Sunday 22nd November is this year's Stir-up Sunday, the traditional day for making the plum pudding for Christmas. It was especially popular in Victorian times, when everyone was encouraged to stir the mixture while making a wish. Although the day falls during the second half of November, the date is liable to change each year as it is always on the last Sunday before Advent, which in turn is set by the date of Easter.
Seemingly, the expression itself came from the Sunday church service where the vicar laboriously proclaimed: ‘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.’
Traditions abounded around the pudding making, which contained thirteen ingredients to represent Jesus and the twelve disciples. The stirring must be done in an east to west direction or the person’s wish would not be granted. Cook had the delightful task of adding several charms to the mixture which would then be found in someone’s piece of pudding. Some of the charms included: a silver farthing (coin) for wealth, a ring for a wedding, and a thimble, which could signify spinsterhood.
I mentioned the Christmas pudding in my Victorian mystery novella, Christmas Charade, the second of the Maryanne Mysteries. Maryanne celebrates Christmas day with her parents and cousin before setting off to adventure and mystery at Carmichael Hall, home of the hero, Richard. The following is a short scene with plum pudding during the family Christmas meal at the parsonage.
From Christmas Charade
By the time Reverend Robertson had managed to escape his parishioners and return to his family, the table was set and the first course ready to serve. It was a modest feast, befitting the parsonage, and Maryanne’s mother set aside some cuts of goose and ham for the poorer members of the village. By the time they ate the plum pudding, the girls had reached their fill.
“Watch out for the coin in the pudding, Emily,” Maryanne warned. “I saw cook add it when I took a stir of the ingredients on Stir-up-Sunday.”
Amidst their laughter, the Reverend Robertson suddenly exclaimed. “Why, I do believe I’ve found it, Maryanne, although it almost broke my tooth.”
“Well done, Papa, and I’m certain it will find its way into a worthy pocket eventually.” Of all the people she knew, her father would never keep the coin for himself.
Recipes for plum pudding are numerous and varied and no doubt many people will have their own favourites. Here is one version attributed to the famous Victorian, Mrs Beeton.
Christmas Plum Pudding
1–1/2 lb. of raisins, 1/2 lb. of currants, 1/2 lb. of mixed peel, 3/4 lb. of bread crumbs, 3/4 lb. of suet, 8 eggs, 1 wineglassful of brandy.
Stone and cut the raisins in halves, but do not chop them; wash, pick, and dry the currants, and mince the suet finely; cut the candied peel into thin slices, and grate down the bread into fine crumbs.
When all these dry ingredients are prepared, mix them well together; then moisten the mixture with the eggs, which should be well beaten, and the brandy; stir well, that everything may be very thoroughly blended, and press the pudding into a buttered mould; tie it down tightly with a floured cloth, and boil for 5 or 6 hours.
It may be boiled in a cloth without a mould, and will require the same time allowed for cooking. As Christmas puddings are usually made a few days before they are required for table, when the pudding is taken out of the pot, hang it up immediately, and put a plate or saucer underneath to catch the water that may drain from it.
The day it is to be eaten, plunge it into boiling water, and keep it boiling for at least 2 hours; then turn it out of the mould, and serve with brandy-sauce.
On Christmas-day a sprig of holly is usually placed in the middle of the pudding, and about a wineglassful of brandy poured round it, which, at the moment of serving, is lighted, and the pudding thus brought to table encircled in flame.
Time: 5 or 6 hours the first time of boiling; 2 hours the day it is to be served.
Whether or not you make your own plum pudding, do enjoy a taste of one at Christmas if possible!