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Stir-up Sunday is an informal term in Anglican churches for the last Sunday before the season of Advent. It is one of the essential British Christmas traditions and is said to have been introduced to the Victorians by Prince Albert, husband of Queen Victoria. – Wikipedia
Yesterday found me in the kitchen making Christmas pudding and Christmas cake. I had also wanted to start on my gingerbread house, but ran out of time!
I armed myself with a Christmas pudding recipe from Queen Mary Berry herself, and headed to my local Tesco the day before to buy all the ingredients needed. I’ve never cooked a Christmas pud before, so this was new territory for me!
I always have a stock of baking basics at home – flour, sugar, eggs, butter, but more specialised ingredients are needed for these traditional Christmas baked goods, like candied peel, suet and black treacle, as well as a selection of dried fruits and nuts. I do love baking at Christmas time!
With everything bought, I followed Mary’s recipe, remembering the tradition of everyone in the house stirring the mixture and making their wish! I’ve always known about Stir-up Sunday, but don’t think I’ve ever actually done my Christmas baking on this day before. It was really nice – I was focused on getting things done, and both hubs and the boy joined in too. It made for really lovely family Sunday, and something new to add to my Christmas traditions.
After 6 hours (OMG!) of cooking, the pudding is now generously marinated with rum, and wrapped up for Christmas Day. I’ve included Mary Berry’s recipe here for you to follow – I’m sure it is awesome – she is the queen of baking afterall!
- 90 g (3.2oz) self-raising flour
- 125 g (4.4oz) shredded vegetable suet or grated chilled butter
- 30 g (1.1oz) blanched almonds, shredded
- 125 g (4.4oz) carrot, grated
- 250 g (8.8oz) raisins
- 125 g (4.4oz) currants
- 125 g (4.4oz) sultanas
- 125 g (4.4oz) fresh breadcrumbs
- 0.25 tsp grated nutmeg
- 60 g (2.1oz) mixed candied peel, chopped
- 90 g (3.2oz) light muscovado sugar
- 1 lemon, grated zest and juice
- 2 eggs, beaten
- 1 cup butter for greasing
- 75 ml (2.6fl oz) dark rum or brandy
- 1 cup brandy butter, to serve
- In a large bowl, combine the flour, suet or butter, almonds, carrot, raisins, currants, sultanas, breadcrumbs, nutmeg, candied peel, sugar, and lemon zest. Add the lemon juice and eggs, and stir until well combined.
- Lightly butter a 1.25 litre (2 pint) pudding bowl. Spoon in the mixture and level the surface. Cover with buttered greaseproof paper, then foil, both pleated in the middle. Secure the paper and foil in place by tying string under the rim of the bowl.
- Put the bowl into a steamer or saucepan of simmering water. Make sure the water comes halfway up the side of the bowl. Cover and steam, topping up with boiling water as needed, for about 6 hours.
- Remove the bowl from the steamer or pan and leave to cool. Remove the paper and foil covering. Make a few holes in the pudding with a fine skewer, and pour in the rum or brandy.
- Cover the pudding with fresh greaseproof paper and foil. Store in a cool place for up to 3 months. To reheat for serving, steam the pudding for 2-3 hours. Serve at once, with brandy butter.
As the Christmas pudding was steaming away on the hob, I also started organising some of the decorations that we recently bought. I know it’s early, but I’ve already put some things on display! I can’t help myself! It also got me thinking about the Christmas traditions that we as a family have.
Growing up in a pub meant that my childhood Christmases were a lot different to my friends. When I was really young, my dad would open the public bar (for all the blokes to get out of the way of their wives cooking dinner!) until 2pm, and then we would have our Christmas. The pub wasn’t open Christmas night, nor Boxing Day (from what I remember) Eventually, the company wanted the restaurant to be opened too… I remember I was probably around 10 or 11 years old when this happened, so it also meant that we got to help out – I remember helping to make the desserts in the kitchen! As I grew older, I would help in the restaurant and eventually behind the bar. It was quite normal for us to be working at Christmas.
Because of work, our Christmas Day would start after all the guests had left the building. I don’t have many photos scanned onto my computer from my childhood (a job I really must get around to doing!) and here is a selection of them. It’s just my sister and me in this bunch – my other sister and brother were but twinkles in my parents’ eyes!
Our Christmas Traditions
As a child, the Christmas tree would more often than not go up on the 1st December – I still do that now, but, the past few years it’s been going up earlier and earlier!
When I was a kid, the tree was very traditional, and I remember that smell of the cardboard box of decorations that dad would have brought down from the loft. Multi coloured fairy lights, that would no doubt have had one bulb that didn’t work, rendering the whole string useless, glass ornaments (that I remember one being broken and I got glass in my foot – ouch!), gold or red tinsel and an angel sitting on top.
For the past four years I’ve gone very non-traditional with my tree (but it’s traditional now for us!) with a white tree, single colour lights, and brightly coloured decorations.
