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Christmas Pudding

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Family Story

Christmas has always meant Christmas pudding. The pudding is one thing that I cannot give up. It's an integral part of my Christmas. My Christmas pudding is the English plum pudding by way of Jamaica. My grandmother made it. My mother made it. My aunts made it. I have always loved it. An old family story - my Grandma had mailed pudding to my mother in Brooklyn. My mother was talking to my Bubba and noticed silence. I was two. Upon investigation she found I had gotten into the pudding. Bubba told her well at least I would get drunk and pass out. Our pudding is made with port and sometimes some rum. Uh, that's not how I get drunk to this day. I get hyper and very active. The child is father of the man. Making the pudding is an intense process and truly needs a family. My mother made it all by herself when my brother was two and I was around five. She declared that she wanted to jump out the 6th floor window and would never make it by herself again I have been reflecting on how things change. Some parts of the pudding are easier now. When my mother was a child she remembered the servants tending it over a fire in the yard. As this was in the tropics, it must have been quite the undertaking. Traditionally, we made pudding the Saturday or Sunday just before Christmas in the last few decades. Before that when I was little, it was done earlier as it had to be posted to Jamaica to arrive before Christmas. That too, was a process. The correct tin and box had to be found, the brown paper wrapping and string, the customs form, the trip to the post. Of course, if someone was coming or going a chance could be taken to smuggle it in luggage. That opportunity did not frequently present itself. And of course, one received puddings too. I used to send pudding to my father-in-law who stated it was the closest thing to the Irish plum pudding of his youth. Of course, we are all colonials. We sent it after Christmas so he could enjoy it on his own, without sharing. The pudding process starts months before. Fruits need to be bought and soaked in port. We used to have a brown Mott's apple juice bottle for the purpose which we kept in the garage. My husband recycled it by accident a few years back. My mother would set a box of raisins on a cookie sheet covered with cheesecloth and set it out on the backyard table in the sun to "plump" in early October. And then the bit I hated and have dispensed with, we had to cut the raisins. This was done one by one and was a sticky mess. This practice dated to when raisins weren't necessarily seedless. Then prunes had to be stewed and pitted. Another mess. I buy them pitted most years and sometimes I stew, others not. In the old days, the pits were dried then cracked and the kernels also went into the bottle. I did that once by myself and had one of those jumping out the window moments. Then mixed citron. We have had problems finding this in our regular market the last few years. We were getting desperate. One year, I bought it for $10.00 and my mother and grandma would be twirling in their graves at that thought. The last Christmas my grandmother was alive, I made one by hand Christmas Eve at my aunt Hyacinth's in Kingston. We had landed from New York that day. Hyacinth hadn't done it. In fact, it really wasn't a true pudding but more of a raisin cake/pudding. It was made with raisins that had been soaked with what I am supposing was brandy. Hyacinth was big on having a dram of brandy after dinner with a little cigarillo. Her pudding was flavored with rosewater only. I did by hand and mixed and cooked till literally around midnight. I woke Christmas morning with blistered hands. I don't think we even tried to smuggle our own in. My mother was aghast that Customs made us unwrap all our presents. By the way, it was agreed, my pudding, such as it was, was excellent. In the past, in the afternoon the day before it was made; we would sit around the table and crack a pound of walnuts. These go in last as my grandmother said any earlier made the pudding "mecky". I buy them shelled. I am deeply grateful that I can afford to do so. The night before we "rubbed" a pound of dark brown sugar and a pound of butter together. I did this by hand at Hyacinth's. We used to use a hand mixer. The mixture has to be completely incorporated and change to a pale beige color. How we didn't burn the mixer out, I do not know. My father, who never, ever tasted it would always fret that it would spoil. They argued about it every year. I have a Kitchen Aid. It takes minutes. The morning of is very busy. The tins must be taken out and set up. When I was growing up, we used a pudding basin that must be easily over 100 years old. This was supplemented by three tins dating back to WWII. These were made at that time not bought. They had very sharp edges and as the years went by began to fall apart. About ten years ago, I mentioned the tins were shot and a West Indian woman I worked with told me that there was a kitchen supply place by the office where I could get them. I did! They were inexpensive and easy. Another change. The tins need to be greased and lined. We used to do it with Crisco and the saved papers from the butter, and waxed paper. I use cooking spray and parchment paper. Cutting the wax paper was always an ordeal. My grandmother made clothes without a pattern and cut freehand. My mother cut perfect circles. And then there was me. I can't cut a straight line with a paper cutter. I lost that job. Then pots of water must be put to simmer on the stove. They have to be the right size to accommodate the puddings and have lids. The kettle needs to be full and simmering too, to be ready to replace water in the pots as the favored pots is my baby bottle sterilizer. I am now a senior citizen. Next, my Gran's big bowl needs to be taken out. When Grandma and Ma were doing it that was where the butter and sugar had been rubbed. It's a massive antique bowl. I see smaller ones in antique shops and they are quite pricey. We used to have a nested set but as this one is only used once or twice a year, it survives. Assembling the rest of the ingredients: It requires a dozen eggs. They should be separated and the whites and yolks beaten. My mother didn't separate. My Gran used to and whip the whites by hand. In my teens, they compromised and separated but didn't beat. Ah, mixers. I separate and whip the whites and beat the eggs. This is when my husband starts to implode as he contemplates masses of dishes. Next is the scale. Again, a once a year item. My mother got it with Plaid stamps. Our recipe requires 3/4 pound bread crumbs and 1/4 pound flour. This then gets sieved a cup at a time alternating with the fruits at the end. First off, I stopped sieving the flour. It's a different time. The flour is fine enough. Then we used to definitely sieve the bread crumbs. This requires two people, one mixing, one sieving. I used to sieve then I graduated to mixing. Now, I do it on my own. No sieving! The butter and eggs get transferred to big bowl and now we start mixing by hand. We add rosewater, vanilla and the secret ingredient - black currant jam. This jam is so hard to find some years. The spoon needs to stand by itself when the mixture is right. It’s considered lucky to stir. This has been challenging in the best of times. Now, I am weaker and older. I need help. My husband stepped up to the plate. At this point, I feel incredibly sad. My frailty bothers me. I remember the last time I did it with my mother, too. She had dementia but I didn't realize it at the time. I couldn't imagine how she had forgotten how to do it. That night was one of the last times my brother and I had cordial relations. He stopped by the house, said I had to get out of the house and took me out. I got blissfully, blessedly drunk. Jumping out of windows was not an option. Next step the mixture gets divided into the tins and the tops get sprinkled with flour to seal them. The tins are then shut and in the old days we made a flour paste to put around the edges. It was my first job and I hated it. Now I have proper tins that lock. The next bit was my father's and he bitched every year. The old tins had to be tied with string without upsetting the contents so that the tins could be raised and lowered. Much screaming and gnashing of teeth. I have proper tins and my husband is amazing at knots so all that is needed is a loop at the top. Onto the stove to steam for four hours. The house begins to smell insanely of liquor and Christmas spice. You have to keep watch over the pots to make sure there's enough water. It's always a long day. I literally hurt in all ways. I hate not being strong enough. I honor the past. Some years it's easier than others. I miss my mother and my grandmother. I know Grandma would not let me do it my way, the new overtaking the old. They were precise women with a sense of what was the right way and wrong way to do things. At the end of the day, this is Christmas - family, memories, tradition.


