You might question whether this meets the criteria for inclusion as an established family favourite: although it’s served every year at Christmas, some of you eat it only under sufferance and I’ve made it just twice myself. Nonetheless, it is traditional British fare, an important piece of culinary history, a cultural artefact, and pretty impressive to be able to produce yourself. The recipe passed on to me by Granny comes from Constance Spry, the bible from which Granny taught herself to cook after marrying as a teenager, and has required some modifications for our 21st century kitchen: gills, pounds and ounces are converted to metric units, vegetable suet replaces beef to make it vegetarian-friendly, and these days I tuck in 20p coins instead of the traditional sixpence. You can use gluten-free flour and breadcrumbs if necessary and I suppose that the committed vegan could find a suitable replacement for the eggs. Once covered and steamed, these puddings keep for ages – 12 months or more – so you only need to make these every other year. Leftover dried fruit and spices can be used to make mincemeat, pepped up with rum or brandy, and will also keep for a very long time.
Makes 2 puddings, each serving 8
150g self-raising flour
250g fresh white breadcrumbs
250g vegetable suet
150g chopped candied peel
100g flaked almonds
1 grated apple
Juice and grated rind of an orange
1 tsp mixed spice
½ nutmeg, grated
½ tsp salt
4 eggs, beaten to a froth
100ml brown ale or stout
350g brown sugar
6 x 20p coins, individually wrapped in foil
2 tbsp brandy
2 x 1-litre pudding basins (17cm diameter)
Mix all the ingredients together in a large bowl. Invite family members to stir it and make a wish (remotely over the group chat, if necessary). Pack the mixture into greased pudding basins, hiding three 20p coins in each one. Cover with greased papers and floured pudding cloths, tied tightly with string, creating a handle across the top (see picture) and boil in a steamer for 6-8 hours. Store tightly covered in a cool, dry place for as long as you need.
To serve on Christmas Day: steam the pudding for a further 3 hours. Turn out onto a serving dish. Heat 2 tbsp brandy (I use a ladle over a flame), set alight and pour it over the pudding. Top with a sprig of holly, turn out the lights and process to the table, singing loudly. Serve with brandy butter or custard.