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Leefstyl | Lifestyle > Kos & Wyn | Food & Wine > Rubrieke | Columns > Michael Olivier: Notes from my kitchen table

The joys of Stir Up Sunday

Michael Olivier - 2007-12-04

As a little boy I was very aware of Stir Up Sunday. Stir Up Sunday is the last Sunday before advent on the Christian calendar and the day on which, by tradition in our family, the Christmas pudding was prepared.

There are English records of what was then known as Christmas Porridge going back to the 14th century, with ingredients such as beef and mutton, prunes, spices and wine rather than the fruit and nuts which we know today. In England in 1664, Oliver Cromwell banned the pudding as he thought eating it was “a lewd custom inappropriate for people who followed God”. King George I brought back the pudding in 1714, but it was Prince Albert, Consort to Queen Victoria, who introduced the pudding as we know it today - probably from Germany in the middle of the 19th century.

The sadness is that today we buy our Christmas puddings and our children have not had the fun of Stir up Sunday.

While my brother's and my only task as boys was to put in a handful of tickeys and sixpences and a card of sterling silver charms - bells, reindeers, buttons, snowflakes and horseshoes bought each year for the purpose into the pudding – give it a stir and “make a wish for Christmas”, major preparation began the day before as my grandmother, keeping up the tradition of her British-born parents, fulfilled the various tasks required.

Pudding bowls were readied. These had been pressed into service in winter for steamed puddings, usually of the vanilla kind with a generous dollop of either golden syrup or lemon curd in the base of the bowl, which would then, on the bowl's upending just before being served, flow down the sides of the pudding, providing a sauce for it. There was also the “Spotted Dog” aka “Spotted Dick”, which was a pudding made with raisins and currants, heavily laced with Rhum Negrita, a Barbados Rum which was kept in our kitchen for cooking. My grandfather would always add an extra slug, much to our amusement, with the comment to my grandmother, “You never put enough in”, so much so at times that if you breathed on a window pane after eating a slice it would in all likelihood have cracked.

Squares of greaseproof paper were cut, small circles for the base of the pudding bowl, so that the pudding would turn out easily, pudding cloth was cut with a large pair of pinking scissors, tying twine at the ready and the bowls buttered (melted clarified butter with a pastry brush) and floured and put upside down on a plate in readiness for the steaming the next day. Eggs were taken out of the fridge so that they would be at room temperature when used. The dried fruit was soaked overnight in KWV brandy in small bowls with saucers on top. Nutmeg was grated on to small greaseproof squares and wrapped up in paper twists overnight to keep as much flavour intact as possible. Suet fat bought from Uncle Morris, the local butcher, that had been hardened in the deep freeze and then grated, was ready for use in the fridge. Large steaming pots were filled to the required depth with water and triangular wooden trivets were soaked in them overnight. The trivets prevented the pudding bowls from being in contact with the base of the pot where there was the most direct heat.

My grandmother had large earthenware Derby Pottery bowls in which cakes, pastries and pudding were made and these were the recipients of eggs, flour, liquids, fruit and spices and the all-important brandy ready for mixing with a large wooden spoon. At the right moment we were summoned to the kitchen to stir in our silver and make the wish - we stayed, of course, to lick out the bowls after the batter had been measured out and weighed to ensure that each pudding was the same size.

The Christmas puddings were then covered with the greaseproof paper with a fold in the middle in case of expansion, and the mutton cloth was tied on with a big loop for ease of putting into and taking out of the pot. The steaming seemed to go on all day as they were steamed for the first time for cooking and then put away wrapped in greaseproof paper in the cool pantry, so perfect for keeping the puddings until they were finally steamed on Christmas morning.

The day before Christmas the Brandy Butter, or “hard sauce”, was made by creaming and beating until fluffy, equal parts of butter and icing sugar. Our farm butter was always bright daffodil yellow, so the brandy butter was always sunshiny in colour. Brandy was beaten in until the mixture could take no more and then the mixture was rolled in greaseproof paper to appear sliced like thick pennies with the pudding after lunch.

The pudding always came to the dining room table accompanied by a jug of warmed brandy which was ceremonially poured over the pudding when all were looking on in great excitement and anticipation. Match applied and the blue flames danced round the pudding.

We could hardly wait to tuck in. Jugs of runny custard were de rigueur if you could not take the alcohol in the brandy butter.

Leftovers were fried for supper and served with the scrapings of brandy butter and custard, which, if we were lucky were left over.

Now by the time this is published, you will have missed the first Sunday in Advent.

But there is still time … Here’s my favourite last-minute Christmas pudding, courtesy of a favourite aunt who died many years ago, for you to make and to get your children to help you. I’m afraid you can’t use anything less than one rand coins now!

Aunt Muriel’s Christmas Pudding
You’ll need

250 g stale brown breadcrumbs [insides only, not crusts]
200 g each seedless raisins, currants, unbleached Orange River sultanas
80 g chopped glacé pineapple
80 g glacé cherries
250 g soft brown sugar
100 g blanched almonds roughly chopped
1 large Granny Smith apple grated with the skin on
the finely grated zest and rind of one lemon and one orange
100 g candied grapefruit peel or mixed citrus peel
1 tsp of mixed spices made up of a little ground clove
freshly grated nutmeg
ground ginger and ground allspice
4 Tbs brown or wholewheat flour
100 ml brandy
250 g vegetable suet and
4 large eggs.