Slowly, our tree has been taken over by Disney ornaments that we’ve been buying on our trips to Orlando. It’s tradition for us now to go to the Christmas shop in Downtown Disney and buy a few new ornaments, as well as one with the year stamped on it – I have my 2014 ready to go on this year’s tree next weekend! When it comes to ornaments, I MUST have the bauble that I bought for my son’s 1st Christmas on the tree.
When I was a kid, we would always be allowed to open one present on Christmas Eve – a tradition that I then started with my son too. He still, as a teenager, asks if he can open a pressie on Christmas Eve!
We didn’t have a fireplace in any of the pubs that we lived in so, instead of stockings hung by the chimney with care, it was pillowcases at the ends of our beds, that we had decorated.
My sister and I would wake up at an ungodly hour, and go and wake up mum and dad. Dad would still be snoozing, but mum would come into our bedrooms and we would see what was inside our Christmas pillowcases from Santa!
Similarly, once I was grown up with a child of my own, I would put a pillowcase at the end of my son’s bed for his Santa presents – even though we had a fireplace! He did eventually have Christmas stockings too. Yes, plural! He had quite the collection of them. I would always go into his bedroom with him to watch him open his Father Christmas gifts, just like mum used to do with us as children.
I split up with my son’s dad 11 years ago, but it’s now traditional that he comes to us on Christmas morning, armed with presents for the boy. I always cook bacon butties for us all and big mugs of tea.
When I was a child, after opening our Santa presents in our bedrooms, we would go into the front room – the only lights would be the fairy lights – there is something magical about the glow from the Christmas tree. One of us would play Santa, and give out presents to everyone from under the tree. We’d all be sat there with a pile of them, opening them one by one and seeing what everyone had been given. All the wrapping paper would then get thrown into a huge bin bag – these days, it goes into recycling.
When I was very young, I remember my mum getting the turkey ready the night before and sitting down around the dining room table up in the flat. But over the years, as we got older and we’d all be working in the restaurant, kitchens or bar, we’d have our dinner ready made for us from service that day. It would always be traditional turkey with all the trimmings though! The only difference was that it was plated up by the chefs for us, instead of dad carving the turkey at the table .
Just looking at these photos makes me a little sad that our Christmases revolved so much around the pub. There was a short period of my childhood that Christmas didn’t revolve around working, but there was a long time that it did. That’s not to say that I don’t have fond memories of Christmas – I really do!
As I write this post, memories and traditions we had, keep popping into my head. Some will seem really random, and it’s all because I grew up in a pub…
- The Christmas music that dad would have playing in the pub from the start of December – I know most Christmas songs by heart having heard them so many times. One really random song that reminds me of Christmas is Super Trouper by Abba. It’s not a Christmas song, but I’m instantly transported back to my childhood when I hear it!
- Being downstairs in the pub when it was closed with all our extended family, playing pool, or on the games machines!
- My sister and I running around the restaurant before the cleaners got in, hunting out the leftover cracker prizes that customers had left on the tables!
- Being allowed to go behind the bar to get a drink from the chiller cabinet – so cool when you’re 11 years old!
- Christmas staff parties that my dad would throw – and struggling to stay awake because they wouldn’t start until after midnight!
- The pub actually being closed on Boxing Day and it meant we got to spend the whole day as a family – dad included!
Once dad left the pub game, Christmases became weird – it was weird not to work! Although it was lovely that we didn’t have to wait for customers to go home before we got to enjoy our family Christmas.
Nowadays, rather than Christmas Day together, more often than not, we spend Boxing Day together as a family – that is, my son, husband and I, with my sisters and brother and their partners, and my parents.We all have our own families now and in-laws to visit too. Plus, some of us still work in the catering industry!
It is either at our house or my parents house, and we still play Santa at the Christmas tree, with a [recycling] bag for all the wrapping paper; mum still has her traditional Christmas tree at home and dad carves the turkey again – even when it’s at our house instead of his!
I don’t cook my turkey overnight like my mum does – it goes in for just 3 or 4 hours, depending on the size of it, and I love my Christmas tradition of preparing the food – with my Christmas hat on, and the Christmas tunes on in the background. When I cook my turkey, it must always be slathered in butter and covered with bacon – the bacon is the cook’s treat! I always have to cook sprouts with chestnuts. I always have to make my own pork stuffing. I always have to prepare a seafood starter. I always have to create a cheeseboard! And I can’t ever forget sausages wrapped in bacon!
Over the past few years, my siblings and I (along with partners and spouses!) have a tradition of playing poker in the evening after being stuffed to the gills with turkey and all the trimmings. And even though we’re stuffed, the cheeseboard comes out! We’ll also manage to squeeze in a couple of board games. I love that we are such a close family and cherish the Christmases that spend together. Christmas this year is at my mum’s house on Boxing Day – it’s fallen to me for the past few years, so it’s going to be nice to have a break from all the prep! Although, I will be cooking turkey on Christmas Day – it’s something I can’t NOT do!
What Christmas traditions do you have? Let me know in the comments section below this blog post – I love hearing how others celebrate Christmas!