JAMM AQUINO / JAQUINO@STARBULLETIN.COM
After a final touch of brandy, Mililani resident Carol Bass assists her granddaughter Martina Segura in lighting the plum pudding.
Plum pudding serves up savory holiday tradition
Plum pudding is an odd thing -- no plums, and not a pudding in the custardy American sense. If you're collecting explanations, food historians tie the name to the prunes used in the pudding. And as for calling it pudding -- that's an English name for many steamed desserts, many of them cake-like.
In ye olde days, plum puddings contained meat and were more savory than sweet. These days they are packed with dried fruits and mostly meat-free, although when Carol Bass makes her annual pudding, she uses beef suet, or bits of beef fat.
"Every Christmas dinner I inflict upon our ohana English plum pudding made faithfully from my great-grandmother's recipe," Bass wrote. "Though this is not a universally appreciated part of the holiday menu, to me the special rich taste of this part of our heritage should be there."
JAMM AQUINO / JAQUINO@STARBULLETIN.COM
Carol Bass, right, and granddaughters Carmen Segura, left, Martina Segura and Danielle Bass, get ready to sample a plum pudding, a traditional English dessert that Carol Bass makes every year.
Over many Christmases growing up, Bass watched her grandmother go through the process of grinding the suet, making breadcrumbs and pressing the batter into stoneware crocks and empty coffee cans.
"Crocks and cans steamed for hours, stacked in an old-fashioned copper tub that bubbled and hissed on a two-burner green enamel gas stove in Gram's basement."
As an adult she tried the recipe, which Grandma had gotten from her own mother-in-law, but it was too hard. "Then I hungered for the old familiar taste. Christmas needed plum pudding. ... Now in December I amuse curious but helpful butchers with requests for fresh suet. ...
"The process of making the pudding is long but easy and oddly therapeutic. The product is tasty. The sight of plum pudding aflame with brandy gives drama to Christmas dinner."
Providing plum pudding aplenty
Carol Bass' family recipe is huge -- she usually makes just half of it at a time. She advises an early morning trip to the supermarket to order the suet -- you'll need to ask the butcher to collect it through the day (if this bugs you, many modern recipes substitute butter).
You can buy special pudding molds, but Bass says 1-pound coffee cans work fine. For a prettier effect, pack your puddings into quart-sized fluted pyrex molds or pint-sized ceramic bowls.
English Plum Pudding
1 pound finely chopped beef suet
3 cups flour
1 pound sugar
1 pound currants
1 pound raisins
2 pounds bread crumbs (white bread with crusts trimmed off)
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
Optional spices: cinnamon, all-spice, nutmeg, cloves
1 8-ounce container citron
6 eggs, well-beaten
2 to 3 cups milk, mixed with some wine or brandy
» Vanilla Sauce:
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 tablespoon flour
1/2 cup boiling water
2 tablespoons butter
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
Pinch nutmeg and salt
Combine all the ingredients in a large bowl and work together by hand until thoroughly blended. (This is one of those messy but satisfying kitchen processes.) Cover bowl and let mixture sit in refrigerator overnight.
Grease molds with shortening and dust well with flour. Fill 2/3 to 3/4 full with batter. Cover with double thicknesses of foil and tie foil on firmly with string so steam won't get in.
Assemble enough big pots with lids to hold filled molds. Place molds on metal trivets (or wadded-up foil). Fill pots with water to reach halfway up sides of molds. Cover pots and turn on heat. Steam four or five hours, timing after the steam begins to rise. Add more hot water to pots as needed.
Pudding may be made two or three weeks before Christmas and refrigerated. On serving day, steam sealed pudding 1 hour, then put mold in cold water to loosen pudding. Unmold on plate.
To make vanilla sauce: Combine brown sugar and flour in pot. Slowly add boiling water. Stir until smooth, bring to boil and let boil 5 minutes. Add butter, vanilla, nutmeg and salt.
Douse pudding with brandy and light brandy for a showy presentation. Serve in thin wedges with warm vanilla sauce. Makes 4 large or 6 to 7 smaller puddings.
Nutritional information unavailable.