Enough time to make an Xmas pud? With figs and dates?

When my husband and I were at work, and we had two children to look after and all their activities (rugby, swimming, karate) and parents and relatives to visit regularly (four-hour journey each way) and of course housework and gardening to do, I still managed to be well-prepared for Christmas with puddings, cake and mincemeat all made, plus other treats such as chocolate logs and mincepies (there was one memorable time when staying at my dad’s house, I prepared three different bowls of mixture for pud, pies and cake – fruit marinating etc… and when we got them home I couldn’t member which was which… I think I guessed correctly with the cake but might have muddled the pies and pud – they all tasted great anyway!) … anyway this year I am way behind… luckily I have mincemeat left from last year so I’ll make some mince pies soon.

I think there is only me who really likes Christmas pudding – my husband and son don’t mind it, but my daughter really dislikes it – even when I made a ‘white’ one with berries and red fruit and white choc chips she really didn’t enjoy it.

So since it’s mainly for me maybe I shall try a different style pud (yes I know it should have been made weeks if not months ago!) and I have found this ninety year-old recipe:

Christmas pudding
(made with figs and dates)

This recipe will make 3 large or four medium puds, so adjust quantities if necessary

  • 1½ lbs stoned and chopped dates
  • 1 lb figs, stalks removed and fruit chopped
  • ½ lb mixed peel
  • 1½ lbs seeded raisins
  • 2 lbs chopped suet (you could use vegetable suet or even butter)
  • ½ lb breadcrumbs
  • ¾ lb flour ( might use wholemeal)
  • ½ lb sugar (it doesn’t specify but I will use Demerara)
  • 2 oz ground almonds
  • 4 oz chopped walnuts
  • 1 large carrot, scraped and grated
  • zest and juice of a large orange and lemon
  • 2 tsp nutmeg (freshly ground is best, and 1 whole nutmeg = 1 tsp)
  • ½ tsp ground ginger (I like ginger so I would add more)
  • 8 eggs beaten
  • 1 lb black treacle (warmed very slightly)
  • 7 fl oz milk
  • 3 fl oz rum (or brandy if you prefer, or miss it out and add more liquid)
  • ratafia flavouring (I actually do have some! This will be the first time I have used it!)
  1. mix the suet/fat, flour and breadcrumbs, spices, almonds and sugar
  2. add carrot, walnuts, and zest
  3. stir in the eggs, treacle, fruit juice and milk and  beat well
  4. add the rum and ratafia
  5. put into well buttered basins, cover with buttered paper and floured pudding cloth (or tinfoil) and steam for about six hours
  6. the puds can be made in advance and stored with new wrapping and then reheated by steaming for an hour or so – they can be heated in the microwave but I’m not sure of timings!

A weird combination?

Figs, beetroot and blue cheese sound a weird combination – but altogether in a pastry case? Even weirder, except it works! I came across a really complicated recipe, and I followed it carefully, but unfortunately I haven’t the presentation skills required and it did look strange – which puts some people off… I think I would make it differently, more simply… so this is my simplified recipe:

The Figs

  • 4  dried figs
  • red wine – or fruit juice of your choice
  • spices of your choice but probably Christmassy ones – clove, nutmeg, cinnamon, allspice etc
  •  orange or lemon zest
  • 6 juniper berries (optional)
  1. cook the figs with everything else until they are soft
  2. take them out and when they are cool slice them carefully (they might just go squidy but never mind, just remove the stalks)
  3. reduce the liquor to a syrup

The pastry

  •  filo pastry if you want
  • or ordinary shortcrust
  1. follow the instructions on the packet for  cooking filo pastry, cutting it into eight squares
  2. or/ using big bun tines – or individual Yorkshire pudding tins make eight pastry cases with the short crust


  1. peel and cook 4 medium-sized beetroot in boiling water until tender but firm  – probably about 30 mins (save the water for beetroot soup)
  2. when cool cut into really thin slices using a mandolin (mind your fingers) or use a knife!


Any soft  blue cheese you like, or soft goats’ cheese or cream cheese

To serve

  1. the fig into the pastry cases
  2. cover with  beetroot slices
  3. crumble or dollop the cheese on top
  4. dribble with fig syrup and garnish as you like , something green would be pretty

Here is a link to what happened when I tried it before:


My featured picture by the way is of the dish I used to roast the beetroot!

Plus ça change for a December menu 1930

So what does Modern Cookery (published in the 1930’s but no doubt written in the 20’s) have to say about dishes for December?

