What is Stir Up Sunday?
‘Stir Up Sunday’ is the day when home cooks ‘stir up’ their Christmas puddings. It falls on a different date each year but always towards the end of November, before Advent begins. This year it’s on Sunday 21 November.
The term came from the Anglican church, where the collect for the last Sunday before Advent is as follows: “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.” This turned into a reminder to the congregation to ‘stir up’ their puddings, since most recipes require them to be prepared well before Christmas Day.
Where did Christmas pudding come from?
Christmas pudding was reputed to have originated in the 14th century, when a dish called frumenty, made with oats, milk and seasoned with cinnamon and saffron was served. Later, traditional Christmas dishes, such as mincemeat, were normally made with meat until the 1700s, when Georgian cooks started to experiment with meatless versions, flavouring the mixture with lemon juice and zest, alongside the dried fruit and spices.
In the 19th century, Prince Albert, husband of Queen Victoria, is said to have had a pivotal role in introducing Christmas traditions from Germany that we recognise today, such as the Christmas tree. Victorians also called the popular dessert ‘plum pudding’ instead of ‘Christmas pudding’ since ‘plum’ was their name for dried fruit. During World War 2, many cake recipes included carrots since they were an alternative for sugar and reasonably plentiful.
Stir it up and make a wish!
In some families, ‘stirring up’ the Christmas pudding became a tradition where everyone took a turn in stirring the mixture and making a wish for the year ahead. The pudding should be stirred from east to west, in honour of the Biblical Magi (wise men) who came from the East to visit the baby Jesus. Some cooks also added silver coins to the mixture to bring good luck to whoever finds one in their portion.
Make your own Christmas pudding
Grandma Abson always made her own Christmas puddings well in advance and tied them up in basins with clean cloths. The quantities here make a family sized pudding.
Christmas pudding recipe
75g/3oz mixed peel
150g/5oz (vegetarian) suet
150g/5oz self-raising flour
150g/5oz (soft brown) sugar
25g/1oz flaked almonds or chopped nuts
1 tsp mixed spice
1 tsp cinnamon
2 eggs (beaten)
1/3 small can stout
A little milk
Grease a 2-pint/1-ltr pudding basin with butter. Mix together all the dry ingredients, add the eggs, then the stout and milk. Stir well to make sure all ingredients are combined and put the mixture into the basin. Cover the top with greaseproof paper. Then cover and tie tightly with a cloth. Steam or boil for 4–5 hours. Store in a cool place until Christmas Day. Then, steam for two hours prior to serving on the day.
Save time and energy and make it in a microwave
Follow the recipe to make the mixture. Cover the pudding with a Beeswax food wrap (or cling film). For the first stage, cook on medium power for around 7 minutes. Test with a skewer to see if cooked and then leave to cool. Recover with a clean cloth and store in cool place. On Christmas Day, cover with a fresh cloth, reheat for 6 minutes on a moderate heat.
Meryl’s tips for a perfect Christmas pudding
- Swap dried cranberries and/or apricots for some of the dried fruits – just keep to approximately the same quantities.
- If you don’t have a steamer, you can put the pudding basin in a large pan on an inverted saucer or small plate and pour water to about ¼ of the side of the basin. Keep topping the water up in the pan so it doesn’t boil dry.
- Always test with skewer – if the skewer comes out clean, then it’s fully cooked. If it still sticks to the skewer then cook for a minute or so longer.
- Whatever the method for cooking, leave the pudding to stand for a few minutes before serving and prepare brandy butter, custard or cream – whatever you like best. We always have rum sauce!
In 2011, I was cook in charge alongside June and Hazel (alias Mary and Rose). We put on freshly laundered dresses, aprons and caps, worn by the former kitchen staff at Cusworth Hall Doncaster and reenacted preparations for Stir Up Sunday in the great kitchen, just as in the 1900s. It was great fun!
This year, I hope you’ll join me in stirring up your own Christmas pudding at home. I’ll be busy making other festive favourites, Christmas cake and mincemeat for mince pies. Check out Grandma’s favourite Christmas recipes HERE.