Making a stir of tradition

Sue and Rayana stir the Christmas pud

Sue and Rayana stir the Christmas pud

It’s Stir Up Sunday on November 21 which should result in a flaming Christmas Pudding on December 25th. And if you make it yourself it will be far superior to shop-bought versions.

It does require a bit of pre-planning so check below and make sure you have all the ingredients. Bear in mind the mix needs to be left overnight then you have to be on hand to steam it the following day. Here’s how we got on a couple of years ago . . .

For the past few years my wife and I have been celebrating Stir Up Sunday with gusto. You get all the ingredients together and mix them up in a bowl, left overnight for the flavours to develop and infuse before steaming. It can take a good eight hours.

Then it goes into a tin and is stored under the bed (or in the cellar) until Christmas Day and several more hours steaming on the hob.

I’d like to say we were simply following in our own parents’ tradition but we’re not. They just bought one from the grocer. We are following the sainted Delia (Delia Smith, Britain’s answer to America’s Martha Stewart, for overseas readers) as it’s her recipe which we use. It is home made for a reason.

Make sure all the ingredients are mixed thoroughly

Make sure all the ingredients are mixed thoroughly

My wife loves Christmas Pudding but I hated the commercial sickliness of each pudding we bought so we decided to make our own. And you know what? It works. It tastes good and I can eat more than the token spoonful.

We’re also helping to revive an old tradition. All this stirring is a family occasion, held on the last Sunday before Advent, so dates change from year to year. We are not sticklers for the exact date. As the spoon is passed from person to person they make a wish. In the bad old days before health and safety Mum surreptitiously slipped in a silver sixpence which finished up in one of the portions.

I’ve read that the pudding is stirred from east to west in honour of the Three Wise Men but we’d have to find a compass first. It is also claimed Prince Albert brought the tradition with him but, in fact, George I brought it over from Germany at the beginning of the Eighteenth Century.

You can find the recipe on page 37 of her book, Delia Smith’s Christmas, which is the one we use, which serves 8-10 people. A smaller pudding with just slightly less of the same ingredients, which serves six, is listed below.

You will need a 11/2 pint pudding basin, lightly greased.
3oz (75g) shredded suet
11/2oz (40g) self-raising flour
3oz (75g) fresh white breadcrumbs
3/4 level teaspoon mixed spice
good pinch freshly grated nutmeg
good pinch ground cinnamon
6oz (175g) soft dark brown sugar
3oz (75g) sultanas
3oz (75g) raisins
7oz (200g) currants
3/4oz (20g) mixed chopped peel
3/4oz (20g) blanched almonds, finely chopped
1 small Bramley cooking apple (5oz/150g)
grated zest of 1/2 medium orange
grated zest of 1/2 lemon
11/2 tablespoons rum or brandy
2fl oz (55ml) barley wine*
2fl oz (55ml) stout
2 medium eggs

*This is not that easy to find these days so just add a little bit more booze of your choice. I did find it at Waitrose, four cans of Banks’s Barley Gold for £5.25. They don’t sell single cans. Which is rather a lot to pay if you’re not planning to get blotto with this high strength beer. “Everybody just wants one,” said an assistant. Can’t be any demand for it then, can there?

*This year we have bought a bottle of Guinness West Indies Porter. We’ll let you know how well it worked next year! **It worked very well.

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Marmalade Monday



It’s not just Paddington Bear who loves marmalade. I do, too, but it can be a faff making it. By the time you’ve finished you could be halfway to Peru. I was telling an Indian friend about the cutting, squeezing, shredding, soaking, simmering and boiling that goes into every jar of marmalade and she said “That’s an awful lot of work.”

So it is. Even Saint Delia never uses more than two pounds of oranges at a time because it is time consuming. So I decided to spread the job over two days and it was a doddle.

Seville oranges were 79p a pound and I bought two. My basic recipe is two pounds of sugar and two pints of water for every pound of oranges. If you add more water you get a thinner end result, more sugar and it’s sweeter. Brown sugar makes it darker. And it’s your choice if you add a tot of whisky at the end.

On the Sunday I washed, halved and juiced the oranges, reserving the juice and scooping out the pith and seeds into a separate container. A grapefruit spoon helps. Then I cut each half in half, flattened and shred it with a sharp knife. This is the really boring bit. You might start out intending to make very thin shreds but soon lose resolve.

I put the shreds into a preserving pan and added the water and juice. I got 14 fl oz, or 350ml, so deducted that from the amount of water. Leaving it to soak overnight helps to tenderise the peel but not by much. I still had to simmer for an hour the next day, Marmalade Monday.

Meanwhile, you’ve got the pips and peel, which contain the pectin to provide a set, to deal with. Put them in a sterilised jelly bag, tie up with string and dangle it in the pan. Cover with a cloth and forget about it. You shouldn’t need preserving sugar or lemon juice but I like to add that from half a lemon just to be sure.

The next day put the pan on the heat and simmer until the peel is tender. Check by squeezing some with a spoon against the pan. Careful, it’s hot. Once you put in the sugar it won’t soften any more. I like to add my sugar in batches on a moderate heat, making sure all is dissolved before adding more.

But before all this you need to remove the jelly bag with pulp and pips. Put it in a dish, allow to cool, then squeeze out any juices. It’s a bit like milking a cow.

Now there is a lot of myth and magic about achieving a set. I don’t use a sugar thermometer because I find they are inaccurate and gave me several years of prdeserves set rigid when commonsense told me otherwise. You can’t beat the wrinkle test with a blob on an ice cold plate. And if the marmalade is coating the side of the pan or clinging to your wooden spoon, that’s telling you it’s ready.

I did my first test for a set ten minutes after bringing the pan to the boil. Put a blob on a plate and stick it in the fridge and don’t be in a hurry. Give it a good five minutes and have a cup of tea. Meanwhile, turn off the heat under the pan. A lot of recipes don’t tell you that.

It was going the right way but needed five minutes more. I filled two jars and reheated the pan for another five minutes for another, firmer, set. Turn off the heat, give the mixture a good stir to distribute the peel and allow to cool before filling clean and sterilised jam jars. I filled nine of different sizes with some left over in a dish. And though I say it myself it’s lovely.

Follow this recipe and you should be right. Oh and don’t forget that last plate left in the freezer!


There’s scum in the pan. Ignore it and put it all in the first jar, skim it off or add a knob of butter. I don’t know why but it works.

My peel has all floated to the top of the jars. You didn’t stir enough and allow to cool properly. It’s still good to eat. Try upending the jars as they cool every ten minutes so eventually the peel disperses.

Help, it’s not setting! Don’t panic. Just leave the jars somewhere quiet and it should set overnight. That’s what mine did yet the leftover marmalade in a dish set almost immediately.