Christmas pudding has always been one of my favourite parts of Christmas.
My grandmother used to make Christmas pudding and Christmas cake every year, and if I was lucky enough to be at her place when she made it I not only got to watch, but could help in the ritual. I can’t remember who she used to make puddings for, but it seemed like it was the whole street. She’d get out the big ceramic pot to mix it all up in. Once the mixture was done, she’d prepare the pudding cloths – big square pieces of calico that would get dipped in hot water, then rubbed with flour. Pudding mix would go into the middle and sixpences and threepences would be hidden inside. Then she’d pull the corners of the cloths up around the mixture and Pop would come in to help her tie the string tightly around the top, to make sure no water would get into the mixture and spoil it.
Once that was all done, the cloth presents would go into the boiling copper and cook for hours.
But it was really the ritual and the tradition I used to love more than the pudding itself, because I don’t like sultanas, raisins and currants. So when my grandmother moved away from Sydney I took over the role of making the traditional Christmas pudding for the family.
For the first couple of years I followed the recipe quite closely, except I’d always soak the fruit in more alcohol than specified, and for a longer period of time. Gradually over the years I’ve adapted the recipe to a pudding that I now like to eat, that I call my “Australian Christmas Pudding”, mainly because I’ve swapped sultanas, raisins and currants for other, often tropical, fruits. These change annually, but every year the pudding is gone in a flash at Christmas dinner, and everybody compliments it.
So I’ve decided to share the recipe. For those who want a real traditional Christmas pudding, I’m also including my grandmother’s original recipe, which I still have, on a page torn out of a women’s magazine many, many years ago
Christmas Pudding in a Cloth Recipe
- 4oz each suet and butter
- 4 eggs
- 8 oz brown sugar
- 3 tspn grated lemon rind
- ¾ lb each sultanas, raisins
- 4 oz currants
- 2 oz prunes
- 4 oz mixed peel
- 1 small apple, peeled & grated
- 6 ozs soft breadcrumbs
- 2 cups plain flour
- 1 tspn mixed spice
- ½ tspn bicarbonate soda
- Pinch salt
- 2 tblspns each brandy & rum
- 250g butter
- 1/3 – 1/2 cup brown sugar (the fruit is sweet enough without adding much sugar
- 4 eggs
- Rind of 1 lemon
- 600 – 750g dried fruit & nuts (This year I’ve used craisons, blueberries, mango, pineapple, pawpaw & macadamias. This changes according to what dried fruit I can get, but never includes sultanas, raisins or currants as I don’t like them. Sometimes I use pecans instead of macadamias, and sometimes I include fresh cherries. I have also soaked more fruit than needed for the pudding and used it to make Christmas Pudding ice cream. )
- 1 ripe, soft & sweet smelling peach, pealed and chopped
- 1 long breadroll, blended into breadcrumbs
- 2 cups plain flour
- 1 tblspn cinnamon
- 1 desertspook nutmeg
- ½ tspn bicarbonate soda
- ½ – ¾ bottle rum
To do this properly you need at least three weeks to make this pudding. Two weeks to soak the fruit, and one week to hang the pudding. If you have more time for each part, all the better. If you have less, then the pudding’s not going to be ruined. I generally try to remember to start no later than the beginning of December to have the pudding for dinner Christmas Eve.
The original recipe calls for prunes, peel and dried fruits to be soaked in the rum and brandy for a few hours. I soak the fruit in the rum for two weeks or more, depending on how early I remember to start the pudding. I find a week is the minimum required to soak up enough rum to turn the dried fruit back into real looking fruit, and three weeks seems to be about ideal for it to get that lovely soft, texture and remove any harshness from the alcohol.
Put the dried fruit in a bowl and add a big splash of rum, stir, add more rum, stir well again and cover. Once a day add more rum and stir the fruit again until it stops soaking up the rum, you run out of rum, or you run out of time. This will change depending on the amount of fruit you use and how well soaked you like your fruit. I use less fruit than the original recipe because I like more pudding than fruit, but you can put in more if you like. Once you’ve decided the fruit is soaked well enough, you can make the pudding as below.
- Cream together butter, sugar and lemon rind
- Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition
- Mix in the fruits and peach
- Fold in breadcrumbs, then the flour, spice and bicarb sifted together and mix well
Leave the mixture to sit for ½ hour or so, then add sixpences & threepences (one year I couldn’t find the stash of coins so added a couple of silver charms instead. Don’t use today’s coins as they don’t have the same silver content as the pre-decimal currency stuff.)
Tie pudding in prepared pudding cloth (see instructions below), and boil, completely submerged in a large saucepan, for five hours. You will need to keep an eye on it and keep topping up the water with boiling water from the kettle. It is important that it keeps boiling otherwise water might soak through the cloth and make the pudding soggy.
Once cooked hang the pudding in a shady, covered place to dry and cure. In a garage or under a carport or veranda is good. Hang with the corners of the cloth out so that the tied part can dry. If you don’t do this it might go mouldy in Australian weather conditions. Once it’s dry put it in a cool place to hang. Sadly, I don’t have anywhere cool enough at my house in an Australian summer so it has to go in the fridge. I leave mine hanging only for a day or two. If you have a nice cool cellar or somewhere else that doesn’t get over 20 degrees then you can hang it for a week.
Prior to eating, boil again for two hours. Pour some warmed rum over the pudding and light to serve.
How to prepare the pudding cloth
If you are starting from scratch you will need to buy some unbleached calico. You can buy this from material shops (if you can find a material shop!). For this pudding you’ll probably need about 60cm square.
Soak the calico in cold water – overnight if possible – then boil for about 20 minutes. You can do this while your pudding is ‘resting’.
Once the pudding is prepared, you need to make the cloth water proof. To do this, fill the saucepan you’ll be boiling the pudding in ¾ with water and bring to the boil. If you already have a calico that you’re reusing put it into the boiling water for about a minute or so, if it’s new, do it for 20 minutes as above, then take it out and wring excess water out. Lay flat on the bench and rub flour into the cloth. You need to rub the flour right into the cloth and not just spread it over the top. I have no idea why it works to stop the water getting through, but it does. I have been doing this for over twenty years and only once has water soaked through to the pudding.
The cloth can be used year after year. Once you take the pudding out, soak the cloth overnight, then scrape off any flour or pudding left on it and wash in the washing machine. Prior to reusing hold it up to the light to make sure there are no holes, otherwise water will soak through.
For a demonstration, check out my youtube video:
Tying the cloth
Put the pudding into the centre of the cloth. Bring each corner up and hold together above the pudding, make sure you have all the cloth gathered together, with nothing hanging down to leave gaps. Tie cloth with string (not plastic twine) very, very tightly around the top of the pudding, as close to the mixture as possible.
Boiling the pudding
The pudding needs to be covered with water at all times, so keep topping up with boiling water from the kettle. If it stops boiling, water might soak through the cloth and make the pudding soggy. You also need to keep the pudding off the bottom of the saucepan to avoid it burning on the bottom. I place a saucer upside down in the bottom of the pan and put the pudding on top of that. Put the lid on the saucepan while boiling to keep the pudding down.
Or take the easy route
If all this seems too difficult, or you’re not confident about doing a pudding cloth you can cook the pudding in a pudding bowl. Make sure the top is sealed properly so no water gets in. You can put foil across the top of the bowl prior to putting the lid on to make a tighter seal. Your pudding won’t be any the worse for cooking it this way, but you miss out on the fun of unwrapping the pudding cloth and displaying a traditional, home-cooked Christmas pudding.
I did it last year and the world kept turning!