It must be Plum Pudding time! I make it in October to be ready for Christmas Day. I have done so ever since I took a cooking class from a British woman in San Francisco in 1978. I can clearly hear her voice playing in my head: “You may need a little extra stout, preferably Guinness, than the recipe calls for so it is best not to finish drinking the bottle until you have completed your pudding.”
At over six feet tall, she reminded me of Julia Child, with a friendly yet imposing demeanor. I wouldn’t dare disobey her anymore than I would step on a metal cellar door in the sidewalk. If you have ever walked with me in a city, you know that I will go to great lengths to avoid walking on them because as a child, Grandma Gussie strongly cautioned me against it, “Oy! Carole Jean! Don’t walk on the metal doors. God forbid you should fall in.” God forbid. I just don’t do it, nor do I drink the leftover Guinness until the pudding is done.
This year I should be safe to sip a bit along the way. The recipe calls for 1/4 cup of stout. Just try to find a small single bottle of Guinness in the U.S.! Everything is super-sized. I went to three stores looking for a single bottle that could be purchased without buying an entire six-pack. On the fourth try, I found one! Yup. One single bottle of Guinness which contains one pint, six ounces. The 1/4 cup called for in the recipe is two ounces.
Now that I have the giant bottle (It could rival one of the plastic display bottles you see in parades or Sports Bar promotions) lined up with the other ingredients, I’m wondering if I should have bought the six-pack for $8.99. I spent $3.66 on the single bottle and I don’t even like the stuff – I just drink it to be polite. Not only does it say so in the recipe, I still hear that high-pitched voice instructing me to do it in her authoritative British accent.
I’m excited about this project, or should I say challenge? The traditional British Christmas Pudding is much appreciated by our friends across the pond. Here in California? Not so much. Except for my family, of course. Just ask my son, Tyler. From the time he was a child, he schlepped it, along with a frozen turkey to celebrate the holidays with family in Costa Rica. In the olden days (1980s) Gringo ingredients were hard to come by in Latin America. All that has changed with the expat influx, but the image of Tyler with a heavy ceramic pudding dish in one hand, and a twenty pound pound Butterball in the other is stamped on my brain.
A couple of years ago, while living in Costa Rica, I thought I would have to break tradition and forego the Plum Pudding. I was ecstatic to be proven wrong. Remember this?
After gathering all the essentials, and choosing a time to assemble the pudding (a time when I could polish off the remaining Guinness and not have to drive anywhere) I set about my task.
When all was assembled and it was time to steam the pudding, I couldn’t find my cooking string. The string is necessary to tie under the lip of the bowl so water doesn’t get into the pudding itself. I only use it once a year for this purpose. I was sure I moved it from Costa Rica. It’s probably in the same box as my escargot set and martini shaker that has yet to surface. So, off to the Dollar Store I went.
I perused the aisles once, twice, and then finally asked a salesperson.
“Cooking string? What’s that? Hey, Andrew!” she shouted to her co-worker. “We got any cooking string?”
I piped in with “It’s a white cotton string. Well, any string will do.” I said. At this point, I didn’t care what kind of string it was…any port in a storm…
I went home empty-handed. I knew I could get some at a regular hardware store, but I didn’t want to pay the price, and this was so much more fun!
Home I went, knowing that my upstairs neighbor, Doris, would certainly have cooking string. She is an amazing cook and all around clever do-it-yourselfer.” She spent years as a missionary in Thailand, and is the queen of improvising. The day I moved into my apartment, she introduced herself and added, “I have tools.” with a grin. And she knows how to use them!
I bounded up the stairs, knocked on Doris’s door and made my request. She looked puzzled for a moment and then said,”Come in. Give me a minute.” She disappeared into her bedroom, started rummaging through boxes and returned with a smug look. “How about rick-rack?”
“Rick-Rack!? No, I’m not using rick-rack on any Plum Pudding of mine!” In my mind rick-rack was bright red and I could just see the dye running all over the place. She countered, “Why not? It’s white, it’s cotton. and you can tie it under the rim just fine.”
“It’s white?! Oh, white. Well, in that case I’ll try it.” and we both started giggling.
Every year on Christmas Day we march into the darkened dining room with the flaming dessert singing “We wish you a Merry Christmas…” and we serve it up. Tyler says, “Good pudding this year, Mom.” Every year.
This year, I will reply, “It’s all in the rick-rack.”
Doris saves the day with rick-rack!
Happy Holidays…coming up soon!!