Nothing says you're organised like a well-marinated and aged Christmas pud. It's not something our kids particularly like, but if they are anything like me, they'll realise years later just how good a plum pudding is.
I have a childhood memory of piling into Dad's brand new XY Falcon station wagon. The car, which ended up being my first almost a decade later, was huge compared with the ageing Austin Major it replaced.
My parents crammed all seven of us into this car, clearly before seatbelts were compulsory. My older brothers and I used to sit in that little part at the back of the car and were able to re-create a wrestling match between Killer Karl Kox and Mario Milano on our annual eight-hour journey from Armidale in New England to Manly Vale in Sydney for Christmas. The roads were all single lane, no freeways, and it was hours of winding in and out of the mountain ranges that feed Sydney, rolling around the rear end of the XY.
The only stop was at the Oak near Newcastle for a thickshake, followed by feeling thoroughly sick for the final two hours. All to end up having Christmas lunch at my grandparents' place.
We spent our days getting burnt to a crisp at the northern beaches such as Freshwater, Curl Curl or Dee Why. So it was hot as anything but, as Paul Kelly says in How to Make Gravy, the heat won't stop the roast.
Being part of a huge family meant a very long lunch. Every year, Nana made the Christmas pudding with the whole nine yards: custard, brandy sauce and ice-cream.
These days, you would think long and hard about giving your kids so much liquor. They sure knew how to liquor-up back then; just look through your grandparents' grog and glassware cabinet. There must have been a quart of Chatelle Napoleon in the hard sauce alone. The cake must have carried 30 standard drinks, along with the danger of being laced with so many super-low-density lipoproteins from the suet. And there was the teeth-rattling addition of hidden thruppence and sixpennies that you got to cash in at the end for real money. That money probably should have been put into a dental fund, given the damage it did.
I clearly didn't get this organisational gene from my grandmother, which is why I am thinking about making a Christmas pudding in December. They should have been made months ago, then tucked into the linen closet next to the piles of damask serviettes and tablecloths so that the heavily sauced - as in liquor sauced - pudding could mature in the dark, dusty surrounds.
If you are as late as I am, here's a recipe, shared by Leanne Gray, at Silo Bakery (or you could always just head down to Kingston and buy one of theirs and pass it off as your own).
You can put your own stamp on a pudding by making a hard sauce to go with it. This recipe comes from 200 Great Recipes, Including 50 Christmas Specials, by Nancy Baldwin (Herald and Weekly Times, 1978). Don't be afraid of using so much brandy, it's all part of the effect and helps with the afternoon snooze. Grandpa always had one of these after the huge Christmas lunch. Funny how an afternoon kip seems like a pretty good idea all these years later.
500g mixed peel
200g stoned prunes
200g grated apple, Granny Smith
500g shredded suet
400g brioche crumbs
60g ground almonds
grated rinds of a lemon and orange
1 tsp mixed spice
½ tsp salt
¾ cup stout
¾ cup beer
¾ cup milk
½ cup rum
½ cup brandy
½ cup sweet sherry
½ cup Madeira, or use port
Place all the fruit and dry ingredients into a bowl and combine. Add the wet ingredients and mix well.
Place the mixture into two four-cup bowls. Cover with greaseproof paper and then scalded cloth. Use string to tie cloth securely.
Stand the pudding bowl on a plate or trivet in a saucepan of water. Heat to simmer and cover with saucepan lid. Keep checking the water level during cooking and top up as necessary. Simmer for 3½ hours.
Store the basins in the pantry. These should keep for a year. To reheat, place bowl into a simmering saucepan and heat for at least one hour. The puddings may also be opened up and sliced, fried in butter, and flambeed with brandy. The pudding should be kept in the fridge once opened.
This recipe is modified from the original Dorchester Hotel recipe.
Recipe from Leanne Gray, Silo Bakery.
125g soft butter
½ cup icing sugar
Whip the butter with a paddle in a mixer, stopping every now and then to push it all back together, then add the sugar a little at a time, and then the brandy the same way. It should have a light, fluffy texture.
Bryan Martin is a winemaker at Ravensworth and Clonakilla, bryanmartin.com.au