I had never made plum pudding before yesterday. It had never even crossed my mind to make it. It was something that Auntie Ev made, and that was all there was to it. But, since Auntie Ev is no longer with us, I decided that I would take up the Plum Pudding Mantle and wear it as well as I could.
The recipe couldn't be simpler: combine a whole bunch of Items, cram them in buttered "basins" and steam them for ten hours. But, sometimes it's those simple-seeming recipes that can just rise up and Get You. After all, this particular recipe was written down by a woman who had been making it for years and years. And years. Whose mother made it for years and years before that. A recipe that truly goes back generations to rural England. What did she leave out? What magical step or two did she Neglect to Write Down because she never thought that she'd need to be reminded of it (or them)?
Let's take a look at the recipe:
- How much should the raisins be chopped?
- How much brandy or whiskey do I add?
- What size carrot? Apple?
- Fresh or dried bread crumbs?
- What was your "to taste" on that allspice, Auntie Ev?
I'm sure I had more questions than those, even. After all, I wasn't just making a pudding, I was trying to recreate a treasured dessert for Auntie Ev's husband and sister, not to mention the rest of our salivating family. In this case, everything was important.
Finally, I just decided to wing it (mostly). I did call my mom and was able to Ascertain that the amount of brandy called for in her mother-in-law's recipe (and it's probably almost identical to Auntie Ev's because they were friends--that's one of those bindings I was talking about earlier) was 3/4 cup, so I wrote it down. Otherwise, I just went for it. I knew that there was some mysterious Food Mill Action involved in the plum pudding process, but my mom said that it was just for the suet, and so since I was subbing veggie suet, I didn't bother with the food mill.
Now, however, I wonder if I should have just run the raisins, golden raisins and everything else through a food mill to make it all Homogeneous. I am Wracked with Doubts after the fact. I shall just have to get over it, though, because at least we will get to light a plum pudding on fire and sing We Wish You a Merry Christmas before burying it under a mountain of hard sauce and Digging In. It might not be Auntie Ev's plum pudding exactly, but it is my homage to her, and I think she would approve.
Having said that, I did exactly as stated above, although I did add a bit more salt (because I'm me). My "to taste" was about 1/2 teaspoon of freshly ground allspice. I know that Auntie Ev used to use pre-ground allspice, so I didn't want to get too carried away. Your "to taste" might be different, so if you decide to make this, add allspice (or cinnamon, or apple pie spice, for that matter) until you like the way it tastes.
Instead of using wax paper to cover, I cut circles of parchment. I'm pretty sure that Auntie Ev would've done the same thing if she'd had parchment paper. I also steamed one pudding on the stove top in a Dutch oven and the other one in a stock pot in the oven. I'd recommend the oven version--set the oven at 275F-300F--because I only had to add water once, compared to Many Times for the one on the stove.
When you put your mix into the buttered basin/s, make sure to pack it in well, and then leave a good 1" (3-ish cm) head room to allow for some rising. I didn't do that for one of my two (I guess I somehow didn't think that Leavening Would Happen. Duh) and it rose up rather precipitously, ending up pressing itself against the lid of the Dutch Oven. Learn from my folly, people.
Speaking of folly, if you don't have a rack that will fit into your Dutch oven or whatever Steaming Vessel you plan to use, don't just slap the basin down in there without something between him and the bottom of the pot. I put a couple of folded up cloth napkins in first, just to keep him raised off the bottom. I doubt that this would be a real issue in the oven, although I used napkins in that one, too. Maybe that's another point in favor of Oven Steaming.
Oh, and do you see where Auntie Ev says that one recipe equals one medium pudding? Well, it would only have been "medium" as compared to Babe the Blue Ox. One recipe made two what-I-consider-to-be medium puddings. I ended up using two bowls, each 8" diameter at the rim and 4-41/2" high. (20cm x 11cm)
I think that about covers it. Oh wait! I didn't have any kitchen string, so I just put a linen napkin over each basin and then gathered it up in two places, fastening it with twist ties. What I ended up with looked kind of like Pippi Longstocking Puddings, but it seemed to work just fine.
Picture one is the Cast of Characters. The veggie suet is made by Atora, and while the suet itself was Not Expensive, shipping to the United States Was. Take that for what it's worth.
See, and there's the suet, up close and personal. Guess what? It is not gluten free. It smells kind of like cream of wheat. So there you go.
I combined all the wet ingredients (including the sugar, carrot, apple and lemon zest) and then stirred in the brandy. I mixed up the flour, suet and spices with all the dried fruits and citron, and then I folded everybody together.
Here's the mixture all packed into one of the basins. This is the one that Surged Upwards so impressively, so let this be a Cautionary Tale. I'm also measuring for the parchment round. That bowl, by the way, was one of Auntie Ev's. It has actually contained one of her plum puddings on many occasions. It's like the Pudding Grail.
Than, after ten Very Long Hours, The Beloved helped me wrestle them out of their watery Repositories and out onto the counter.
A couple of weeks in wrapped up in the fridge with a spritz or Seven of brandy will help his flavors develop. With any luck, the final product will be almost black. I know it's kind of weird, but it's supposed to be black. Stay tuned for Part III, coming your way right after Christmas in which I document the Flaming, the Singing, the Eating and the Feedback!
The Finale (Video Unveiling for Uncle Ray and Auntie 'Leenie)