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My head was somewhere else...

Christmas is coming ...

I have been feeling both nostalgic and Christmassy this past weekend so I decided to get an early start on some of my Christmas baking. I found a very old Christmas Pudding recipe from my paternal great-grandmother. Although there appeared to be a lot of ingredients, I hadn't realised until I started just how many puddings this recipe would make - 8 in total! I persisted - even to the point of having to mix the recipe with my hands in a large roasting tin as it was the only receptacle I could use for the mixture. Somehow the joy of making something from my ancestors got me thinking about how important family was to me during my time with ME. It gave me certainty, knowing that whatever happened I was safe and I was loved. It is important at times of illness or difficulties in life to find things that make us feel stronger inside, things we have faith in to help us through the hard times.

Being certain was not something I felt a lot during that time. One particular symptom which left me feeling very uncertain was something I can only term as a “dead head”. This was one of the most frightening symptoms, as I can honestly say I felt my head didn't exist. It was completely numb and I was terrified about what was happening to me. Thankfully it only occurred on 3 or 4 occasions and, usually when I had been pushing myself too hard the day before, or when I was trying too hard to look “OK” on the outside. Telling my family how I was feeling at those times really helped, as they calmed me down and helped me to rest. Going to bed, lying down and getting some sleep was the only way ease this awful symptom and luckily it worked every time. The terrifying aspect of this symptom is something I will never forget and I do believe that that is a good thing because it will prevent me from getting to that place ever again. A place where I was so exhausted emotionally and physically that my brain literally became numb. One of the issues with being “numb” is that we cease to feel but may be that is what I needed then because I could not cope with feeling anything. It was all my body and mind could do to exist moment to moment and it was a sign that things were getting too much. I hadn't listened to what my body had been telling me the year before I became ill, as I was showing signs of debilitation then, but I was just too busy to notice. So what lesson did I learn from this - whatever the symptom, no matter how small, I now notice what my body is telling me. I now no longer feel guilty for slowing down if I need to, because when I do, I can catch up with more energy the next day.

As family is very important to me and they played such a large part in my recovery, I decided to share with you my great-grandmother’s recipe for Christmas Pudding. This is to celebrate all that is family - their strength, certainty and support that they showed me at that time.

It won’t be long until Stir Sunday, a tradition that goes back to Victorian times when families would gather around in the kitchen to stir the Christmas pudding five weeks before Christmas.  This year Stir Sunday falls on Sunday 20 November, so you have just under two weeks to get your ingredients together and get stirring!  As this pudding makes so many, why don't you get a few friends or family members together and each bring a pudding bowl and share out the mix - you could have a Christmas Pudding Stirring Party - don't forget the alcohol!

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Grandma Farmer’s Traditional Christmas Pudding Recipe

Due to its age, this recipe is shown in Imperial Measurements:

2 lb loaf made into breadcrumbs

1 lb currants

1 lb sultanas

1½ lb raisins

1 lemon juice and rind

1 orange juice and rind

1 lb demerara sugar

1 lb suet (I used vegetable, but beef suet fine also)

1 whole nutmeg grated

2 teaspoons ground ginger

3 eggs whisked

3 tablespoons plain flour

3 oz candied peel

2 glasses alcohol (I used Grand Marnier ( but any alcohol will do)

½ pint milk

¼ lb ground almonds

Mix all ingredients together.  You will need a large bowl or pan to fit everything, but the ingredients  soon mush up together once the liquid is added.

Butter each pudding bowl and line each base with greaseproof paper. Add the mix to each, without packing it in too tightly, and leave at least ½ inch at the top of each to allow room for the pudding to expand on steaming. Lay out a square of tin foil (enough to cover the top of the bowl) and on top of that lay out some parchment paper. Butter the parchment paper and then make a pleat in the middle of both to allow room for the pudding to rise. Place the foil and parchment paper on each pudding and then tie securely with string around the rim of each bowl. Cut off any excess foil and parchment paper to ensure it doesn't get too wet during steaming/cooking. Alternatively, you could also use the little plastic pudding bowls, as I did for two of mine, which avoid all the foil and parchment paper folding; all you need on top is a round of parchment paper under the lid.

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I used a slow cooker to cook mine by placing the pudding in the cooker and pouring in boiling water to half way up the bowl, but you can steam by placing the pudding on an upturned saucer at the bottom of your saucepan which will prevent the heat from cracking the bowl. Again pour boiling water into the saucepan up to half way up the pudding bowl. Check the saucepan during the cooking time to ensure that it does not boil dry. Another idea is to cook the pudding in an oven at 160℃/140℃ (Fan). Place the pudding in a deep roasting tin and add boiling water until half way up the bowl. Bake for 6 hours. Check the roasting tin during the cooking and add more boiling water when necessary.

Steam or use slow cooker for puddings for about 6-8 hours (for 1-1½ pint bowls).  To check if the puddings are cooked, push a skewer through the foil and, if it comes out easily and is clean, then it is cooked.  If it needs longer, patch up the hole with a  little more foil and cook for a little longer.

Once the Christmas puddings are cooked, remove foil and parchment paper and cool.  Before wrapping again in more foil and parchment paper, using a skewer make several holes in the top of the puddings and feed them with a little more alcohol.  Once wrapped up again, leave in a cool dark place until Christmas Day.

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To reheat, steam, bake in the oven or slow cook for 1-2 hours (using boiling water as before).

Don’t forget a charm or coin in each bowl on the day!

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