Is it just me, or are people diving into the holidays with extra gusto this year? More than one of my friends confessed, with a definite air of asking for forgiveness, to breaking out the tinsel and Bing Crosby before Thanksgiving. (They shall remain nameless…FOR NOW.) My day-job officemates hung lights before I even arrived at work on Monday, and keep them lit despite the specter of blowing various circuits in our electrically dubious building. I even realized earlier this week that, if I don’t cool it, I might be sick of my favorite Andy Williams rendition of “Do You Hear What I Hear?” before it’s actually time to hear what Andy hears. What is going on here? Is it because Nordstrom wouldn’t decorate early? Whatever it is, apparently we all need a little Christmas, right this very minute. (If the New Christy Minstrels just popped, fully formed, into your head…well, you’re welcome.)
If you’re feeling the Christmas spirit this first day of December, well, you’re in luck: get to know this pile of classic Austenacious Christmas cheer! And if you’re not yet in the groove, what are you waiting for? Pull your Action Jane off the shelf, turn up your preferred version of “Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” and consider the month ahead. After all, you only have twenty-five days to explode from holiday-induced stress/joy. Better get on it.
- Looking for the perfect gift for the Austenite in your life? Check out our 2011 Jane Austen gift guide! Still looking for some inspiration and maybe some Etsy stores to peruse? See previous gift guides here and here.
- Everything you can do, Jane can do better: Action Jane’s Christmas!
- There’s no combination like Jane, classic holiday ballet, and a short-story contest: Jane and Mrs. Fitzpatrick take on The Nutcracker.
- Looking for a Christmas craft with a Jane twist, or just need something to put on top of the tree? Make your Action Jane into a Christmas tree topper!
- For your holiday cheer and possibly a nice outing for the fire extinguisher: How to make plum pudding!
- From the English countryside to the north pole: Play the Letters to Santa game, Jane Austen style!
Christmas time is upon us, and what says “holiday spirit” better than steaming up a magical mixture of Guinness, candied fruit peels, and straight-up Anglophilia—and then setting it all on fire? For hundreds of years, plum pudding has been known to bring families together and save ships in wild Atlantic storms, despite its lack of actual plums or resemblance to any kind of American-style pudding. Best of all, we’re pleased to announce that the recipe has morphed over the years and no longer requires meaty bits (as was common in the 1400s)—much to our relief, it’s managed to stay firmly in the dessert category since the 1800s.
Bring on the flaming brandy sauce!
(Adapted from a recipe provided by the delightful Mrs. Varley, whose diligence in preparing this treat annually will always be fondly remembered.)
5 cups fresh bread crumbs
1 cup light brown sugar
1 cup currants
2 cups raisins
1 and 1/3 cups golden raisins
1/3 cup chopped candied mixed peel
½ cup candied cherries
8 oz suet or veg fat equivalent (Crisco) [I used Crisco]
½ teaspoon salt
2–4 teaspoon mixed spice [I used half cinnamon and half nutmeg]
1 carrot, grated
1 apple, peeled, cored, and chopped
1 orange rind, grated
Juice of one orange
2 large eggs, beaten
2 cups Guinness (or whiskey) [I used Guinness]
Butter for greasing
Mix brandy, confectioners sugar, and butter. [I didn't have specific measurements, so I winged it. There is, after all, no going wrong with these three ingredients.]
1. Put bread crumbs, sugar, dried fruit, and peel in large mixing bowl.
2. Add suet, salt, mixed spice, carrot, apple, and orange. Mix well.
3. Stir eggs, orange juice, and Guinness into bread crumbs.
4. Leave mixture overnight, stirring occasionally if possible.
5. Butter two 2-pint heatproof bowls and place fitted parchment paper (cut into circle to fit in bowl).
6. Stir mixture and turn into bowls. Top bowls with buttered parchment paper that will fit just over mixture on top of bowl. Cover bowls tightly with more layers of parchment paper and then a top layer of foil that folds over sides of bowl (secure tightly).
7. Steam bowls in a couple of inches of water for 6–7 hours. Keep checking them to make sure water is maintained at that level and steams bread pudding (no water can get into mixture).
8. After pudding is cooked through, cool, recover, and store in cool place.
Invert the pudding onto a serving dish. Put a sprig of holly in the top of the pudding, pour warm brandy, on top and light. (If you value your eyebrows, be sure to stand back.) After the applause and the flames have died out, serve slices of pudding. It’s handy to have warm brandy sauce in a small jug (or a measuring cup will do) to pour over each slice before it’s served. Don’t be shy about using plenty of sauce!
Makes 2 puddings, each serving 6–8 people.
Dear readers, I’ll be honest with you. Making a plum pudding is a pain in the arse! I couldn’t find candied peels, and ended up making those from scratch (which wasn’t difficult, but I was pressed for time); I also had trouble finding a day when I could watch over the steaming pudding for six hours. (I also didn’t pay much attention to the directions and didn’t realize that the mix was supposed to rest overnight. I only had it sitting around for two hours—quelle horreur!—but it came out fine.) Annoyances aside, it really is delicious . . . particularly if you’re liberal with the brandy sauce!