“The wood-fire stove in the kitchen was always hot. Cured pigs, sausages, dried fruit and vegetables hung from a central beam beneath the ceiling. Although a cook was employed, the family invaded the kitchen each year to preserve fruit in large, labelled jars and store it in the pantry; and then again to make the annual Christmas pudding.”
Winty Calder: Classing the Wool and Counting the Bales – The Wragges of Tulla and Yallambie, Jimaringle Publications, 1996
When we think of the artist Norman Lindsay perhaps it is as the painter of those naughty pictures of salacious Amazonian women in their birthday suits that we first think of him. A striking mixture of Arcadian pantheism and Bohemian semi-eroticism, those controversial paintings caused quite a stir amongst the strait laced wowsers of their era. However, there was more to Norman than just the creator of a lifetime’s work of marginally risqué Rubenesque images. A shining light in a family widely accomplished in the arts, Norman’s creative output across multiple disciplines throughout three quarters of the 20th century was prodigious. From the late 1890s until his death aged 90 in 1969, Norman worked in both the fine arts as a painter, etcher, sculptor and modeller and in the commercial arts as an editorial artist, cartoonist and draftsman.
Not that it ended there. In his youth Norman had established a reputation as something of an amateur boxer, a fast left jab perhaps coming in useful when it came to defending himself against some of those more ardent critics, but for the moment I want to go down a completely different track.
Norman Lindsay liked puddings.
An author of more than 20 books, only one of which was banned by the contemporary censors, Norman’s most enduring legacy is probably a book he wrote initially for children. I’m talking of course about that most quintessential of Australian childhood picture books, “The Magic Pudding”.
The story of a magic pudding that wants to be eaten and reforms after every bite has enchanted Australian readers of all ages for generations. The book was supposedly the result of a wager between Norman and his friend, the journal editor Bertram Stevens. Norman, skinny as they come, maintained children preferred reading books about feeding their faces but Stevens said they preferred fairies at the bottom of the garden. It started out as a joke but Stevens’ fairy story never saw the light of day while Lindsay’s effort became a classic of Australian childhood literature. Since its release in 1918 it has never been out of print in this country.
From this I’m thinking now that Norman would have approved of what generally happens in kitchens at this time of the year. At Yallambie, the making of the annual Christmas pudding was a Wragge family tradition, a tradition that continues up to and into the present day. While the pudding in Norman’s story was a grumpy old sod, there is one thing the Yallambie pud shares with its Lindsay counterpart.
It wants to be eaten.
As I write this post this evening, a string of puddings hangs cooling over my ear, suspended from an old meat hook on the kitchen ceiling as if to say, “Eat me, no eat me,” and reminding me that Christmas is just around the corner.
You see, I left it rather late to make the pudding this year. By rights a Christmas pudding should have been made and left to air a month or more ago, but it’s hard to think about Christmas before the twelfth month of the year don’t you think?
The recipe I use appeared four puddings ago in one of my first posts on this site. It’s a real old fashioned recipe that uses several varieties of glace fruit which chances are you might find aren’t always easy to buy, especially at this time of the year. The glace angelica is particularly difficult to get. I used to buy glace angelica at Christmas over the counter at the Myer Food Hall before they canned it – the Hall I mean, not the angelica. These days it’s just as easy to go on line with a credit card. The glace angelica is an attractive alternative to green glace cherries and is used as a complement to the red glace cherries in the recipe, without actually being more of the same. The other ingredients are easier to source. The citrus came from our own garden.
Part of the Christmas pudding ceremony is getting each member of the family to have a stir of the mixture as it’s prepared. It’s said that this stirs in luck for the coming year. When our son came down to take his turn this year he took one look at the brown, uncooked mass mixed with fruit and declared it looked like Ronnie Barker’s prison gruel.
But he had a stir all the same.
Pot stirring isn’t the only Christmas pudding custom you will read about. When I was a kid, my mother used to throw in a few pre-decimal currency coins to be discovered and hopefully not choked on by hungry pudding hunters on Christmas day. If you’re going to do this though it’s important to use coins containing a high silver content. The metal of anything else will contaminate the mixture. My over cautious mother tended to insert the coins after the pudding had been reheated just before it was about to be served on Christmas Day. Today some dealers in old coins will sell you pre-decimal coin sets packaged up especially for use as Christmas pudding tokens. Try doing that with Australian, plastic folding currency.
This recipe requires beer and either whisky and/or brandy to mix with the fruit. The beer has the added attraction of the cook being able to finish the bottle as he makes up the recipe, but the only spirit I had on hand this year was a bottle of single malt Irish Whiskey which I’m afraid all good Scotsmen will tell you isn’t Whisky at all. At any rate, using a Malt for cooking purposes is probably sacrilegious by some measure or other, regardless of your preferred nationality.
The magic pudding of Norman Lindsay’s book spends most of the story on the run from would be pudding thieves before settling down with his rightful owners with whom he finds he has a good working relationship. The pudding’s name was Albert, which if a pudding is going to have a name, is a good name for a pudding, don’t you think?
Anyway, after a day of boiling, the pudding is done. A smell of fruity elixir permeates the kitchen. So for any who missed this recipe when I first ran it in these pages in the week before Christmas 2014, here is ye olde Yallambie pudding recipe, reprised.
CENTURY-OLD YALLAMBIE CHRISTMAS PUDDING
125 grams self-raising flour
125 grams fresh white bread crumbs
125 grams ground almonds
185 grams sultanas
185 grams glacé cherries, cut into halves
30 grams angelica, diced
60 grams blanched almonds, cut into chunky pieces
60 grams dried pears, chopped small
60 grams glacé apricots, cut into small pieces
185 grams raisins, halved if very large
150 grams brown sugar
Grated rind of one lemon
Grated rind of one orange
Juice of one lemon
185 grams unsalted butter
1 cup light beer
3 large eggs
3 tablespoons whisky or brandy
Mix the flour, fresh white bread crumbs and almonds. Put the fruit and nuts into a basin and stir. If they are sticking together, add a few spoonful’s of the dry ingredients to separate them. Mix in the brown sugar, lemon and orange rinds and lemon juice. Have the butter cold, and grate it coarsely over the fruits. Do this, a little at a time, and stir to mix it through or it becomes one large lump. Mix both dry ingredients, and fruit together. Add the beer, eggs and whisky or brandy and using your hands or a wooden spoon stir the mixture thoroughly for a minute. All family members should take turns to stir the pudding mixture, traditionally from East to West in honour of the journey of the Three Kings to Bethlehem. Don’t forget to make a wish. To prepare the pudding cloth, scald the centre of the cloth with boiling water and then dust with flour. Put mixture in the centre of the cloth, gather the cloth up and tie it securely leaving a little room for the pudding to expand.
The recipe makes nine cups and is better cooked in halves, rather than one large pudding. The first boiling of this pudding takes seven hours for a large one and five hours if halved. Dry by hanging in an airy spot. Reheating times on Christmas Day are three and half hours and two and a half hours respectively. If you have any silver coins or tokens, insert them into the pudding. Douse with good quality brandy and set the pudding alight. Serve with ice cream, cream or custard.
Or maybe all three.