Table Decoration

What shall we have for Christmas? Mistletoe with gay orange and scarlet winter fruits cleverly arranged in a bowl, and scarlet candles in green glass holders.


grape fruit or Jaffa oranges
roast turkey and bread sauce
potato balls
Brussels sprouts
Christmas pudding
hard sauce
cheese eggs

For six people allow half a grape fruit for each person or, if you prefer it, serve half a large Jaffa orange prepared in the same way as the grape fruit.
Cut the fruit in halves crosswise, remove the centre pith and pips, then divide each section by cutting along each side of the dividing membranes.
Cut round the edge of the fruit to loosen it from the pith and rind, sprinkle with castor sugar and serve with a crystallised cherry in the middle.
Special grape fruit knives may be obtained for preparing the fruit; these are quite inexpensive and have stainless steel blades.

There follows the instructions for roasting a turkey, with stuffing ( breadcrumbs, suet, dripping, parsley, mixed herbs, seasoning, eggs, milk, lemon) and sausage meat

Serve with slightly thickened gravy, bread sauce and brown crumbs. A piece of oiled bacon or rolls of bacon should accompany the bird.

There are instructions for the bacon rolls, bread sauce (milk, onion, cloves, butter, seasoning, breadcrumbs) brown crumbs (breadcrumbs fried in butter served on a lace paper) and gravy:

THE GRAVY – the stock used for this should be made from the giblets.
Wash them thoroughly in cold water and cook them gently for three to four hours, adding a flavouring of onion, herbs and two or three cloves. Thicken this gravy  with a little flour and boil it up in the tin in which the turkey was cooked, after pouring off the dripping. Add browning and seasoning to taste and strain the gravy before serving it.

The sprouts are cooked as you would imagine, and then comes a very long-winded way of making potato balls – I think I would jut have roasties!

2 lbs potatoes, 2 eggs, salt and pepper, a lump of  butter, i level teaspoon of chopped parsley, breadcrumbs, deep fat
Method – peel the potatoes and boil them in slated water until tender; Drain them and rub them through a sieve..
Separate the eggs, beat up the yolks and add them to the potatoes with the butter, parsley and seasoning. Leave the potato to cool. Divide into small portions and shape it into balls. Brush them with the whites of egg and coat them with breadcrumbs. Put them into a frying basket and fry in deep fat until golden brown.
Drain them and serve.

The recipe for Christmas pudding is what you might expect – raisins, suet, breadcrumbs, flour, candied peel, currants, sultanas, sugar, almonds, nutmeg, cinnamon, ground cloves, eggs, rum, milk, all mixed together and , left to stand for twelve hours before being steamed for six hours.

Hard sauce is what I know as rum or brandy butter – except that in this recipe it is merely flavoured with the spirits rather than featuring them! An alternative to rum or brandy is vanilla.

The savour of cheese eggs again seems a lot of trouble for nothing much. The eggs are hard-boiled, the yolks removed, mashed and mixed with a melted mixture f cheese and butter; it’s rubbed through a sieve and piped into the empty halves of egg white.

Stand each half-egg (cutting a small slice from the base of the white so they stand firmly) on a slice of tomato and garnish with a little mustard and cress.

I suppose this could serve as an actual Christmas Day menu, but maybe it is more refined for guests! I was interested to see that grapefruit is two words, and struck by the amount of breadcrumbs used! Breadcrumbs in the stuffing, in the brown crumbs, round the potato balls, in the pudding… I also think if you boiled giblets for four hours there would be no taste left at all!

All the same, this is so similr to what we do today, ninety years ago – plus ça change!


Rose-hip jelly

We’ve been very neglectful in the garden and so we have lots of rose-hips… maybe I will make rose-hip jelly as I did a few years ago – it was very nice,  but it got left in the cupboard and forgotten about at Christmas so we had it later in the new year – the last of it used in jam tarts…

Rose-hip jelly

  • 2 lbs rose-hips, mushed up in a food processor
  • 1 lb  white  sugar
  • 5 pts of water ( or thereabouts)
  • jelly bag/muslin/the leg/foot of an old pair of tights
  1. boil 3 pins of water in a big pan and add the rose-hips
  2. bring to the boil again then turn off the heat and leave it for about fifteen minutes.
  3. pour the fruit and water into the jelly bag/muslin/the leg/foot of an old pair of tights
  4. when it’s stopped dripping – just the occasional drip, put the fruit back into the pan and add another 1½ pints of boiling water
  5.  bring it all back to the boil as you did in instruction (2)
  6.  rerun instruction (3)
  7. put the rose-hip liquor into a clean saucepan and bring to the boil again and reduce – you want about 1½ of liquor
  8. then add the sugar, boil again for about 5 mins, then decant into hot sterilised bottles and seal immediately
  9. enjoy with whatever you have for your Christmas dinner!

