Excita, quaesumus, Domine, tuorum fidelium voluntates: ut divini operis fructum propensius exsequentes, pietatis tuae remedia maiora percipiant: Per Christum Dominum nostrum. Amem
(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.)
So reads the Collect for the Sunday Next Before Advent, the last Sunday of the Liturgical year in the Christian calendar.
It is a reminder to all Christian souls to begin their preparation for the advent of the Christ child by remembering to do good works – a very appropriate sentiment given what is happening in the world today. And also, if folk myth is to be believed, it serves as a reminder to the goodwives of the parish to finish the preparations for that centre piece of any good English Christmas dinner – the Christmas Pudding.
Yes it’s time to give that pudding batter a final stir – always clockwise and allowing each member of the household to take a turn for luck – before steaming it, lashing it liberally with an appropriate liquor and storing it to ripen and mature.
Though I have long since given up many of the traditions of the Anglican faith I’ve decided that this weekend I would revive the non-liturgical tradition of making my own Christmas Pudding (I wrote about it a few years ago here). For many years, to the delight of the hydro company shareholders, I steamed ten or twelve puddings for the requisite eight hours. They were then given as gifts to friends and family. When we moved to Poland in 1997 the challenge of finding ingredients and the projected cost of sending 2 lbs of dried fruit, candied peel, suet and rum in a ceramic bowl back to Canada saw that tradition end very quickly. Now that did not mean that we did without our Christmas Pud – no, there has yet to be a Feast of the Nativity in our home where a flaming pudding has not made an appearance at the conclusion of the meal. Home-made or store-bought, whither it was Mexico, Cairo, Chicago, Warsaw, Beijing, Rome or even back here in Canada our Christmas meal has always ended with the lights being dimmed, the brandy flamed and the be-hollyed Pudding being carried to the table.
That first Christmas in Cairo I carted my Christmas Pudding in my hand luggage through Schiphol Airport. Security was more lax in those days; today it would no doubt be confiscated as a dangerous weapon. It was the hit of a dinner which introduced several of our Egyptian friends to turkey, cranberries and the pleasures of the Christmas Pudding.
And we certainly had more success with our pudding that year than our friend and colleague Janet. Our sufragi Ahmed also worked for Janet and she was entertaining six or eight people for dinner and felt she needed all the help she could get. Ahmed was eager to please, hard working and all-knowing; and even if he didn’t know he’d expire of embarrassment before he’d admit it to us. So when Janet asked if he knew what to do with the Christmas Pudding he assured her that of course he knew what to do with it: why had he not been preparing Christmas Puddings since he was a child grasping at his mother’s skirts? So confident that she would have a blazing finish to her dinner she left him in charge of the Fortnum and Mason’s pudding and hard sauce a friend had sent from England. An hour or two before the guests arrived she found Ahmed at the stove stirring the mysterious contents of a large saucepan. When she peered in there was her Christmas Pudding broken into pieces and being patiently incorporated into the now bubbling hard sauce. Ahmed was totally puzzled as to why “Madame” would flee the kitchen in tears.
But back to the subject at hand – this year’s Christmas Pudding. I searched for the recipe I used all those years ago but it has gone the way of many slips of paper that have been tucked into books and binders. I recalled that it came from the New York Times and was referred to as King George V’s favourite recipe but no amount of goggling (is that now a word? must be spell-check accepted it) turned up any such animal. However there is no lack of formulas out there and the myths, legends and history surrounding the Festive Pud’s origins and traditions are often written of. Rather than go into them here I’ll pass on a jolly good read at Ivan Day’s Food History Jottings.
In Day’s article he refers to a recipe purportedly created for George V by his chef André Cédard in 1927. It was part of a marketing scheme to sell the riches of the “Empire” with contributions from almost every corner of the Commonwealth. I was tempted to use it – after all if it was good enough to be served to all the little Windsors at the King’s beloved Sandringham it should be good enough for our little gathering on Mcleod Street in Ottawa. However as Day mentions the weights and measures provided by the good people at the Empire Marketing Board are great if you’re the King of England and are have a pudding made for every member of the Palace household and all the tenants on your many estates. However if all you want is one pudding for a select few it just isn’t going to work. So the search continues.
That is a tradition that I should remark upon: the Queen still gives each member of her staff a Christmas Pudding, though now they come from Fortnum and Mason’s rather than the Royal kitchens. The pudding bowl I’ll be using is one which held a Royally-gifted pudding in 2006.
I won’t bore you with the story of how it made it’s way to our table on our second Christmas in Italy just say that it was a gift from my darling Deb the last Christmastide I saw her in London. This weekend as I fill it with whatever fruity, boozy mixture I’ve chosen I will think lovingly of her and the times we shared.
Since I first started writing this post a recipe from the London Ritz Book of Christmas has been selected from the many and the list of ingredients made. Today is shopping; tomorrow the preparations begin; on “Stir Up” Sunday Laurent and I will each give it a stir for luck – with a few extra stirs for all our friends; Deb’s pudding basin will be filled and be set to steam; and the first smells of the season will invade the kitchen.
As we stir I think that rather than the pious collect proscribed by the Book of Common Prayer we’ll use a rhyme that cheeky choirboys have chanted in Cathedral cloisters for at least a century:
Stir up we beseech thee
The pudding in the pot
When we get to our house
We’ll eat the bloody lot.
On this day in 1992: a fire breaks out in Windsor Castle, badly damaging the castle and causing over £50 million worth of damage.