1 Step

Begin this recipe in October. Put the raisins, currants, prunes and mixed fruit in a bottle and cover it with port. Heat 3 parts of water large enough to accommodate pudding tins on the stove. The water should be simmering. Also, keep a kettle on the stove with simmering water. Prepare pudding tins by greasing or lining with either parchment paper or wax paper so that the sides are covered as well as the bottom. Cut either parchment paper or wax paper to be placed on top of the tin after it is filled. In a large bowl cream butter and sugar until the mixture is a pale Brown. Add the walnuts to the soaked fruit mixture. Separate eggs. Beat egg whites till stiff . Beat egg yolks until a pale yellow. Add egg whites an egg yolks alternately find spoonful to the butter and sugar mixture. Sieve the baking powder, cinnamon and nutmeg with the bread crumb and flour mixture. Add this mixture by cup full, alternating with the soaked fruit mixture. This will be done by hand as the mixture is too heavy for even a KitchenAid. Add vanilla, rosewater and almond flavorings. Add the black currant jam. You will know that the mixture is done when a wooden spoon stands up straight in it without being held. Fill the tins to within half an inch from the top. Cover with either the parchment or wax paper. Seal the lid. Place the tins in the prepared tins into the simmering water. The water must be below the lid. Cover the pans. Steam on simmer for hours. Check periodically to maintain water level. Use already heated water from kettle, as needed. Remove from heat. Let stand until cool. Unmold. Keep wrapped at room temperature. Ready to eat and enjoy in 24 hours.


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