‘Tis the season to make… Mince Meat

‘Tis the season to be jolly, and if you haven’t done, then ’tis the season to make…

Mince Meat (no meat!!)

  • 10 oz raisins
  • 1 lb currants
  • 3-4 fl oz orange juice or cold tea – or add a little rum/whisky/brandy etc
  • zest of 1 lemon, juice of ½ (if you’ve no lemons use an orange)
  • 12 oz  shredded suet – vegetarian or not, or butter (which gives a very rich flavour)
  • 10 oz dark brown sugar
  • 3 oz chopped mixed peel (optional – miss it out if you don’t like it and extra other fruit)
  • plenty of mixed spice (or mixed spices such as nutmeg, cinnamon, clove, allspice, or go crazy and have cardamom, cumin, coriander!!)
  • 1 large cooking apple, peeled and grated
  1. soak the dried fruit in the liquid for at least an hour until they are nice and plump (you can actually use any dried fruit you like,  for example chopped prunes, apricots etc – but currants really do give a very fine flavour)
  2. drain the fruit but keep the liquor
  3. mix the fruit, sugar, spice and suet together, stir very well
  4. pour in the liquor and stir really well
  5. put into clean jars and push right down to the bottom so there are no air bubbles
  6. cover the jars and leave in a cool dark place for at least two weeks
  7. make mince pies!!!
  8. This will keep in the fridge for up to 6 months. (actually much longer, especially if you seal the top with melted butter; if it’s dried out, revive it worth some more liquid, juice/tea/spirits)

Delia Smith does this to her mincemeat – it works well and I think gives a better texture and adds to the longevity:

After that (the overnight soak)  pre-heat the oven to gas mark ¼, 225°F (110°C). Cover the bowl loosely with foil and place it in the oven for 3 hours, then remove the bowl from the oven. Don’t worry about the appearance of the mincemeat, which will look positively swimming in fat. This is how it should look.

When it’s been in the oven, bottle up and seal in the usual way.


Thinking about marmalade

Thinking about marmalade and wondering whether we should make some come the Seville orange season next January or February – depending on when they come in the shops, I began to think about why my parents’ recipe  produced the best marmalade. Is it just a matter of taste or is there some Marmalade Standard by which it can be measured?

I looked for a definition of marmalade and this is what I’ve come across:

  • a soft substance with a sweet but slightly bitter taste, made by cooking fruit such as oranges with sugar to preserve it. It is eaten on bread, usually for breakfast….

That actually didn’t get me off to a good start – I take issue with ‘soft substance‘ – a pile of feathers could be a soft substance, and I don’t like ‘cooking fruit such as oranges with sugar to preserve it‘ – the point of marmalade isn’t to preserve bitter oranges, but to make marmalade. I have it on good authority from  Spanish friends that Seville  oranges are good for nothing and are left lying in the streets of the city as they are just a decorative item on the orange tree. I also have a big issue with it being eaten on bread – yes some people do or might, but marmalade  is generally and traditionally eaten on toast.

  • a jellylike preserve in which small pieces of fruit and fruit rind, as of oranges or lemons, are suspended.

This is more correct, but there is no mention of the bitterness which is characteristic of a true marmalade.

  • a preserve made from citrus fruit, especially bitter oranges.

I think this is a brief but accurate definition, as is this:

  • Marmalade is a food made from oranges, lemons, or grapefruit that is similar to jam. It is eaten on bread or toast at breakfast.

The mention of breakfast is important, so again, brief but accurate; however Wikipedia gives what  might be considered the best definition and explanation:

  • Marmalade generally refers to a fruit preserve made from the juice and peel of citrus fruits boiled with sugar and water. It can be produced from  kumquats,  lemons,  limes,  grapefruits, mandarins, sweet oranges, bergamots, and other citrus fruits, or any  combination of them.
    For many decades now, the preferred citrus fruit for marmalade production in Britain has been the Spanish Seville orange, Citrus aurantium var. aurantium, prized for its high pectin content, which “gives a good set” – that is, it readily attains the thick consistency expected of marmalade. The peel imparts a lively bitter taste to the marmalade.
    The term “marmalade” is not precise, universal, nor definitive, but unless otherwise stated, marmalade is generally distinguished from jam by its fruit peel. However, it also may be distinguished from jam by the choice of fruit. Historically, the term was more often used in senses other than just citrus conserves

So having compared definitions… how about marmalade, and why do I think my parents’ recipe is the best? I should say to begin with, that although people do make marmalade with other fruit, I really only consider Seville orange marmalade as the true thing.  Without the bitterness, other fruit preserves are just that – preserves or jams.

