The strongest memory I have of my great grandma is of Werther’s Original toffees. She used to sneak them to me and my brother when we thought mum wasn’t looking.
I also remember there always being a plate of custard creams being always on her kitchen table, and a clock shaped like the sun on the wall in her living room. However the thing that has stayed with me the most is her christmas pudding recipe.
This is a recipe that she learnt from her mother in the 1940’s, and that has been used every year since by her, my grandma, my mum, and now me. The only written form we have of it are these hilariously complicated notes on the back of three envelopes:
When I decided to write this article and pulled out these cake-stained envelopes, it became instantly clear that a fair amount of detective work was going to be necessary in order to work out what the hell was going on. The entire first envelope (the brown one) and the second up to the red ‘Heat in Water’, was written by my great gran, Una Davies. The bottom of that envelope was written by my grandma, Janet Vincent, and the third by my mum, Abigail Bromell. It’s also now very clear to me why my handwriting is so bad.
This year I went through the motions of making the pudding with my mum. From what we can decipher, these are the ingredients for the christmas pudding:
- Cherries – 14 and a half halves (?!)
- Nuts – 1 flat tbsp of flaked almonds
- Black Treacle (quantity unspecified and thus unknown. Mum guesses at a tablespoon)
- Brown bread crumbs – 6 heaped tbsp (please note from the third envelope that they should be stale. Otherwise mum will be cross.)
- Flour – 2 tbsp (mum guesses plain)
- Suet – 4 flat tbsp (found in the home baking section. Great gran was a butchers daughter, so we’re talking proper beef suet. Nowadays you can find a perhaps more palatable vegetarian option)
- Dates – 4 tbsp
- Mixed fruit – 3 tbsp (currants, sultanas, peel etc)
- 2 eggs (large)
- apple – one quarter, chopped
- lemon – one quarter lemon rind, chopped
- Mixed spice – 1 flat tsp
- Cinnamon – 1 flat tsp
- Nutmeg – 1 flat tsp
- Water – no instruction given. Mum says put enough in so it’s “a slightly sloppy mixture”. If you scoop some up on a spoon and tap it on the bowl, it should all fall off the spoon immediately. Is that clear enough? I don’t even know at this point.
- Seedless Raisins – 4 H.T.B.S. (Mum and I have no clue what this means. Emergency phone call to grandma, neither does she. At this point mum picks up a handful of raisins and just chucks it in)
Now that we’ve got the ingredients as down as they’re going to get, it actually gets more complicated. For example, my mum uses brandy instead of water, and my grandma confessed she’s put everything in it from sherry to port to vodka over the years. So many of my life choices are being validated right now.
These are the probable instructions for this unlikely pud. If you have a go, please actually let me know how it turns out because I’d love to know if anyone else is able to turn this into something vaguely resembling a pudding!
- Pour water onto the breadcrumbs (no idea how much), leave it for about 2 minutes and then squeeze all the water out so you’ve just got a handful of soggy breadcrumbs. Yes really.
- Now chuck everything in!
- Mix it into a paste. If it needs more moisture, “put more brandy in”. Janet Vincent everybody.
- Grease up a pudding-shaped bowl with some butter, and put the mixture in.
- Wrap the top of the bowl in grease-proof paper and tie string around it. Then make a little string handle (see the photo at the bottom) so you can hold it when it gets hot.
- As per my grandma’s instructions on the second envelope, gently place the covered bowl into a saucepan of boiling water. It’s best to put an upturned saucer in the pan first to rest the bowl on so it doesn’t burn. You want the water to come up the side of the bowl by about four inches.
- Once it’s settled in the pan, cook it for about 3 hours. Make sure the water stays at about that level, you will need to top it up every 20 minutes or so.
- Then you can wrap it and fridge it, and store it until christmas day. If you’re using booze in the mixture, it will keep for over a month before christmas, and if not you can freeze it.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this whistle-stop tour into the fabulous chaos of my family. Hopefully you will be able to decipher enough of it to cook something. That’s what four generations of us have been doing and it’s honestly delicious every year. Happy mixing!