Prepare a large pot of water with a trivet in it for steaming. Grease well with butter a 2-litre pudding steamer. Put a disc of greaseproof paper on the bottom of the bowl and dust the bowl out with cake flour. Have ready a circle of greaseproof paper cut to cover the top of the pudding and butter the side which will go next to the pudding, and a sheet with which to cover the pudding with a fold in the middle for expansion. Have handy a piece of mutton cloth or unbleached calico to cover the bowl and a length of twine with which to tie it on. In a large earthenware bowl and using a wooden spoon add the ingredients one by one, mixing well after each addition. This should fill the pudding bowl to just below the rim. Place the circle of greaseproof on it butter side down, cover with the sheet of greaseproof and the cloth which you tie down with the string, leaving a loop on it for ease of lifting the pudding in and out of the pot. Steam the pudding in simmering water for 5 hours taking care to add boiling water during the steaming to prevent the pot from boiling dry. When cooked, wrap the whole pudding in greaseproof paper and keep in a cool place, or at the bottom of the fridge, until Christmas day, when you will need to boil it again for 2 hours, during which time it will get quite dark.

Serve by flaming first with warm brandy and then with brandy butter and runny custard.

Serves 8-10.


You can use two smaller pudding bowls, and the first steaming need be no longer than 3 hours.

Wine recommendation

I spent some time chatting with Flip and Caren Smit at the Summer Good Food and Wine Show in Johannesburg recently and tasting their range of wines. Their reds are quite superb and offer great value for money. But with this dessert I would recommend Flip's Rijkshof Red or White Muscadel. Botha are Wine magazine's Best Value Dessert Wines and both are offered at the give-away price of R30. Unctuously sweet, yet with a gentle contrasting acidity and not too full-bodied. Wonderful dried fruit and barley sugar flavours in both these wines. The Smits are a great couple, hardworking and so proud of their region and their own wines. The winery is in one of the main streets in Oudtshoorn, so if you're passing through, go and visit and load up your boot. Flip's reds offer a great value/quality ratio.

I've also been tasting some really delicious wines lately and I hope you'll give them a whirl at Christmas and before!

Dalla Cia Sauvignon Blanc 2007: I love this wine. Made by the grand old man of the Cape, Giorgio dalla Cia. He always has such simple explanations for his wines. He says, "By minimising total acidity, the wine is slightly less fruity but more complex because of its more natural evolution during fermentation. The result is a wine that is less heavy and much more pleasant to drink.” I love its "feel" in the mouth, the delicious poached Cape gooseberry acidity so soft and gentle and the marine kelp minerality which Giorgio achieves in his whites.

Simonsig Chenin Blanc 2007: Wins the Super Quaffer of the Year Award in the 2008 Platter. Need I say more? Such great value at R30 a pop. All the expected honey and melons and flowers bundled up in a creamy, silky package. Yum!

Paul Cluver Sauvignon Blanc 2007: Andries Burger of Cluver Estate makes some of my most favourite wines. A killer Rhine Riesling, Gewurz and Pinot Noir - and now this SB. Lots of fruit and minerals from the "lying on the lees" and crisp cool Elgin flavours.

Simonsig Brut Rosé 2006: I fell in love with this wine when it was still in an unlabelled bottle in Johan Malan's cellar on Simonsig. It's the bubbly of the year in my recent release, Crush! 100 South African Wines to drink now. Deliciously pink, mainly Pinotage with splashes of Pinot Meunier and Pinot Noir. Goes with anything from salmon to sushi, shortbread and strawberries, yet is crisp and dry. For Christmas they have released the wine in a beautiful tin which would make an excellent Christmas gift for your know-it-all brother-in-law who thinks he has seen everything in wine!

Stellenzicht Cellar Master's Release Pinotage 2005: This is the Rolls Royce Pinotage from Guy Webber. Interestingly oaked in French, American and a small a percentage of Hungarian Oak, the wine is full-bodied with a wonderful, juicy fruity flavour. Bit of the "fresh turned sod" earthiness present which I find so appealing. This can take well-flavoured dishes - and give it a whirl with chocolate, it's great with wet, warm brownies. This is a once-off release of a couple of special barrels chosen by Guy.

Stellenzicht Pinotage 2006: Third time in a row that this wine has been in the Absa Top Ten Pinotage line-up. Dark, almost black ruby in colour with delicious smells of mulberries and blood plums. Rich flavours of blackberries, full-mouth feel and lovely oaky tones. This would hit a dark chocolate mousse sideways if you wanted a different food match.

Fleur du Cap Pinotage 2005: Another Absa Top Ten Pinotage; great value at R45. Quite a modern style of Pinotage which has spent 15 months in French oak which gently brushes the mulberries and deep ripe plum flavours. I like the grippy tannins which make this a serious food wine. The Times of India recently suggested that red wines are great with curry - try this with our mother's bobotie recipe!

Please be on the lookout for my new book, Crush! 100 South African wines to drink now. Not only is it packed with information about my 10 current favourite favourites, but it makes a great stocking stuffer at Christmas. Please also visit me on my website, www.noshnews.co.za.

I wish you all a merry and blessed Christmas.