  • smell/aroma – as soon as you open the jar the smell should bring joy to your nostrils, promising a delight to come… orange, toffee, only a hint of sweetness, acidity
  • appearance – the gel surrounding the shreds of peel should be transparent and clear, no cloudiness, no little blobs of fruit, and it should be a dark not bright orange, almost the colour of treacle toffee; it should glisten and shine. The shreds do not need to be a uniform shape or size but they should not be too thick, or in cubes, nor should they be so wafer thin that they are barely there and they should be distributed equally throughout the jar, neither lurking at the bottom, nor trying to escape out of the top
  • texture – the gel should be soft but hold its shape to an extent, it shouldn’t be liquid, it shouldn’t be stiff, it shouldn’t be a paste; the slivers of peel should be chunky but tender, although they should still retain an element of ‘bite’ – they should still be firm but not chewy
  • taste – there must be orange – it is a marmalade after all. There must be a pleasing bitterness, tempered by a sweetness but not too sweet. There should be a depth of flavour – the taste should have length as well as immediate intensity; there should also be a roundness – thin flavoured marmalade is just wrong. The flavour should be strong and distinct… and yes, as Wikipedia describes it ‘lively’
  • spreadability – yes, of course it should spread!

Does that sound very pompous? I hope not!

I have dear friends who often give me a jar of their marmalade, and I’m very grateful and enjoy having it on toast… but it’s just not the same as that made by the recipe. Some friends add whisky, or ginger, which I quite like, but then it becomes something different.

So what is the secret of the recipe… partly the way it is made, but also the addition of black treacle…. so, take your usual recipe, Seville oranges, a couple of lemons, sugar and also black treacle:

… and here is the method:

The method

  • it is such a chore cutting, slicing, squeezing, preparing the oranges… so put all the fruit in a pan, cover with enough water and boil until soft.
  • cut the cooked fruit in half when cool and scoop the soft flesh out of the shells of the skin. Easy.
  • then slice the peel as finely or as chunkily as you prefer
  • put all the flesh into a muslin and squeeze all the  pectin rich juices from it.
  • continue as with your recipe, but add black treacle
  • bottle when ready, admire your work, sample and store.
  • favoured friends may be lucky to receive a sample!
  • this will keep for several years… I am currently enjoying some 2012 vintage

PS – the different types of preserves…

  • jams – small or chopped or mashed fruit and sugar
  • jellies – fruit and sugar cooked and strained so there are no bits
  • preserves – whole fruit or large pieces and sugar
  • conserves – high fruit content, often with added dried fruit, nuts, etc, similar consistency to jam
  • marmalades – mixed citrus fruit and often with chopped or sliced peel, and sugar
  • fruit butters – puréed cooked fruit and less sugar, soft and spreadable – they don’t keep well so have to be eaten quickly
  • curds/cheeses –  fruit, sugar, butter and eggs, and as with butters, and have to be eaten quickly

December 4th – National Cookie Day

Who knew it was National Cookie Day? Hands up! Did you know? And you – did you know? Well, i didn’t know, but apparently it is so… Now i grew up thinking cookies were something very different from what we think of as cookies today… here is what I wrote about them a little while ago…

As children, the only cookies we knew were soft yummy biscuity things my mum made. These days cookies are biscuits, and sometimes very big biscuits.

Back to my childhood, and cookies… they were pale, and covered with rolled oats and with a glacé cherry on top, not a whole cherry, but a cut off bit of one. They were really called melting moments, I guess because they melted in your mouth in a moment; they were kept in a biscuit tin, and even when they were a little stale and had gone a little soft, I still really liked them. In those days we would have a cookie, not several, let alone all of them…. these days if there is a plate of biscuits it’s quite acceptable to have two or three, and if you have a packet at home… well, munch away!

I’m not that keen on sweet things, so biscuits are safe with me, but I wonder if I could resist some cookies, aka melting moments? Maybe I should make some and see!

Monica’s cookies

  • 2 1/2 oz lard (or vegetable whitening, e.g. TREX or Flora)
  • 1 1/2 oz margarine
  • 3 oz caster sugar
  • 5 oz self-raising flour
  • 1/2 egg
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla essence
  • quartered glacé cherries
  1. cream fats and sugar, add beaten egg
  2. work in the flour and the essence
  3. roll into balls with wet hands and coat with oats
  4. slightly flatten, place on greased tray, decorate with a piece of cherry
  5. bake for 15-20 mins reg 5, 375F, 190C

Try to resist eating them when they are still warm, or eating all of them at once when they are cool!