Christmas Pudding

Christmas Pudding by N du pont de bie

The Christmas plum pudding we know today evolved from that old British food staple, ‘pottage’ – a soupy stew made from grain, vegetables and meat, thickened with breadcrumbs and flavoured with spices, and sometimes, fruit and wine. Plum pottage was a medieval Christmas dish and it was served as a first course, which would have been a hearty start to the meal, one wonders if you would have room for anything else.

Oddly, as with so many little kitchen utensils, the re-useable pudding cloth only became common at the beginning of the 17th century, before that few thought to use fabric to cook a pud. The fashion of encasing the popular baked puddings and pottages in a cloth then took off (particularly as most poor households did not have an oven) and some, like plum pudding were also left to hang after boiling or steaming, to improve the flavour.

As the centuries wore on the meat in plum pottage was replaced by suet, the plums (dried prunes) replaced by a wider variety of dried fruits and nuts, and the alcohol content raised considerably. By the 1830’s the ‘cannonball’ crowned with holly we associate with Christmas had firmly taken hold in our culinary calendar

I include below a recipe for Christmas Pudding in Modern Cookery for Private Families by Eliza Acton (1868 ed) below, but it’s rather late in the day to make this for Christmas so if you wish to buy one, I recommend the superb puddings of Georgie Porgies Puddings which can be bought online.

To steam a pudding, you place it in a cloth in a bowl submerged in simmering water-…/how-steam-pudding

To boil a ball pudding – the pud must be wrapped in calico or very thick muslin (scalded with hot kettle water to remove any chemicals) and submerged in simmering water. The scalded cloth should be floured, then the mixture placed in the middle and the corners of the cloth brought together above it, form the ball and tie it. Boil the pudding according to weight usually about 4 -5 hours but 3 1/2 in the recipe below.  Remove it with tongs and allow to hang in a cool place, over a bowl for two days or until the cloth is dry. I like to re-tie it new dry calico to avoid risk of mould and then hang for a month. Re-boil on Christmas day for 1-2 hours.

Acton Christmas pudding

Eliza Acton – Modern Cookery 1868


Venison Mince Meat

Venison mince recipe

450g of venison mince or very lean steak mince

500g seedless raisins

750g currants

500g beef suet

500g dark brown sugar

90g mixed candied peel

750g apples weighed after peeling and coring

zest of one lemon

juice of half lemon

300m ½ pint brandy

1/2tsp salt

1/2tsp all spice

½ tsp cinnamon

½ nutmeg grated

1 tsp ground black pepper


Coarsely grate (or chop finely) the peeled apple pieces.

Mix everything (except the brandy) together with your hands in a big bowl. Add the liquor and mix again.

Pack the mincemeat into sterilised jars, seal with greaseproof paper and tight-fitting lids. I made 10 jam jars full. Store in a cool place – if you have the time, let the mincemeat mature for 2-3 weeks before using it for mince pies. The meat is preserved by the sugar and brandy and I’ve kept jars for a year to no ill effect, then it is ‘cooked’ in the mince pies but I have to add a health warning – this recipe is to be made at your own risk. Many of the products described on this website involve significant risks, and you should not enter into any recipe or cooking action unless you have fully understood all such risks and have independently determined that they are appropriate for you. Well, that’s been said so….

Traditional Mince Pies – let’s make them. 


To make 12 mince pies –

11⁄4 lb (560 g) mincemeat

12 oz (350 g) plain flour

3 oz (75 g) lard (beef fat)

3 oz (75 g) butter

pinch of salt

Pre-heat the oven to gas mark 6, 400°F (200°C).

Make up the pastry by sifting the flour and salt into a mixing bowl and rubbing the fats into it until the mixture resembles fine crumbs. Then add just enough cold water to mix to a dough that leaves the bowl clean. I needed 140ml of water but each dough may differ, just don’t add it all at once but be cautious and add little at a time until it comes together.

Leave the pastry to rest in a polythene bag in the refrigerator for 20-30 minutes, then roll half of it out as thinly as possible and cut it into two dozen 3 inch (7.5 cm) rounds (I use a cup), gathering up the scraps and re-rolling. Then do the same with the other half of the pastry, this time using the 2 1⁄2 inch (6 cm) cutter (and a smaller drinking glass).

Now grease the patty tins lightly and line them with the larger rounds. Fill these with mincemeat to the level of the edges of the pastry. Dampen the edges of the smaller rounds of pastry with water and press them lightly into position to form lids, sealing the edges. Brush each one with milk or beaten egg and make three snips in the tops with a pair of scissors. (you will have enough pastry left over to make twelve more on another day). Bake near the top of the oven for 25-30 minutes until light golden brown. Cool on a wire tray and sprinkle with icing sugar. EAT THEM WHILE WARM!

If you manage not to eat them all, and we never do, store the pies in an airtight container in the fridge.

Enjoy.Mrs Beeton’s extremely boozy beef tongue mincemeat recipe below, if you fancy trying it, tell me how you got on?


Cider Apples and Drunken Wasps

We have five cider apple trees and have just planted the same again. Fun

Collect them.

Break them up in the ‘scratter’.

Squash’em. Put the juice in a tub and let it do it’s work.

All you need is apples to make cider.

Beef shin in Cider

1000g             beef shin, diced into 1 inch cubes

30g                  seasoned flour

3tblsp             vegetable oil

250g               onions sliced

600ml               brown stock

300ml             cider



250g               carrots peeled and diced

250g               turnips peeled and diced

2                      sticks of celery, cleaned and diced


Flour the meat. Heat oil fry onions until transparent then add meat and fry until brown.

Mix stock and cider and deglaze pan. Bring to boil.

Remove white scum from surface. Add other veg. Reduce cover and cook for 4 hours in low oven.