Today is popularly known as 'Stir Up Sunday', from the traditional collect of the day: "Stir up, we beseech Thee, O Lord, the wills of Thy faithful people; that they, plenteously bringing forth the fruit of good works, may of Thee be plenteously rewarded; through Jesus Christ, our Lord, Amen."
The schoolboy's rendition of the above collect was:
"Stir up, we beseech thee, the pudding in the pot
And when we get home, we'll eat it all hot!"
This collect was a signal to cooks and housewives that it was time to make the Christmas puddings, or at least stir together the ingredients for the puddings, some of which, like the Widow's Mincemeat, will be stored in spirituous liquor until baking or steaming time (Christmas Eve).
Aha! But it is not as easy as that. The pudding must be made of thirteen ingredients, to honor Christ and his Apostles. For luck in the coming year, each member of the household – including guests and servants, if you have them – must give the batter a stir, stirring from east to west in honor of the Three Kings (some say clockwise with eyes shut), and making a wish as they stir.
You can read a page here devoted to the customs of Stir-up Sunday (aka Christmas Pudding Day) by Mandy Barrow, which includes a recipe with a few more than the requisite thirteen ingredients. Oh well. The remaining three ingredients can be in honor of Paul, Mark, and Luke.
This 1880 recipe comes from The Appledore Cook Book by Maria Parloa:
“One quart of bread (bakers’ is the best), one quart of milk, six eggs, one cup of brown sugar, one of molasses, one of suet, one teaspoonful each of cinnamon, clove, allspice, mace, and nutmeg, one cup of currants, one of raisins, one quarter of a pound of citron. Boil the milk, and pour on the bread; let this stand one hour; then stir into it the sugar, spice, suet, raisins, and currants; beat the eggs to a froth, and stir in. Have ready a deep earthen pot well buttered, and turn the mixture into it, and bake four hours, or steam five. Serve with rich wine sauce.”
Good Housekeeping in 1886 offered this recipe for Christmas pudding:
“Ten eggs, one pound of beef suet, one pound of raisins, one pound of dried cherries or currants, one pint of milk, one pound of flour, on-quarter pound of citron cut in thin slices. Put the flour and suet together; rub the fruit, also, in a little flour. Beat the eggs very light, leaving out the whites of five. Add all the ingredients gradually into the batter. If it is thicker than cupcake batter, add a little more milk, then put a teaspoonful of ground ginger, one of powered cinnamon, two nutmegs, teaspoonful of powdered cloves, grated rind of a lemon, wine glass of wine, one of brandy, a little powdered mace, one pint of bread crumbs. Dredge the fruit well with flour to prevent it sinking to the bottom, scald the bag well and rub it well with flour, leaving plenty of room for the pudding to swell and stop the hold with dough. Let the water be boiling. This size pudding will take four hours boiling. Pour brandy over the pudding. Bring to the table burning.”
If you follow the custom of adding small silver (or silver-ish, but NO PLASTIC) charms to your pudding before cooking, wrap them in waxed paper first, and remind your guests to be on the lookout. A sixpence was the original lucky piece, signifying wealth, but later charms included a thimble (spinsterhood), button (bachelorhood), pig (very good luck), ring (marriage), boot (travel), wishbone (a wish come true) or horseshoe (good luck).
And if for some reason your pudding refuses to steam in the proper cannonball shape, you can always boil it in liquid and call it Plum Porridge. Also known as Plum Broth or Pottage, it predated the pudding and was “a sort of soup with plumbs”, eaten as the first course at Christmas dinner. “It was made by boiling beef or mutton with broth, thickened with brown bread; when half boiled, raisins, currants, prunes, cloves, mace, and ginger were added, and when the mess had been thoroughly boiled it was sent to table with the best meats.” Plum Porridge for a crowd in 1801 included:
40 pounds of leg of veal
6 shins of beef
50 fourpenny loaves
60 pounds of double refined sugar
250 lemons and oranges
40 pounds each of raisins and currants
30 pounds of prunes
And then the spices: 3 ounces of cochineal, 1 ounce of nutmeg, and ½ ounce each of cinnamon and cloves.
And then the liquids: 6 dozen bottles each of sack, old hock, and sherry.
Maria Parloa’s Plum Porridge is a bit easier and sober: “Into one quart of boiling milk stir two spoonfuls of flour mixed with cold milk; put in a handful of raisins and a little grated nutmeg. Boil twenty minutes. Season with salt and strain.”
The Widow prefers to stir up Mincemeat for her Christmas pies, but like fruitcake and plum-pudding, it is an acquired taste. Pity those poor souls who are faint of tongue and cannot appreciate such delicacies! At one time, the eating of Mince Pies was a test of religious opinions. The Puritans, who did their level best to suppress Christmas altogether, so connected the pies with Christmas and all its pagan/Popish traditions, that anyone eating them was suspected of belonging to the unpurified Anglican Church, if not (horror upon horrors) a Papist!
“All plums the prophet’s sons deny,
And spice-broths are too hot;
Treason’s in a December pie,
And death within the pot.”
“The high-shoe lords of Cromwell’s making,
Were not for dainties – roasting, baking;
The chiefest food they found most good in,
Was rusty bacon and bag-pudding;
Plum brothe was Popish, and mince-pie –
O! that was flat idolatry!”
So call me Popish.
An old recipe for Mincemeat included “a pound of beef suet, chopped fine; a pound of raisins, ditto, stoned; a pound of currants, cleaned and dry; a pound of apples, chopped fine; two or three eggs; allspice, beat very fine [does that mean ground?], and sugar to your taste; a little salt, and as much brandy and wine as you like. [Whoopee!] A small piece of citron in each pie is an improvement, and the cover or case should be oblong in imitation of the crèche or manger where our Saviour was laid…”
But today, the Widow is stirring up this 18th century recipe for MINCEMEAT:
Peel 5 – 10 apples (depending on size) and shred to equal 5 firmly packed cups.
Juice, and grate the rind of 1 lemon and 1 large orange.
If you are using suet (1/2 pound), make sure it is finely ground. When no suet is available, I substitute butter (unground).
Simmer 1 pound of ground lean beef in 2 cups of water in a large covered kettle for about 10 minutes. Then add the shredded apples; ¾ cup each of diced candied lemon peel, orange peel, and citron; 1 pound of raisins; 1 pound of dried currants; the juice and rind of the lemon and orange; the ground suet (or butter); 3-3/8 cups of dark brown sugar; and 1-½ teaspoons each of salt, ground allspice, cinnamon, cloves, coriander, mace, and nutmeg.
Let the mixture come to a hard boil, turn the heat to low, and simmer for about 5 minutes, stirring to keep it from sticking. Make sure the ingredients are evenly distributed. Let the mixture cool.
Now stir in 1 cup of brandy (or bourbon) and 1 cup of rum or sherry. Fill 4 quart-size jars or 1gallon jar. Store in a cool, dark place for about three weeks (or longer. Trust me, it will last until Christmas baking day.)