Here we take a look at the meaning behind Stir-up Sunday - and we've included two recipes for this year's stir – one traditional, one a little bit different...
Counting down the days until Christmas? Then you may already be well acquainted with Stir-up Sunday, which falls this Sunday on 24 November 2019 (the last weekend before Advent Sunday).
The custom involves the stirring of the Christmas pudding, made in good time for it to mature over the following month, by each member of a family. According to tradition, each participant is encouraged to make a wish as they do so. (Delia Smith has said that in her family it was tradition to stir in order from youngest to eldest – although that could serve only to stir up sibling rivalry.)
So, why is it called Stir-up Sunday? The answer lays in the Book of Common Prayer, where the Collect of the day for the Sunday before advent reads:
"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."
For legions of churchgoers, this Collect carries two very different meanings: a spiritual call to engage one's human will, and a very practical reminder that it's time to make the Christmas pudding.
These days, Stir-up Sunday makes for a novel way to reconnect with the meaning of Christmas, eschewing shop-bought products for a more magical, homemade pudding. The ritual is laden with small traditions that speak to the Christmas story. For example, the pudding is supposed to be stirred from East to West in honour of the wise men who travelled to Bethlehem. It's also said that there should be a total of 13 ingredients in the dish in order to represent Jesus and his twelve disciples.
The sprig of holly used as a garnish may even be seen as a reference to the crown of thorns (a word of warning: holly berry is poisonous, so faux foliage is probably a sensible option).
That said, Stir-up Sunday doesn't have to be an overtly religious ceremony. According to Duncan McClaren of McClaren's Christmas Pudding, although it began as a celebration of the pending arrival of Jesus's birthday, it is now primarily a day to "get the family together, mix up a few cakes and set the scene in the house for Christmas."
It is also on Stir-up Sunday that a coin or charm is customarily added to the pudding, said to bring good fortune to the eventual recipient of the portion containing it.
The charms most often embedded within the pudding include a silver coin for wealth (the most common), a wishbone for luck, a thimble for thrift, a ring for marriage, and an anchor to signal safe harbour. As with the holly sprig, this comes with a safety warning: be wary of choking, or cracking your teeth.
"Stir-up Sunday has passed its way through generations since King George I in the 1700s and still remains strong," adds McClaren. "I love the fact that different people have different twists: the more superstitious put sixpence inside for a bit of luck and others just love setting things on fire at the table. It can be whatever you want it to be really - there is no set recipe."
McClaren is also keen to encourage creativity when it comes to ingredients, and his mum Sandra's infamous recipe is designed to overturn preconceptions. "You've probably heard the phrase 'God, I hate Christmas pudding' - often used by people who haven't even tried one," he admits, "but often when people taste ours they are instantly converted.
"We don't use any suet, preferring butter to be the fat content; we avoid the hard candied fruit peel, chunky nuts; and we bake our own bread for the crumb. We also add a secret blend of spices to ours as well as brandy and Guinness."
While the traditional Christmas or "plum" pudding contained meat, these days many recipes and pre-made puddings are vegetarian (or even gluten-free, or vegan). McClaren explains that the original puddings were full of suet (beef fat), and were consequently extremely stodgy, like a dumpling.
"Historically, it wasn't even considered to be a dessert - but over the years people have tended to use sweet ingredients like dried fruits, soaking them in different alcohols and throwing nuts, treacle and breadcrumbs into the mix."
McClaren is also full of ideas for leftover Christmas pudding. "You even can fry it up in the morning to serve with the Boxing Day fry-up," he suggests. "We use the leftovers to make a cold set Christmas pudding and orange liqueur cheesecake and sometimes we make a pudding ice cream bombe."
Here are two recipes for Sunday's 2019 stir – one traditional, one a little bit different...
Classic Christmas pudding
A traditional vegetarian Christmas pudding recipe courtesy of Waitrose Christmas
Preparation time: 20 minutes, plus soaking overnight
Cooking time: 6 hours, and 2 hours reheating
Total time: 6 hours 20 minutes, plus soaking overnight and 2 hours reheating
- 2 x 150g packs Waitrose Love Life Berry Mix
- 100g currants
- 50g mixed peel
- 175ml brandy
- 100g plain flour
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 125g fresh white breadcrumbs
- 175g dark brown muscovado sugar
- ½ tsp ground cinnamon
- ½ tsp ground nutmeg
- Grated zest 1 lemon or orange
- 150g shredded vegetable suet
- 1 Bramley apple, peeled and coarsely grated
- 50g blanched almonds, roughly chopped
- 3 medium Waitrose British Blacktail free range eggs, beaten
- Butter, for greasing
- Place the dried fruit and mixed peel in a large glass bowl. Pour over the brandy, mix well, cover and place in the fridge to soak overnight.
