Our family has a long-standing tradition of Christmas pudding making.
It is a precious event in my calendar. I should have known that to write a blog about it would be difficult. There are so many memories, so much to say, that I’m afraid I won’t do justice to the custom. But our Christmas pudding deserves to be celebrated in writing.
There’s great mystique about this family tradition that stretches back as far in my maternal family as this old woman can remember. My mother made a Christmas pudding every year that I can remember. And her mother before her. I am the privileged living link (through Christmas puddings) between six generations of women and girls. Boys are welcome, too!
My own efforts stretch back for fifty-five years, when I made my first as a young bride. Perhaps I have missed a year, maybe two, even. Certainly I was not home the year I worked as a nurse in the Aboriginal community at Jigalong. Perhaps that year there was no family Christmas pudding.
Recollections of all those puddings blend together into one large accumulated memory. Any action repeated often enough must lose its individual flavour. The details blur. I do know that each event was different and special in its own way. Now it’s impossible to separate out elements that made the years distinct from each other.
Making the Christmas pudding is always slightly chaotic. Most years, it has been a joyful time. Occasionally, it has been accompanied by deep sorrow. Christmases after a death, for example, must be endured, not celebrated. But in the end everything that has gone before adds a rich patina to memory.
The lovely thing about an ongoing tradition is that it can change and, at the same time, remain intact. I was puzzled about the obviously changing ‘traditions’ of the traditional Martu Aboriginal people at Jigalong. They incorporate what is new in response to altered external circumstances. That is the key to the survival of what is most important in a culture. Then I thought about the way that nothing seems to change but some parts of our own ‘traditions’ have evolved over time.
Our Christmas pudding basics that don’t change:
- We make the Christmas pudding well before Christmas. It is always made in the morning. That way, it can steam for the mandatory six hours and be taken out of the boiling water and doused with brandy before dinner.
- The process always involves a kitchen full of people of various ages, sizes and persuasions.
- Some ingredients are standard.
- There is noise, chatter and clatter.
- People give instructions and advice.
- There are no observers.
- Everyone picks surreptitiously at the dried fruit that’s been soaked overnight in an alcoholic beverage.
- Basins and beaters are scraped and licked by the fingers of adults and children.
- Everyone stirs the mixture and makes a wish.
- I am always the person who prepares the finished mixture ready for cooking.
- The Women’s Weekly Favourite Recipes from the Weekly is always placed in a prominent place on the kitchen bench. And ignored. But somehow the page with the pudding recipes has gained interesting layers of smeared pudding mixture over the years. And a few notes. For example, in Claire-Helen’s childish hand: ‘1996 – Tried putting less flour on the cloth to make a thinner skin this year’. Before Favourite Recipes, I don’t remember what recipe we used.
Our Christmas pudding components that can change:
- Participants change on a yearly basis. There are some family members who never miss making the Christmas pudding. Others attend more sporadically. Whoever comes is welcomed.
- Babies grow big enough to stand on a stool at the kitchen bench and watch. They grow old enough to take their turns to stir the pudding mixture. Soon, they’re given tasks like everyone else. This year, I loved watching Elizabeth, who is three, show us how she can break eggs.
- New people other than babies join our family circle. This year, Colin Yeo was introduced to the process. He graciously ‘agreed’ to make the breadcrumbs. It’s a tedious job that no one wants. Thanks for being such a good sport, Colin! Bhen, Claire-Helen’s husband, is a relative newcomer. He’s become our turn-to man for tying the string on the pudding. And my husband John, at first bewildered by the antics of my family, is now an old hand.
- The date of our event has changed. For many years, it was during the October school holidays. That seemed to be fixed in stone. But then Jane-Heloise (our Medievalist) pointed out that puddings in medieval times were made on ‘Stir-up’ Sunday. That’s the Sunday before the beginning of Advent in the Christian calendar. It is so called because the Collect or Gathering Prayer in the liturgy for the day begins with the words, ‘Stir up our hearts, O God…’ I really liked the idea of linking the making of the Christmas pudding to Advent, and made a unilateral decision for change. A matriarch can made those decisions!
- There are often subtle changes to the ingredients, as well. Last Friday, Claire-Helen, Elizabeth and I went to a wonderful wholesale grocery shop in the Perth suburb of Nollamara. We bought all manner of dried fruit, some less traditional than other years. We’ve never included cranberries before, or glace pineapple. There wasn’t quite enough brandy to soak the fruit overnight. John and I added a bit of American Honey. Tasted it. Added a bit of sweet sherry. It was delicious! We ran a competition this year to see who could guess the number of ingredients that had been included. Jane-Heloise won. She guessed with 31 out of 32. I think.
- Sometimes we cook the pudding in a basin. Sometimes in calico. No rhyme or reason about this decision. It just happens.
Several things go without saying:
- The pudding will be cooked for three hours longer on Christmas morning.
- It will be served at Christmas lunch, even though the temperature in Perth sometimes reaches as much as 40 degrees celsius on Christmas Day. It will be served with our traditional brandy butter. And cream. And Ice-cream.
- We will talk about my Dad, who always made the brandy butter.
I am certain that one day the baton for organising the making of a traditional Christmas pudding will pass to my granddaughters, who will accept the responsibility gladly.
By the way, if you are looking for Christmas presents, why not go to Oxfam Unwrapped for a great range of presents. Who would not love to receive a goat, say, or perhaps the gift of water? Or a chook or two?
I’d love to hear about other people’s Christmas traditions. Write a comment and share yours.