Stir-up Sunday

Christmas Cake or Pudding, do you have a preference? 

If you make either yourself, then traditionally today would be the day to set out at least making the mixture. For today is Stir-up Sunday. And across Lincolnshire, households would be checking the list of ingredients, and preparing bowls and a most importantly a spoon, for an important family ritual. County Folklore Vol V (1908) tells us...

" Stirrup-Sunday.— That is Stir-up Sunday. The last Sunday after the feast of Holy Trinity, so called, it is said, on account of the first words of the collect in the Book of Common Prayer for that day: ‘ Stir up, we beseech Thee, O Lord,’ which is a translation of a collect in the Salisbury use. On this day, or on the one following, the mince-meat for the Christmas pies, and the Christmas plum-pudding should be stirred by all members of the household.—-E. Peacock, IL, vol. ii., p. 525. "

The Christmas cake as we would recognise it appeared around the 16th Century. Earlier iterations, might have been something a bit lighter and more bread-like, for example something not too distant to the modern day Italian Panettone. The Christmas pudding alternatively originated in the 14th-century as a sort of  porridge, originally known as “frumenty”, though earlier versions of this might include meat as well as fruit, so the resemblance may be slight!

It would be the Victorians who so ardently advanced much of the mythology and ritual around the Christmas season, who'd have the greatest impact on both the seasonal cake and pudding. Additions of ingredients of dried fruit such as raisins, currants, and lemon & orange peel, mixed spices, and brandy would see both recipes evolve into the items we would expect to see on our cracker be-decked tables today.

A late Victorian coloured print of a Plum pudding.
By the end of the 19th C, the holly-topped Christmas pudding had become one of the 
defining symbols of the season. Popularised by recipes books, and in advertising.
But who would get the sixpence?

The dropping of a lucky sixpence into the Christmas pudding mixture was a UK wide tradition, and would have been done in Lincolnshire kitchens. Where all the family would be called to gather around the bowl of sticky spiced-scented mixture and to take turns to silently stir in a "wish" to the mixture (remembering to stir clockwise)

I'm including here our family Christmas cake recipe. One that's stood us in good stead down the years. Using a dark beer such as a porter, produces a rich malty cake. We've used Wainfleet-based brewery, Bateman's Salem Porter to good effect before, but any dark or red ruby ale will work.

And don't forget to feed the mixture regularly!

Christmas Cake

110g /4oz glacé cherries
55g 2oz mixed peel
450g/1lb raisins
285g/10oz sultanas
110g/4oz currants

225g/8oz butter
225g/8oz soft brown sugar
5 eggs, beaten
285/10oz flour plain
10ml/2 teaspoons mixed spice
30ml/2 tablespoons black treacle
grated lemon rind
2 wine glasses (200ml/7 fl 0z) of dark brown or ruby beer (not a light ale or IPA!). 
110g/4oz ground almonds

1. Set the oven to 170C/325F/gas mark 3 & prepare a 22cm/9 inch round cake tin .
2. Cut up the cherries and mix with the rest of the fruit.
3. Cream the butter until soft. Add the sugar and beat together until light and fluffy.
4. Add the beaten eggs slowly, beating well between each addition. If the mixture curdles beat in 5ml/1 teaspoon of flour
5. Fold in the flour, mixed spice, lemon rind black treacle and beer.
6. Stir in the ground almonds and fruit.
7. Place the mixture in the prepared tin and make a deep hollow in the middle.
8. Bake for 2.5 hours, or until a skewer emerges clean from being stuck in the middle of the cake.
9. Allow to cool on a wire rack.


Sources and further info:

If you'd like to see a demonstration of an Edwardian Christmas cake being made by costumed reenactors. English Heritage have a video from Audley End, which you can watch here.

On his Tasting History blog, American food historian Max Miller has done a much deeper dive on the history and making of plum or 'figgy' pudding, which you can watch here (may contain an advert)


Popular Posts