- In a large bowl, mix together the flour, baking powder, breadcrumbs, sugar, spices, citrus zest, suet, apple and almonds. Stir in the soaked fruit and any remaining juices. Add the beaten eggs and stir until well mixed.
- Lightly butter a 1.2-litre pudding basin and place a disc of baking parchment in the base. Spoon in the mixture, cover with 2 sheets of baking parchment topped with a double layer of foil and tie in place with string, making a handle for lifting.
- Place the pudding in a large saucepan and pour hot water halfway up the sides. Cover and steam for 6 hours, topping up with hot water from time to time.
- Lift the pudding basin from the pan and leave to cool completely. Remove the foil and baking parchment and cover with fresh sheets. Store in a cool, dark place for up to 6 weeks.
- To reheat, steam for 2 hours as before until piping hot, then invert the pudding onto a large plate to serve.
- To flame the pudding for serving, warm 100ml brandy in a small saucepan but make sure you don't allow it to boil. Pour it over the pudding and, keeping it at arm’s length, quickly ignite.
Garam masala Christmas pudding
Executive chef of The Cinnamon Collection Vivek Singh suggests a pudding with a spicy twist
- 100g/4oz dried apricots, chopped (to about the same size as the raisins)
- 100g/4oz dried figs, chopped (to about the same size as the raisins)
- 100g/4oz dried black currants
- 100g/4oz seedless raisins
- 100g/4oz sultanas
- 75g/3oz candied lemon and orange peel, finely chopped
- 50g/2oz almonds, finely chopped 50g/2oz walnuts, finely chopped
- 50g/2oz pecan nuts, finely chopped
- 50g/2oz pine nuts, finely chopped
- 50g/2oz brazil nuts, finely chopped
- 50g/2oz cashew nuts, finely chopped
- 1 tsp ground garam masala
- ½ tsp freshly grated nutmeg
- 150ml/5fl oz dark rum
- 4 tbsp brandy
- 1 orange, zest and juice
- 1 lemon, zest and juice
- 225g/8oz salted butter
- 225g/8oz muscovado sugar
- 3 free-range eggs
- 150g/5oz plain flour
- Butter, for greasing pudding bowl
- Place all the dry fruits, nuts and spices into a large bowl and mix together thoroughly.
- Add the rum and brandy and mix together well with your hands. Cover and leave it overnight to soak in the flavours.(we macerate the fruit and nuts for at least a month)
- Cream the butter and sugar together until smooth. Add the eggs, one at a time and continue mixing until all the eggs are incorporated into the mixture.
- Fold in the flour and the soaked fruits and nuts.
- Divide the mixture between two greased 1½ litre/2½ pint heatproof pudding bowls, filling almost to the rim, then smooth down the surface.
- Cover each bowl with a large square of greaseproof paper, then cover that with a large square of aluminium foil. Tie the two sheets tightly into place under the rim with string, leaving long ends of excess string to make a handle. Loop one of the excess string lengths over the pudding basin and slide underneath the taut string holding the sheets in place on the other side. Bring up the string and firmly knot with the other piece of excess string, to form a secure handle to lift the pudding in and out of the water.
- To cook, stand both puddings on a trivet in a large, deep, heavy-based pan (or each pudding in a separate pan). Pour boiling water into the pan(s), enough to come about halfway up the sides of the bowls.
- Cover the pan(s) with a lid or a dome of foil and boil for seven hours. Check the water level regularly, topping it up with more boiling water as necessary to keep the bowls half submerged.
- After seven hours, remove the bowls from the pan and leave to cool. Untie and remove the foil and greaseproof sheets and replace with clean, dry sheets of both greaseproof paper and foil.
- Store in a cool, dry place. To reheat at Christmas-time, return to a pan containing a few inches of boiling water, cover and steam for two hours, checking the water levels now and then, until completely heated through.
- Serve with warm custard flavoured with nutmeg.