avoided the obvious joke about boyfriends.

The mincemeat is very citrussy, and so much better than anything you can buy in the shops it's well worth the small effort of making. You used to be able to buy a halfway decent mincemeat and just jazz it up with a bit of brandy but all the ones I see nowadays (I hate using that word) but nowadays, they all seem to be made with mouth puckering artificial flavours and some kind of gluey stuff to thicken it up. Yuk.

And my cake this year is a bit Brazilian in theme, (did I mention I went to Brazil...)Not that I imagine they have anything like English Christmas cake in Brazil, but whilst I was there I picked up some of this in the market..

Its a Brazilian sweet which is basically a solidified chunk of sugar cane. It has a lovely rich treacly flavour so I thought I would incorporate some of it into my Christmas cake. If you don't happen to have any Rapadura Caipira on hand you can use Billington's unrefined dark brown sugar, or Muscovado.

If you're going to do all three, I think the most sensible way to go about it is to do all of them together, spread over a couple of days as they all involve soaking fruit in various alcoholic liquids to swell them up and ensure a moist, flavourfull result. A slight side effect of this is that your kitchen smells like a distillery with great vats of alcoholic dried fruit macerating in various bowls, which I rather like. So anyway you will need three large bowls.

Bowl 1 Christmas Pudding

The pudding is essentially the same incendiary device that I've made for years, you either love it or hate it, but it's dark, traditional and spicy, and for many years when my children were young I made it and brought it out only to set it on fire for the sake of tradition, and return it to the kitchen untouched, except by me. I detect a slightly more enthusiastic audience for it these days, and anyway I still love it, with a big blob of clotted cream gently melting over it. I can hardly wait.

1 lb of mixed dried fruit, about half of it currants, a small amount of dried peel, (about an ounce) and the rest sultanas and raisins.
zest and juice of 1 orange and 1 lemon
1 teaspoon mixed spice
half a teaspoon of freshly grated nutmeg
half a teaspoon ground cinnamon
6 oz soft dark brown sugar
1 tablespoon black treacle or molasses
a glug of rum
2 oz ground almonds
4 oz fresh white breadcrumbs
2 oz  flour
4 oz shredded suet
half a pint of barley wine or stout or Old Peculiar
2 egggs
a 2 pint/1 litre pudding bowl - if you use a plastic one with a lid you can dispense with the greaseproof covering in the picture providing you don't lose the lid, like some people.

Take large bowl number one and put in the dried fruit, citrus, spices, sugar, treacle and rum. Stir.

Add everything else and stir well. Make sure everyone in the house gets to stir and make a wish, then leave the bowl until the next day, when you turn it into a 2 pint pudding basin, insert silver treasure items (I do have some small American coins which look prettier, but you have to take account of visiting family members, either very old or very young who may break dentures or choke on small bits of metal in the pudding, so I go for big pound coins, which are easy to spot, soaked overnight in vinegar to clean them)

then cover and steam for hours.

And hours.
Eight hours will be needed to get the dark rich colour of the traditional pudding. If you use a pressure cooker you can steam it for half an hour and then pressure cook for 3 hours. But apart from ensuring that it doesn't boil dry you can ignore it. Allow it to cool and store in a cool cupboard until Christmas. You can reheat it in minutes on the day if you have a microwave oven, otherwise steam for another hour or so before serving. Turn out the lights, warm your brandy or rum and set it alight before pouring over the pudding and bringing triumphantly to the table in the traditional manner. Don't forget the clotted cream. Try not to set the house on fire.

In bowl number 2 Mincemeat
I make a lot of mincemeat, because I need a lot of mince pies for one reason or another, we just get through loads of them. I always like to have some to offer people around Christmas and New Year, I expect people get fed up of them, but it's Christmas, you have to have mince pies, it's the law.

2 lbs of mixed dried fruit, this time you need predominantly raisins about half, and the rest currants and sultanas and a small amount of dried candied peel.
8 oz shredded suet
12 oz granulated sugar
2 tablespoons molasses or black treacle
zest and juice of 2 oranges and 3 lemons depending on size
4 teaspoons mixed spice
1 teaspoon cinnamon
half teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
half a teaspoon ground cloves
1 lb peeled and grated bramley apples
2 oz chopped glace cherries
large glug of rum

Put everything except the rum into bowl 2 and stir. Leave overnight. You can put it into jars straight away, but the problem with mincemeat with a high fruit content is that it tends to ferment, which can be very annoying, and can even lead to exploding jars. The Jackson Pollock Mincemeat Effect is not a good look even in the contemporary kitchen. To avoid this I now use Delia's method of heating the mixture in a warm oven for an hour or two until it's heated through and the suet melted. Leave it to cool and stir occasionally, to distribute the fat evenly thoughout.

 Add the rum and stir in. Keep in sterilized jars, in a cool larder. It doesn't look as pretty after being heated but it doesn't harm the flavour, and it does help prevent the fermentation problem.

Use a good sweet shortcrust recipe for your mince pies see this post for a recipe. Keep a cooked supply of mince pies in the freezer ready to be whipped out and warmed in the oven at  a moment's notice, until your friends and neighbours are too scared to come round any more.

Bowl 3 Christmas cake
 As I'm trying out a slightly different recipe this year I will report back after it's done, and let you know if it's ok or whether you might be better off going to someone else's house for Christmas Tea.


  1. These recipes all sound so delicious! And me without a working oven. Sigh. I love mincemeat pie. I'm keeping these recipes for when my oven is connected. Thank you!

  2. Great post, love the bargain booze! Thanks for posting on the UKFB I've blogged group. I'm making my Chrismtas cake this weekend, my mum is making the pud this year and bringing it with her.

  3. Intrigued by the Rapadura Caipira. I often cook with Rapadura. I buy it in my local organic shop, but it comes in a sugary format rather than a block. So is Rapadura Caipira just pure dried cane juice or has it other ingredients added I wonder?

  4. Calllie how are you managing? Is it salads everyday? Hope you get connected soon.

  5. Janice, I think it's great when family members pitch in with dishes at Christmas time. I might be dropping some hints.....

  6. Choclette, I had no idea you could get Rapadura here,I'll look out for it, apparently Caipira means "yokel" or "country style" in portugese, so maybe it's a bit more basic. It's certainly a solid block!

  7. I get the hint Mum! I'll try and rustle something up to bring with us although sweet things aren't my speciality (I don't think tart tatin is very festive really is it!)

  8. Hello Kathy,

    Delighted to find your blog. I just found it via your comment on the bean-sprout blog. My daughter lives not far from you - in Chedworth. She, her husband and two children took part in the Cricklade Fun Run last month (and also last year).

    Yes, time to start the Christmas preparations...

  9. As if I would drop hints James! I'm thinking Tarte Tatin with brandy cream....

  10. Thanks Isabella your daughter sounds much more energetic than me I fear...


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