Considering I don’t actually like Christmas pudding, it may seem a little strange that this is actually the fourth post I’ve written concerning the stuff in as many years (you can find the previous three here, here and here) – but I keep finding interesting and unusual historical recipes for this most seasonal of desserts! And this recipe is a particularly interesting one, which dates from sometime during the interwar period.
Eagle-eyed readers might recall that I wrote a World War Two Christmas Miscellany post some years ago, examining the experiences of Christmas on the home front during that conflict – and since I have also been writing a series of posts on the First World War, I thought it would be interesting to try the same for 1914-1918 too.
This post mainly focuses on the wartime Christmas experiences of Londoners (mostly because I am a Londoner and I have posted about this city, its history and my fascination with it on many previous occasions), but I am sure those resident in other British towns, cities, and even smaller settlements would have had similar festive seasons and felt similar emotions during the war years to those living and working in the capital – these were, as you will see, difficult times for everybody, both at home and on the front line. Indeed, I was particularly interested to note just how bleak and, quite frankly, how depressing wartime Christmases became as the conflict progressed.
For more information on the subject, see the ‘Further reading, listening and sources’ section at the end of the post – and I would also be interested to hear from you if you have any further details of World War One home front Christmases in London, or from elsewhere in the country. You can leave a comment here or get hold of me on Twitter.
By December 1914, the oft-voiced view that the war would be ‘over by Christmas’ had already proved to be sadly mistaken – although it was unlikely that anyone preparing for the festive season that year could have possibly imagined there would actually be another three wartime Christmases yet to come before the return of peace.
I’ve written previously about strange and interesting seasonal traditions, but here’s one I don’t think I’ve ever covered before….
A Twitter discussion last week about the wonder of proper British puddings (seriously, they really are the best in the world when done right) reminded me that today is Stir-Up Sunday. In this age of ready meals and 24 hour supermarkets, that may not mean much to you, but for many families it has long been the traditional start of the preparations for the Christmas season.
Stir-Up Sunday falls on the last Sunday before the start of Advent (as calculated by the Anglican church), and although it began life as a tradition loosely associated with religion and the impact of the church calendar on the everyday lives of ordinary people, it soon developed to have both religious and secular aspects – much as Christmas itself does in our modern world. Despite this tradition only really stretching back a couple of hundred years in its best-known form, the name ‘Stir-Up Sunday’ itself is derived from a prayer that dates back to the 16th century Book Of Common Prayer. Still said in a modern form every year on the last Sunday before Advent, the original version 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; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
That’s all very well, but what exactly does Stir-Up Sunday involve in reality? It’s the day on which households would traditionally gather to make the Christmas pudding for the year, having been reminded by the prayer said in church that morning – with each member of the family taking it in turns to ‘stir up’ the mixture and make a private, secret wish. In some traditions, there is a distinctly religious element to this, as it is believed that the pudding mixture must be made with twelve or thirteen ingredients (to represent Jesus and his disciples) and stirred from East to West (right to left, or clockwise) to honour the Three Wise Men of the Nativity.
We drink it every Christmas (in fact, I’ve already been glugging away at it over this last weekend!), and many of us see it as an integral part of a ‘traditional’ festive celebration. These days, you can even buy it ready-made in most supermarkets – although it really does taste much nicer if you make it from scratch (see below for some easy recipes to try).
We all know that it’s a spicy and warming seasonal tipple, but what exactly is mulled wine? Where does it come from? How ‘traditional’ is it? Has the recipe changed over time? And, more precisely, what on earth is ‘mulling’ when it’s at home anyway?
Put very simply, to ‘mull’ wine means to heat and spice it, often adding fruit to the mixture too. This process infuses the wine with the spice (and fruit) flavours, giving it that familiar warming kick. Other alcoholic drinks can also be mulled, including cider, mead, ale and brandy, as well as fruit juices.
Variations on this theme of adding spice to booze have been popular for centuries in many European countries, and there are historical records of a number of old English recipes for mulled wine – some of which date back as far as the fourteenth century, although these recipes were almost certainly very old even then.
I don’t often post recipes, but it’s now June, and that means the real beginning of summertime (we’re now only a couple of weeks away from the summer solstice and the longest day, believe it or not). And summertime means barbeques and picnics and parties and outdoor fun – assuming it doesn’t rain, of course, and that’s a big assumption to make about the British summertime!
Of course, barbeques, picnics and parties – enjoyable though they are on their own – are not really complete without something fizzy and preferably alcoholic to get happily drunk on while sitting in the park or the back garden with your mates and your sunnies on.
The popularity of Pimms as the essential summer drink in recent years is all very well (don’t get me wrong, I love the stuff), but here’s a few slightly different ideas for quick, easy and delicious summery sort-of-cocktails, most of which were inspired by friends and family.