AS many of you are aware, the day after tomorrow is ‘Stir Up Sunday’. The last Sunday before advent, it is when Christmas puddings are traditionally made, with the whole family joining in taking turns to stir the mixture and making a wish at the same time.
Often coins are added too, promising health, wealth and happiness to the lucky recipients on Christmas Day.
Christmas puddings are very easy to make. In fact you can hardly call it cooking as all it requires is the weighing out of (an admittedly) quite long list of ingredients, stirring them together, putting them into a bowl and steaming for five to six hours.
It is then stored and forgotten about until Christmas Day, when it requires another 1½-2 hours’ steaming or, my preferred method of reheating, a few minutes in the microwave.
A ladleful of brandy, heated over a flame until it ignites, poured over and a sprig of holly stuck in the top makes a dramatic display to finish off the festive feasting. Our display is often doubly dramatic as the holly usually catches alight!
I am not going to give a recipe for Christmas pudding as they are all very much of a much-ness, going back a century or two.
However, I would advise soaking the fruit in the alcohol overnight if time permits. Brandy, rum or Guinness are commonly used and the soaking impregnates and plumps up the fruit improving the end result.
And, for vegetarians use vegetarian suet instead of beef. It might be worth bearing in mind too, that it’s cheaper to make your own pudding than to buy one.
Whilst on the subject of getting ahead, I thought this week you might like a really useful store cupboard recipe that can be made now for Christmas.
Apart from the fact it tastes delicious, I like beetroot, apple and chilli chutney for its vibrant and festive colour.
Christmas is the time for eating chutneys to accompany cold meats, pates and pies but in my view most of them are a bit of a sludgy unappetising colour.
Bring out this beetroot chutney and your plates will be perked up into riots of Christmassy colour. It is also incredibly easy to make and would be a lovely present.
Kilner jars look the part and are easy to find and Ikea sells all sorts of pretty jars in attractive shapes and sizes.
So popular is this chutney here that we eat it almost like a vegetable – by the tablespoonful.
It is quite chunky and not as intense as some chutneys that you would only help yourself to a teaspoonful of. A jar in this house can disappear in one sitting.
There isn’t a huge amount of chilli in it but by all means add more if you like your chutney hot.
The biggest compliment it has received was when one of my demonstration customers entered it in a big regional WI competition.
She was awarded second place and told that the only reason she missed out on first was that she had forgotten to label the jar!
So, I hope this might inspire you to rustle up a few jars now, to brighten up your festive table.
Find lots more simple but contemporary recipes in Jane’s book, Make it Easy, available from www.janelovett.com, bookshops and Amazon.
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1lb/450g uncooked beetroot
2 onions, peeled and diced
1lb/450g cooking apples, peeled and roughly chopped
8fl oz/250ml red wine vinegar
1tsp fresh ginger, finely chopped or 1tsp ready prepared
1tsp yellow mustard seeds
½ tsp allspice
½ tsp chilli powder (more if you like)
4oz/110g granulated sugar
1tsp pouring salt
1. Preheat the oven to 190/375/Gas5/Aga baking oven.
2. Cut the leaves off the beetroot, leaving 1in/2.5cm of stem attached and leave the root intact. Wash well, being careful not to damage the skin. Put onto a large piece of tin foil, scatter over a large pinch of sea salt and a swirl of olive oil. Bring the edges of the foil together to make a tent effect. Put onto a baking sheet and cook the beetroot for one hour until tender.
3. Put the onions, apples and red wine vinegar into a saucepan with the ginger, mustard seeds, allspice and chilli powder. Bring up to the boil and simmer for 20 minutes.
4. Meanwhile, when cool enough to handle slip the skins off the beetroot. It is advisable to wear gloves. Cut the beetroots into fairly small dice by cutting each one in half, laying them cut-side down on a chopping board and making firstly horizontal slices across, followed by vertical ones and then cutting down into dice.
5. Add the sugar, beetroot and salt to the apple mixture, stir, bring up to the boil and simmer for 15 minutes or until the required consistency, bearing in mind that the chutney will thicken up a little when cold.
6. Pour into sterilised jars and seal.
Hints and Tips
You could use ready cooked beetroot (not in vinegar) but the end result won’t have the same depth of flavour, as these tend to be soggy and overcooked.
Grate the beetroot if you prefer less chunky chutney.
So popular is this chutney here that we eat it almost like a vegetable – by the tablespoonful